At one time, it was merely a growing trend for a business to have an online presence. Fast forward to today and it has become a wide expectation for almost every business to have a website. Now that everyone has a website, users demand new features an updates to the websites to remain current.
eCommerce websites are going to face the same scrutiny and increasing expectations that websites in general have faced through their evolution. Simply having your products available for viewing and purchasing will not suffice when everyone retailer is doing it. Much the same way that brick-and-mortar stores are forced to find new ways to differentiate and attract customers, eCommerce sites will soon be pressured to follow suit and expand beyond the current gimmicks and incentives being employed.
I’ve come up with a list of 3 potential issues for the future of eCommerce and some potential (albeit creative) ways to combat them:
1) Lack of Front-line Staff
One main advantage associated with eCommerce sites is the unparalleled convenience they offer in comparison to brick-and-mortar retailers. The ability to shop from anywhere at any time of the day is clearly more than any conventional store can offer in terms of convenience. Where these sites fall short in comparison to brick-and-mortar stores however, is the added value of helpful retail staff.
In order to combat this issue, businesses should seek out ways to better serve their customers. Implementing live sales representatives beyond those that offer basic text support to help customers shop online when necessary could help on many levels. By incorporating live video and/or audio communication with customers, it will help to create a more personal and comfortable environment. Many who are still opposed to shopping online cite the familiarity of standard shopping as a reason they avoid eCommerce. This initiative would help to bridge that gap and create a more familiar environment.
While the increased costs of having such dedicated staff may be a deterrent, it can be argued that they bring unmatched value to an online shopping experience. These representatives now have the opportunity to up-sell items and combat rebuttals. Currently, eCommerce sites are only able to offer suggestions based on a user’s browsing activity and nothing more. In addition to the potential added revenue, this new sales force can also function as brand advocates through helping people gain trust and familiarity with a brand or product line.
2) Growing Social Concern
According to a Statistics Canada survey, people who use the internet on a regular or excessive basis are losing touch with their social environments in the real world. This growing concern could soon affect how individuals view shopping online, as it removes them from potential human interaction.
eCommerce sites could offer a service that allows customers to shop with friends by creating a video and voice sharing service within their store. This would enable friends near and far to browse the store and discuss items as they would during any shopping trip to a mall. Facial expressions, tones of voice, and the comfort of a friend would all serve to humanize the online shopping experience. In addition, having a friend to encourage or suggest purchases of items could also help to bolster sales. This service would only be accessible through the eCommerce site offering it, which could help deter these groups of customers from quickly migrating to competitors.
3) Mobile Browsing
Another growing trend that will surely have an impact on the future of eCommerce is the number of customers browsing the internet from a mobile device. The use of mobile phones to browse the internet has been growing rapidly, with some predicting it will eventually overtake personal computers. An article on eMarketer sheds some light on this shift. In North America, mobile browsing rose from 28% of mobile phone users in 2004, to 60% in the following year. In countries such as Japan, mobile browsing is used by nearly 100% of mobile phone owners. These statistics clearly indicate the growing need to consider the way in which customers view and interact with your online storefront.
Mobile usability should become a primary concern in designing eCommerce sites that will compete in the future online arena. Companies would be wise to consider the simplicity of their forms; given the limited data entry capabilities of touch screen phones. By collecting only necessary information at the time of purchase, it will cut down on user frustration while simultaneously encouraging the transaction to be completed due to ease of use.*
Another concern is that of browser window real estate. Displaying a large number of products per page is fine when the user is viewing the site on a 20” display. When their viewing space is reduced to a 4” screen, the rules change. The online t-shirt retailer Threadless Tees is a prime example of a site that would be difficult to browse on a mobile device in its current state. Their catalogs have an option to display 25, 100, or all of the items within a category. Threadless would be wise to offer mobile users the option to display a number closer to five or ten, to ensure each product is viewed at a reasonable resolution and pace.
These types of initiatives are what will be necessary in order to differentiate your business in the online marketplace. The current cyberbaits such as free shipping are eventually all going to be the status quo. While they currently offer an edge over competition, they will eventually be expected as soon as companies with enough resources to offer them full-time are established in the eCommerce arena.
How will you emerge from the eCommerce crowd over the next decade?
*For some useful information about improving web usability for mobile devices, check out this post by Cole Thorsen.
Assistant Marketing Professional