The Future of Ecommerce: 7 Trends That Are Changing How We Shop

As of July 2015, retail mega-giant Amazon is 21 years old. The industry is so mature that retail leaders are talking about same-day deliveries and drone shipping careers.

But this same perspective reminds us of how far the industry still has to go. In the grand scheme of the digital universe, ecommerce is still in its infancy. Retailers are coming up with new things to test all the time.

Enterprise retailers, especially, are in a strong position to test new growth initiatives, implement new technologies, and improve shopper engagement. Success starts with knowing your market opportunities and potential points of friction. Start with these 6 trends as a guide.

1. Ecommerce Is Growing Fast but Represents 7% of All Retail Sales

Ecommerce marketshare, as a percentage of all retail sales, has doubled since 2008,according to the United States Census Bureau. But brick and mortar is still a dominant player, by a landslide.

Source US Census Bureau

The chart above shows that the growth of ecommerce is almost exponential. The jump in the last half-decade, however, has only been from 3.5% to 7%.

This unique combination of fast-growth and low market share means that there is an enormous opportunity for the sector to grow and for new dominant players to outpace industry leaders.

Enterprise retailers need to watch who’s emerging, track who’s loved, and research what’s driving success. In addition, companies must continue to optimize their in-store experiences with connections between online and offline worlds.

For inspiration, take a look at the recent movement among ecommerce stores to open brick-and-mortar storefronts. Ebay, ModCloth, Walmart, and Delta Airlines have all experimented with pop-up storefronts that provide an online experience. Companies can use brick-and-mortar opportunities to advocate for their digital experiences.

2. Consumer Fragmentation is Ecommerce’s Biggest Challenge and Market Opportunity

How can your biggest challenge also be your biggest market opportunity?

The short answer: it depends on the eye of the beholder.

Thanks to the accessibility digital brings, consumers have access to more buying opportunities than ever before. Our phones give us immediate access to more retailers than we can count. If you’re a big company, you may be scared because niche boutiques are well-positioned to gain market share. If you’re a small company, you may be excited about the lower barriers to market entry and growth.

No matter where you sit on the fence between startup and dominant industry player, there’s an opportunity to win and an opportunity to lose. As K.B. Sriram, partner at Strategy&explains in a report:

“Meanwhile, what we call the great fragmentation is manifested in consumer behavior and market response. In both developed and emerging markets, there is a wider variety among consumers now than at any time in the recent past. Growth is evident both at the top of the market (where more consumers are spending for higher-quality food and other packaged goods) and at the lower end (where an increasing number of consumers are concentrating on value). But the traditional middle of the market is shrinking.”

But here is where the big opportunity comes in and where the playing field becomes level:

“Consumers’ media usage has also fragmented with the rise of digital content and the proliferation of online devices. Each channel — from the Web, mobile, and social sites to radio, TV, and print — has its own requirements, audience appeal, and economics, needing specialized attention. But at the same time, media campaigns need to be closely coordinated for effective consumer messaging.”

Research from RJMetrics has found that the top performing ecommerce companies acquire new customers at a rate of 3.5 times faster than the “average” ecommerce companies. How can your company stand out and beat the average, too? Use media fragmentation to your advantage, and build 1:1 customer relationships in a world where marketers still use guerilla tactics.

3. Content Is the Holy Grail of Engagement

The concept makes sense: great content is educational, helpful, and entertaining. As marketing strategy, it’s also cost-effective, efficient, and impactful to ROI. That’s why 78% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing. Not to mention, brands that rely on content save over $14 on each new customer acquired.

In theory, content is something that companies can create as soon as tomorrow. It takes minimal resources to launch a blog or create a product guide. But you need to be thoughtful and strategic about your approach: consumer attention spans are spread thin, and audiences have high quality standards for what they’re reading, watching, and interacting with. A good strategy pays off:

  • Interesting content is one of the main reasons why people follow brands on social media, according to Demand Metric.
  • 64% of people say that customer experience is more important than price point in their choice of a brand, says Gartner.
  • Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13x more likely to generate a positive ROI, says HubSpot.
  • Content can help double website conversion rates from 6% to 12%, says HubSpot.

As efficient as content is, it’s also tough to do right. You want to make sure that your approach is optimized to drive product interest and sales. Here are some heavy-hitting examples to inspire you.

  • Create how-to videos, like Luxy Hair’s, that show your products in action.
  • Answer FAQ in your YouTube channel like REI does.
  • Create photo-heavy content to spark engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
  • Fill your blog posts with beautiful images of people using your products.
  • Become your own media outlet like Refinery29 and Gilt.

Don’t have time or resources to create your own content?

Create a community photo gallery like ModCloth’s Style Gallery. Encourage customers to showcase their experiences with your products in a fun way.

