It is expected that e-commerce will become the largest retail channel in the world by 2021, beating sales of supermarkets, grocery stores, clothing stores and footwear. Experts believe that e-Commerce will respond alone to 14% of the world’s retail. Among the poles, the Asia-Pacific region leads online sales that already represent 17%. China and South Korea are the main drivers of this movement there. The United States and Canada together, already reached something around 15%. In Western Europe, consumer behavior varies widely, so e-Commerce is not yet the flagship of retail sales. The UK has been a major player in online consumption, followed by Denmark and Finland. Therefore, international strategies should be designed by region, country and category. If you are thinking to export, check it out the 6 (six) major trends in e-commerce worldwide.
Consumer awareness of the environmental and ethical footprint of their purchases is on the rise, including digital purchases and the “real or hidden” impacts and cost of e-Commerce – and consumerism in general. From sustainability to excessive packaging, consumers are rewarding merchants who resonate with their value system. Brands and merchants, big and small are using digital to appeal to consumers’ values – and consumers are increasingly guided by their values and ethics when making purchasing decisions. Societal and environmental impact is exerting an increasing influence on consumer choice, and digitally-savvy brands are leveraging e-Commerce to create the visibility and the transparency customers are seeking.
Return rates from e-Commerce sales hit $400 billion in 2017 (the equivalent of roughly 1 month of all U.S. retail sales), up 53% since 2015. Generous return policies have long been used to increase conversions by reducing consumer uncertainty. But e-Commerce growth, free shipping and free returns have created a dangerous side-effect: the cost of managing returns. 44% of retailers say margins are strongly impacted by returns handling and packaging. In 2018, Amazon announced it would institute a lifetime-ban for “serial returners”, shoppers who have a habit of returning most of their purchases. 61% of retailers said they would do the same if they had the means to better track returns and “serial returners”. 2019 will see a multitude of retail initiatives to deter returns, ranging from more complex or conditional return policies to incentives to pick up items in store, in order the curb the unsustainable pace at which returns are growing.
“It’s a site, it’s an app – no, it’s both.” PWAs are changing how e-Commerce and mobile coexist. Brands and retailers will begin moving from sites and apps to a new standard; the Progressive Web App – a hybrid between sites and apps which combine the upsides of each and does away with the limitations.
PWAs create fast-loading, compelling mobile experiences, similar to what brands and retailers achieve with a native app—while also being discoverable and accessible to everyone via the mobile web. No need to market your app; your mobile site is an app. PWA works by transferring the workload to the device, instead of relying on the web server for every page, layout, click and image, creating a standard experience, regardless of browser, device type and connection.
Not satisfied with simply selling leads and traffic, social media platforms are looking to bridge the e-Commerce gap by becoming transactional; users will be able to complete purchases without leaving the platform. Social buying is already standard in China, where 55% of social app users reported buying goods or services directly on a social app. Private messaging services, which are exploding in popularity, are also expected to become transactional. WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger are showing engagement numbers running into the billions.
Retailers today carry between 2 and 10 times more SKUs than they did 10 years ago – all of which only exists online if it has the related product content to support it (product images, video, descriptions, sizes, attributes and complimentary products). Even the biggest retailers are struggling to produce product content fast enough to properly commercialize and merchandize their selection. Product content is the heart of e-Commerce. It provides superior product discovery and selection capabilities, which requires detailed product information and critical product-specific attributes, coupled with semantic search. Retailers must maintain and provide images and videos, catalog descriptions, names, category-specific metadata (e.g., nutrition information for food products), stock availability, product matrices (e.g., size ranges), company/brand logos, product ratings and reviews, pricing, and promotions information for all physical SKUs. Acquiring this information from suppliers is a time-consuming task, requiring various methods and a significant amount of manual activity. AI-based solutions will increasingly automate the creation, optimization, classification, translation and syndication of product content which, combined, have become a must to keep up with consumer demand for more product information: the merchants with the most (and best) product information win the customer.
Anyone with the latest mobile phone can now use their camera to detect QR codes and dig into product descriptions, pricing and other related product information. Users will see a prompt on screen once their device recognizes a QR code, with an option to click a link, which takes the user to the desired location. This addresses brand manufacturers’ challenge where limited space on packaging can make it impossible to display all relevant product information – all the while providing an opportunity do create a direct brand-to-consumer relationship.
The rise of e-commerce impacts retailers on a range of issues, from investments to organization and store planning. Retailers need to be prepared for how quickly that channel will become a significant part of their sales. At the same time, retailers need to understand how digital commerce will evolve by country and type of category. Western Europe is a great example of how countries and categories are moving online at different speeds.