The U.S. e-commerce market is on pace for another record-setting holiday season. Research firm eMarketer predicts digital purchases during November and December will increase 17.2 percent to $94.71 billion, accounting for 10.7 percent of all sales. For purchases both online and offline, the National Retail Federation forecasts sales rising 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion over the same time span.
This growth in digital commerce means retailers need to improve, refine and future-proof their digital infrastructure. Robust mobile applications, simple search tools and a wealth of purchase and delivery options mark the continued turn toward consumer-friendly technologies that can result in increased sales.
Retailers looking to shift their e-commerce platform to be more modern should focus their initiative in these four areas:
Mobile is the most prominent e-commerce channel, accounting for 45.1 percent of digital purchases during the first quarter of 2016, according to Bloomberg. It’s the first time mobile has beaten desktop (45 percent) in the digital shopping arena. In another first, mobile purchases during Black Friday surpassed $1 billion.
But the battle between mobile and desktop sales is a false dichotomy. In fact, roughly 40 percent of transactions occurred across multiple devices or channels during last Q4, according to a study by marketing firm Criteo. This suggests consumers are more willing to look for the best deal for them, regardless of whether it takes place on the phone, in the store or at home. With mobile, shoppers can afford to research and wait.
A mobile-first platform can help retailers adapt to the consumer decision-making process.
Natural language processing applications, the Internet of Things, social commerce tools, augmented reality are just some of the new technologies that are about to affect e-Commerce. To accommodate these developments, retailers will need to plan for a massive overhaul to their backend IT. Flexibility is key. To achieve it, retailers should morph their often monolithic deployments into more modular systems by adopting loosely coupled architecture, based on microservices. This would result in more fluid and nimble platforms that are also more cost-effective.
This modular, as-a-service approach helps organizations build competency in specialized areas. It also helps free up internal resources to better focus on value-generating activities, such as customer-centric services and offerings.
One of the biggest innovations in consumer technology is the trend toward offering consumers services and information in a conversational manner. Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Alexa are a few big brand-name examples.
It is an exceptionally fast-growing trend. According to a recent Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers report, mobile voice assistants have grown in use from 30 percent of smartphone users in 2013 to 65 percent in 2015. Google, too, reports an increase in voice searching, with 20 percent of all mobile search being voice-based.
This doesn’t mean any company needs to go out and build their own Siri, but it does mean they will need to tap into conversational-centric efforts. Chatbots, like those found on Facebook’s Messenger Platform for example, can provide retailers with simple way of providing a conversational presence for consumers. These applications can provide shoppers with discoveries, answer simple questions and generally help during the shopping process.
However, a conversational commerce initiative requires some heavy lifting. Any execution will need to coordinate with existing physical and digital channels and closely emulate what’s available on current email and text messaging offerings. The company’s tone, too, will need to be captured and taught to any artificial intelligence or chatbot operating on the company’s behalf. Finally, conversational commerce requires maintenance and updates, meaning any organization investing in this solution will also need to invest in a competent development team.
Open your platform
Digital services today are built on modular sets of code called application program interfaces, or APIs. APIs serve a critical role: they allow internal and third-party developers to integrate new software and new technologies into the e-commerce platform for better and easier browsing, access and transactions.
Organizations investing in e-commerce platforms ought to ensure they are build a strong set of APIs to get the most out of their digital transformation.
Throughout this journey, many organizations will need to remember that e-commerce today requires patience. It’s a gradual shift towards competency, not an overnight transformation. New developments in consumer interactions are always on the horizon. New architectures are always being built. A successful digital transformation is about implementing new techniques and nurturing the mentality of constantly looking forward to the next consumer-centric capability. For retailers, that means building out mobile, building out a flexible architecture and striking a conversational tone to capture consumers.