Digital commerce is a way of life for most businesses these days. It’s rare that a business can survive without a web presence, and those that do fall into two categories: a high-end luxury that has no need of indirect marketing methods or hyper-local individual businesses with no ambitions of being anything more. Everyone in between makes use of ecommerce to do business in the modern era.
Critically, ecommerce is not static. Everything involved in digital commerce is changing, sometimes on what feels like a daily basis. The tools update and change, the techniques evolve, the services shuffle and shift, and business owners are left to adapt to a market as fickle as the sea.
It’s completely understandable if you’ve missed some of the newer developments in ecommerce, or you’re just waiting for more experimental businesses to try them out and see what sticks before investing yourself. You may not become the next Disney without taking a few risks, but neither will you gamble and lose.
Well, we’re here to help you navigate these troubled waters.
1: Mobile Integration
The use of the mobile phone in ecommerce is nothing new, but we’re not talking about calling a representative to schedule a sales call here. Mobile is tightly integrated with our lifestyles now, and younger generations – especially younger millennials and zoomers – are heavily invested in it.
How can you take advantage of mobile integration? Several different ways.
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First and foremost, your online business needs to be mobile-compatible. This isn’t an innovation or a new trend; it’s simply a fact of life. If your site doesn’t have a mobile version and doesn’t work well on mobile devices, you’re losing over 50% of your potential traffic right off the bat.
How important is it? Google’s search results use mobile as the first version they check today, in what they call mobile-first indexing… and they rolled that out in 2020. If you don’t have a mobile-optimized site, you’re at least three years behind the curve. Realistically, much more.
Mobile goes far beyond just an accessible website, though. More and more, the convenience of mobile is expanding into other areas of the ecommerce experience. What are some things enterprising businesses have done with mobile?
- Amazon’s AR View uses augmented reality to help shoppers look at things like furniture through their phone’s camera, visualizing what a piece of furniture or décor might look like in place in the home.
- Big box retailers like Walmart and Meijer have phone apps allowing shoppers to scan products into a list on their phones and check out at kiosks or even pay directly through the app for a contactless, no-line shopping experience.
- Many retailers use point-of-sale systems allowing for mobile payments, no credit card, wallet, cash, or checks necessary. The phone becomes a hub for payment information, reducing the risk of losing a credit card.
While these aren’t necessarily online commerce integrations, they show the blurring of the lines between virtual, online, and physical. Any retailer should strive to have as much integration with mobile as possible.
2: Chatbot Integration
Chatbots are becoming more and more prevalent on websites throughout the internet. They come in many forms. Some of them are extremely rudimentary, passive, and serve a similar purpose as a phone tree, to filter customer support requests to the appropriate teams and handle very simple issues in a self-service manner.
On the other extreme, some chatbots are powered by extensive flowcharts of information, machine learning powered by a populated database of business information, and trend monitoring to see common questions a user may be asking and provide those answers up front.
While we’re a long way off yet from “true” artificial intelligence – and there are all manner of ethical quandaries associated with developing sentient software and restricting it to conversational drudge-work – basic ML-powered and conversational chatbots can be a huge asset to an ecommerce business.
To integrate a chatbot into your business, you have many questions to answer.
- Will it be passive or active? Passive chatbots lurk in the depths of customer support, activated only when a user clicks to open the web chat support menu. Active chatbots pop up messages to visitors to a site with offers, suggestions, and calls to action.
- Will it be for support, sales, or both? Support bots help customers with issues they have, either with the site or with the products you sell. Sales bots attempt to reach non-customers on your site and answer their concerns, pitch specific products, or help with product choice.
- Will it be fully automated, or partially? Some of these chat systems exist as filters to solve common problems and categorize customer support requests before a customer service agent can look into the issue. Others are fully automated, without a human in sight.
- Will it be transparent? Some chatbots use intentional delays and robust profiles to simulate being a real person operating off of a script, which helps cut back on the number of failed interactions stemming from people disliking bots. Others are up-front about being bots, responding instantly, and self-identifying as support bots.
Make no mistake; it’s a lot of work to set up a chatbot. Mapping out customer needs, developing conversational flows, and creating a robust system of flowcharts to handle it all is an immense task. Once it’s up and running, though, the burden on your customer support and sales teams is lessened significantly.
3: Hyperspecific Geotargeting
Geolocation advertising, marketing, and sales are nothing new. A business operating out of a home in Boston, hand-delivering homemade confections, isn’t going to want to sell to people in Miami, Los Angeles, or Dubai; even if there’s interest in their products, there’s no way to get them to their destinations.
Online businesses don’t necessarily have those restrictions, though they might. A local service provider may do the majority of their marketing online, even though their customer base is entirely local and their service area is small.
