It’s hard to believe there’s anything to look forward to in 2018, but as the ecommerce wars heat up, there’s at least plenty to pay attention to.
2017 asserted the dominance of ecommerce: Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion; Google Home and Walmart partnered up to ship items to people via Google Express; internet clothing darling, Everlane, did the unthinkable and opened up its first brick-and-mortar store.
During these pivotal moments, artificial intelligence and augmented reality continued to shake up how people—and the ecommerce industry—use their phones and the experiences they seek. The good news? Most of the trends coming in 2018 are pointing towards making the consumer happier than ever.
1. You, yourself and the quest to find out your every need
You probably think this section is about you, don’t you? Well it is, as another trend expected to pick up in 2018 is personalization, some of it driven through AI and mobile. Tristan Walker, CEO and founder of Walker & Company Brands, whose brand FORM Beauty focuses on crafting a specialized hair routine for individuals, wholeheartedly agrees on the rise of personalization. “One thing we’ve proven with our brand. . . are personalized products that keep up with that person’s lifestyle,” said Walker. “A respect for everyone’s unique difference.”
Personalization also takes other forms on mobile and through AI. According to Robert Garf, vice president of industry strategy and insights at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, a technology like AI can help guide a consumer to better product recommendations or remind a consumer of their size for an item. “The real trick is that in order to enable AI, retailers are going to double down on really putting consumer data back in the consumer experience,” said Garf.
Over on mobile, personalization will manifest itself in the checkout process, the navigation to show you the right products or reminding you of past purchases and the sizes you used to buy for those items, said Garf. “This goes back to how retailers are trying to get their consumer data in order,” said Garf. “So that the consumer has real-time access to their shopping history, their size, [and] other attributes.”
2. More pop-up retail shops and a better retail experience
Retail isn’t totally dead (yet). Instead, the retail we’re used to is taking another form, existing in pop-up shops, on social networks, on Internet of Things devices—wherever the consumer is. “That really creates a fundamental change [for companies who] have wired their whole operating technologies to inform consumers on their four walls,” said Garf.
It also means a redesign of the retail experience, which several large retailers and brands are already doing. Gaurav Misra, the CMO of Raise, a mobile payments company, shared some brands that are doing it best. There’s Sephora with the beauty insider program; Target, with a redesigned store and its on again and off again curbside pickup strategy; and Nordstrom Local, a store that offers concierge services like a stylist and manicures.
3. Say hello to voice shopping
The power of using your voice to order simple, everyday items will rise in 2018. For advertisers, it presents a unique opportunity to add in ads—something akin to what happens on the radio, shared Jonathan Opdyke, chief strategy officer for Criteo.
Voice-assistant products like the Amazon Echo or Google Home also give brands a chance to connect with the consumer. “The rise of personal assistants has absolutely increased engagement, and as more consumers become comfortable with the process, more will rely upon the technology to accomplish everyday tasks, including purchasing,” said Micha Kaufman, Fiverr CEO. “There’s also something of a network effect taking place, where the more brands that create connections to personal assistants (a la Amazon Skills) the more of a multiplying effect will occur for the individual consumer.”
Not everyone is buying this. “I don’t think it’ll be this dramatic year that retailers need to figure out how to use it,” Raise’s Misra said. “I think it’ll be a distraction.”
Nonetheless, it’s an area that “everyone’s paying attention to and wants to learn a ton about,” said Opdyke.
4. The shopping experience gets an augmented reality upgrade
Pokémon Go, Ikea and Animoji have all shown that people are interested in AR for a variety of different purposes in life. Some are fun and comical, and others like Ikea Place, are useful. It’s why retailers will start to incorporate it into shopping, to make the process lively again.
“In a similar vein to video, VR and AR offer huge opportunities for the ecommerce brand, letting consumers experience products in as close to “real life” as possible before buying,” said Arati Sharma, director of marketing at Shopify. This could include “virtual dressing rooms and in-room product visualizations” shared Tradesy founder, Tracy DiNunzio.
And while some think voice shopping is rising, what people see on websites and apps still matters. “With more and more consumers looking online to buy the majority of their purchases, finding visual ways to show off your product will be critical to making the sale,” said Sharma. A feature like AR is certainly one way to amp that up.
5. The year of diversity is finally here
Tristan Walker long ago become the defacto voice on why companies need to believe in diversity, and work towards a less homogeneous workplace. Walker believes diversity will be a trend to watch every year, but thinks 2018 will finally be the year for it. The catalyst? All the stories about toxic men in the workplace, detailing sexual harassment, inappropriateness and other allegations. “People are going to understand what diversity brings,” said Walker. “2018 is where this really becomes a reality.”
Walker, whose two brands, Bevel and FORM Beauty, are made for a diverse set of people, thinks “companies will make better products for more people,” if they keep diversity in mind. To him, it’s a logical endpoint to building products.
“Folks are really going to come to this conclusion that [diversity] will be necessary,” said Walker. “One can’t live without the other.”
While you’re looking ahead to 2018, remember one lesson from 2017: keep up with the trends or risk becoming obsolete.
“Once consumers decide something’s mainstream, it moves very fast,” said Opdyke. “And if you’re not there already, you’re going to get run over.”