Editor’s Note: After this article went live, I asked the folks at Demand Metric for further input on where they see the future of ecommerce & content, and this is what chief analyst, Jerry Rackley had to say:

“A trend we have researched is the momentum toward greater use of interactive content. We have found that interactive content does a much better job of engagement than static or passive content.

  • Quizzes
  • Assessments
  • Calculators
  • Even videos that accept viewer input to determine what is shown.

These do a much better job of engaging those who consume it, and it also converts much better.”

4. Micro-moments Are the New ‘Battleground’ for Optimization

Marketing is becoming more granular. One-size-fits-all advertising messages are already obsolete in ecommerce, and now, companies’ competitive advantages are coming from optimizing micro-moments.

What are micro-moments, you ask?

According to Think with Google, these include:

  • In-the-moment purchase decisions
  • Decisions to solve problems right away
  • The pursuit of big goals during downtime
  • Decisions to try new things in routine moments

Mobile is driving these trends. Now more than ever before, shoppers can make more out of their brain breaks and downtime. In addition to creating content, promotional offers, and targeted ads on social media, ecommerce marketers should optimize every last detail—including transactional emails like shipping notifications, purchase confirmations, and and status updates.

Triggered by buying behaviors, these messages can help generate repeat sales and deepen customer engagement. According to research from Experian, the revenue per email from transactional messages dwarf bulk emails. Open and transaction rates for messages are also higher, since shoppers want to know when their orders will arrive.

Source Experian

You can add the following types of optimizations to your transactional emails:

  • Cross-sells based on seasonality and purchase
  • How-to videos and buying guides
  • Links to your mobile app
  • Exclusive offers

For an example of an engaging transactional email, check out the following from ModCloth. In addition to providing shoppers a shipment notification, the company shares promos for interesting offers, content, and community features.

Make the most out of every moment that you have with your customers. Their attention is hard to get.

5. Internationalization Presents a Big and Untapped, Albeit Confusing Channel for Growth

According to McKinsey, 1.4 billion people will join the global middle class by 2020, and 85% of these people will be in the Asia Pacific region. CPG and retailers who enter this space early will have a competitive advantage in meeting market demand. The William Wrigley Jr. Company, a popular chewing gum producer, for instance, has already achieved 40% market share in China.

Well-aware of this market opportunity, many enterprise ecommerce leaders will struggle to jump in. The reason? Each country introduces a new set of constraints, market preferences, and security challenges. Consider a country like Nigeria, for instance, where demand for U.S. ecommerce products may be strong but risky to fulfill.

Don’t back off from these market opportunities. Instead, find a creative workaround and trusted partner. Mall for Africa, for instance, is a service that helps U.S. and U.K. ecommerce companies reduce the risk and stress of selling into Africa due to fraud.

The company has created distribution points in strategic locations to ensure that goods are accessible even in relatively remote areas and relies on a rigorous, multi-level security system to protect identities and data, and to detect unusual purchases.

The company eliminates risk and helps brands like J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers reach African markets, in which there is high demand.

6. Marketers Like to Talk About Personalization, But They’re Still Working Out the Tech

Personalization is the most important concept in ecommerce today, and the reason why is self-evident: when you track and engage with shoppers on a 1:1 level, you’re well-positioned to eliminate data silos and optimize customer lifetime values (LTV). Not to mention, you create more compelling and tailored customer experiences.

When it comes to personalization tech, however, the industry’s ideas are much bigger than its capabilities. An eConsultancy study found that only 62% of online retailers are doing personalization, in some form. When looking at this stat, it’s important to remember that the concept of ‘personalization’ varies greatly from organization to organization.

Whatever your experience level, it’s important to keep scratching the surface and moving the needle. A major UK travel app was able to lift purchase rates by 210% when targeting PPC keywords to specific users. This type of opportunity is a goldmine for any and all ecommerce companies.

7. Mobile Is a Powerful Sales Driver but Adds Complexities to Buyer Journeys

Last but not least in this guide is a section on mobile: a topic on every ecommerce leader’s mind. In the last year, you’ve probably seen your mobile traffic outpace, or at least come close to, your desktop traffic levels (at least, that’s been the case at Shopify).


Despite the rising prevalence of mobile, retailers are still trying to figure it all out. For one, consumers aren’t just browsing content on mobile: they’re making purchases. In the U.K., for instance, mobile spending is growing at a rate of 4x overall spending.

Some people are window shopping, and others are comfortable enough with their phones to make purchases. Rather than tracking these variations in behavior, for instance, ecommerce stores should focus on making their on-site experiences as easy to use as possible.

When it comes to mobile, the only known is what’s unexpected. The companies that optimize these micro-moments will be in the best possible position to attract, engage, and retain shoppers.

Final thoughts

‘Business as usual’ is business no more. Ecommerce leaders are facing a world of opportunity to adapt and evolve, with success coming from a series of small steps. The biggest changes won’t be the drones. They’ll come from the micro-decisions that you’re making to reach your shoppers every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *