We have been hearing for years how e-commerce is replacing the brick-and-mortar retail. We have seen foot traffic decline in retail, while the e-commerce retail sales grew. We have witnessed many large retailers close their storefronts and either go under or refocus on online retail. If there was a struggle between physical retail and e-commerce, it seems obvious by now who won it.
It might be hard to notice just how exactly e-commerce won, though. Yes, e-commerce is growing faster than physical retail. However, it still accounts for little more than ten percent of total retail. And while we did see some physical stores close down, we also saw e-commerce giants open brick-and-mortar stores. So while it is true that e-commerce is affecting physical retail, it is also true that e-commerce is undergoing significant changes.
Integration of Digital and Physical
Retail and marketing sometimes operate with two-dimensional representations of consumers, so it is easy to forget that consumers tend to be complicated. Their relationship with the digital and physical retail is a great example. Some prefer to shop online, while others prefer to go to physical stores. Some prefer to research online, while others still like to do it in a brick-and-mortar store. The type of product they are looking to buy also affects consumer preferences.
It is becoming increasingly important to retailers, both digital and physical, to provide customers with the type of experience they truly desire. And it is obvious that the best experience is not exclusive to one channel. E-commerce businesses will have to experiment more with physical storefronts. The good news is that there are already tools that can help with the integration. Even today, for example, cannabis businesses can use seed-to-sales cannabis software that lets them plan and monitor physical and digital activities. Other niche-specific solutions exist as well, and they will see increased use as e-commerce moves towards a cross-channel approach that involves physical stores.
B2B Becomes More Like B2C
One of the strongest points of e-commerce has always been convenience and ease of use. The original promise of being able to shop without moving away from the computer screen quickly got one upgrade after another. Online retailers streamlined the checkout process, and then they automated it as much as possible. The ability to research and compare products online grew to become not only convenient but also unprecedented. With the emergence of mobile devices, e-commerce shifted towards shopping on the go — “anytime” became “anytime, anywhere.”
Now, businesses are becoming increasingly interested in getting the same type of shopping experience. Four out of five business buyers would like to see B2B e-commerce adopt some of the traits that made B2C e-commerce so successful. In 2018, the most successful B2B e-commerce businesses will have to pay close attention to the changes that are happening in the B2C sector. They will have to find ways to implement them and make B2B e-commerce less complicated, more expedient, and more customer-centric.
Personalization and Customization
Giving the customers what they want has always been the focus of commerce, whether physical or digital. Customers’ needs and purchase decisions are the force that directs markets. However, there has long been a discrepancy between commerce and the need to attend to every customer’s particular needs. Mass production relied on somewhat standardized models. Marketing relied on customer personas that were still very broad. Now, these things are changing, and the change will happen in e-commerce.
The technological advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation have made it easier for online retailers to target individual customers. Almost every person with an internet connection leaves a trail of information when browsing the web. Retailers can gather and process that information to gain insight into consumer behavior, and serve the consumers tailor-made communication and offers. Whether it takes the form of predictive recommendations, content, or designing a unique omnichannel shopping experience, personalization will be the most important trend for e-commerce in 2018.
And it will go hand in hand with product customization. Brands like Nike are already offering some co-creating capabilities to customers by allowing them to create their own Nike shoes. The final product is still recognizable as a Nike product, but it is nevertheless a product designed by the customer.
With the ability to gain incredible insight into customer behavior, businesses are able to chart new directions that will bring them closer to their customers. The hard lines that separated online giants from physical giants are getting blurry. The lines that separated business customers from regular customers are going the same way. In 2018, e-commerce, and commerce in general, will try to give everyone what they want.