When Amazon hit the scene back in the 1990s, the retail world mostly shrugged. Some laughed. “You can’t sell things online,” was the collective boardroom refrain. “Consumers need to touch and feel merchandise before they fork over their hard-earned dollars.”
Funny how things change. Two decades on, Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the United States, a behemoth with fulfillment centers in every major metropolitan area and a transaction volume that consumes vast quantities of bandwidth.
Of course, the mere fact that e-commerce exists is no longer news. Online purchasing is just another prong in the multi-channel retail environment, increasingly indistinguishable from in-person buying.
E-commerce is also increasingly bound up with next-generation digital advertising techniques — something online marketing pioneers like Jeff Kamikow have been heralding for years. Here’s a look at four trends that underscore the ongoing evolution of ecommerce.
- Personalized Ad Service
Personalized ads tap a variety of user-supplied data, from browsing habits to previous purchases, to serve hyper-targeted, hyper-relevant ads — ideally, before the targets even realize they need what’s being sold.
Personalization extends to other channels as well. For multi-touch buys, savvy e-retailers leverage personalized email messages, social ads, mobile push notifications and more to keep buyers engaged and increase repeat sales rates..
- Opportunistic Mobile Marketing
One of the most exciting e-commerce trends: mobile marketing beacons, connected devices that sit in retail environments and interact with users’ smartphones as they pass nearby. Beacons allow brick-and-mortar retailers to essentially flag down prospective customers and serve them with a relevant ad or deal, dramatically increasing the likelihood of conversion.
- Loyalty Programs
Retail loyalty programs actually predate ecommerce by a significant margin. (Just ask Grandma about her Woolworth’s frequent shopper’s discount. Oh, the stories she’ll tell.)
But e-commerce has breathed new life into the loyalty concept. As with the e-commerce trends outlined above, the theme here is that loyalty programs are far more responsive and personalized than at any time in the past.
Loyalty programs vary widely: Niche retailers tend to focus on action-specific discounts and incentives, while broader-based players tap blunter solutions (think Target’s REDcard). Still, one in eight U.S. shoppers now belongs to an online loyalty program — up from 9 percent at the start of the decade. Retailers that can’t figure out how to tap that market leave a lot of money on the table.
- Digital Wallets
This one is a bit of a stretch. Not because digital wallets aren’t an important retail trend, but because they relate to in-person retail at least as much as to “traditional” e-commerce. Then again, digital wallets are part of the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, so they’re technically a piece of the ecommerce pie as well. It’s all a bit confusing.
Bottom line, any retailer — online or offline — that wants to appeal to young, tech-savvy consumers needs to consider accepting Google Wallet, Apple Pay and any other digital wallet technologies that gain traction going forward. There was a time, remember, when few merchants accepted credit cards. Outside certain resilient niches, cash-only businesses are now few and far between. Given time, digital wallet adoption is likely to follow a similar trajectory.
Which ecommerce trend are you most excited or nervous about?