Businesses without geolocation restrictions may still want to use local targeting to customize messaging. A brand might say “Go Birds!” during the recent Superbowl, but they might not want those ads to run in Kansas City.
Modern location-based advertising can be extremely specific. Geofencing can dynamically change ads based on the user’s location, including if a user crosses a border of a fence, changing the ads they see. Reaching people in your service area, reaching people out on the town with your local offerings, and even offering web deals in-store through the use of beacons and paired apps all mean it’s easier than ever to reach specific groups of people with specific offers they can take advantage of.
Geotargeting with hyperspecific rules can also be used in more clever fashions. Say, for example, your store sells workout and fitness equipment, supplements, and health items. Your market may be anywhere in the country or the world, but you can optimize your ad spend by targeting a geofenced area around local gyms and fitness centers. People who visit these locations are more likely than the average person to be interested in your products, after all.
4: Instant Delivery and Pickup Options
The last few years have seen an explosion in different ways of getting products into the hands of customers much faster than before.
Amazon has deliveries from regional warehouses every day of the week, with shipping times for many common items as low as the next day or, in some cases, even the same day.
Ordering grocery items online through a retailer like Walmart can result in a service like Shipt delivering the item to your doorstep in just a few hours.
Virtually any retailer with online ordering can also offer the option to have the item made ready in a local store, to be picked up at your leisure.
All of these are sources of added value that can tip the scales in the favor of your store. A customer who wants your product now might be willing to order through your site over that of your competitors if your shipping promises to get it to them faster.
Of course, you have to actually live up to those promises. Everyone who has ordered an item from a big box retailer with next-day delivery, only to get a “shipping update” with a week-long delay, knows exactly how big of a letdown it can be.
Be on the lookout for changes in how shipping is handled in the next few years, as well. A few shifts on the horizon include:
- Rising ire against exploitative gig work delivery companies, which incentivize as little care as possible in favor of speed, resulting in frequently lost or damaged items and much more package theft than ever before.
- Improvements in self-driving vehicles from various car companies now that Tesla has shown what not to do, potentially driving significant improvements in long-haul shipping.
- A push to create drone networks for customized delivery, allowing packages to be dropped off at your doorstep without ever interacting with a person.
Some of these are still a ways off. Drones will require a whole new set of FAA regulations before they can become widespread (and security will be a huge concern if anyone with a slingshot can take one down and steal a package), and self-driving will have similar trials to overcome in auto regulations, but both will likely be on the horizon.
5: Personalization, Discovery, and Gamification
Everything under this header is part of an interconnected system of personalization. Consumers don’t want to feel like walking wallets you’re trying to drain; they want to know you think of them as people, and you want to help them, not just get their money. Many also want to know that you have more in mind than just money and want to help the world around you as well.
Personalization can include anything from adding names to your contact emails and keeping track of order history for proactive customer support, all the way to personalized discovery queues like what Steam does for games, Amazon does for products, and Spotify does for music.
Discovery queues are a great feature to add if you have the library of products to do it. People can only buy if they know what you have to sell, so discovery channels users can browse for increasingly-personalized recommendations can be excellent.
Gamification was a huge trend a number of years ago and has fallen off a little because it was broadly overdone and done poorly. Still, the human mind loves engagement and reward systems, so having some kind of subtle gamification can go a long way to build engagement from your audience.
Any way you can build up a system of personalization and customization can help significantly when it comes to conversions and customer retention.
Putting the Pieces Together
Ecommerce often seems like a whole new world every passing year, so it can be exceedingly beneficial to have professionals on your side to help you keep track of it all and utilize on your website. Luckily, we’re those professionals, so you’ve come to the right place.
As an award-winning design and marketing agency, we know the world of ecommerce inside and out. We can help you focus your efforts where they’ll do the most good, whether that means a whole new web design integrating mobile optimizations and discovery feeds, customized chatbots to help you engage your audience, or even just more traditional advertising using geotargeting to get the most out of your best regions.
Why not drop us a line? There’s no pressure; we just like to chat about what we offer, what we can do for you, and how we can help. If your needs are outside our scope, that’s fine too! Just reach out, and we’ll see what we can do. If you have any questions, we’d be more than happy to answer them, so please feel free to contact us at any time!
Tim Woda is the CEO and founder of White Peak Marketing. He has been on the founding team of five successful start-ups and his digital marketing campaigns have acquired more than 800 million customers for his start-ups and White Peak’s client companies. Tim has been featured by The New York Times, Fox News, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more. Under Tim’s direction, White Peak was selected as one of America’s Top Digital Marketing Agencies for 2021 by MarTech Outlook magazine.