Any e-commerce business that wants to stay ahead must keep their eyes open and pay attention to where things are heading. So what does 2019 have in store for us?
The executive summary: instant shopping will become a big thing this year. That’s one thing. Another trend on the rise: more focus on returns profitability. And yet another, in order to increase conversions more online retailers will integrate the option to pay later. And more shoppers will also feel an increased desire to choose brands which make them feel like they belong to something meaningful. And finally, brands will continue trying to figure out how to make the most of digital and physical channels.
Let’s look deeper into each one.
1. Instant shopping anywhere
The quicker your consumers can complete their purchases after having discovered a product on your website (or on Instagram, on Youtube or wherever), the better.
In 2019, the trend is clear. Purchases shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to complete – no matter if the consumer is at a café, on the toilet or in a boring office meeting browsing on their smartphone, or perhaps relaxing with their laptop on the sofa at home.
Can your customers complete their purchases instantly? Or do you drag them through a multi-step buying process on your website that takes more than 30 seconds to complete?
People might see a picture on a blog or Youtube channel they are following, click a “Buy now” button right there and then, and get the purchase done in a few seconds. Money is withdrawn from their bank account right away, unless they choose to pay later, and the payment provider guarantees you get paid no matter what.
This trend is about giving people the convenience of buying on the fly.
“We will see retailers think increasingly about making every moment shoppable,” says Toby Pickard, Head of Insight, Innovation and Futures at IGD.
2. Making returns profitable
“Most e-commerce businesses don’t even know what impact returns have on their bottom line, nor do they have a system for tracking this,” says Victor Halvarsson, founder of online jewellery store Vanbruun.
He predicts an increased focus on the connection between returns and profitability in 2019.
For some businesses, returns are seen as primarily a profit diminisher; an inevitable evil. For others, returns are engines for profitability (read more about that in our article ‘4 reasons why customer returns are great for your business’).
“Having customers returning products is an opportunity to show up professionally and build a long-term relationship,” says Victor Halvarsson, who offers a very generous returns policy where customers can return ordered wedding rings and get their money back – even if they had their name engraved – which in turn has contributed to extremely high review ratings. And we all know that great reviews are great for business.
“Even if a returned ring costs us as much as 40 percent of the original price, it’s much better to swallow that, move on, and focus our time and energy on sales. If we don’t, we risk getting those 1-star reviews,” he explained in a Klarna interview in 2018.
What will you do to reduce unnecessary returns (caused by things like damages or bad product descriptions), and how are you leveraging returns practices to increase revenue and profits?
3. Flexible payment methods
Have you ever been asked to pay for a piece of clothing before you try it on in the dressing room at your local physical store? Of course not. But in most online stores you still have to. Until you’ve entered your credit/debit card number, nothing will be sent to your home, in most cases. Well, that’s about to change big time.
In 2019, the practice of offering consumers the opportunity to get the goods sent to them first, before paying anything, will spread to many more countries and categories, giving an unfair advantage to any online store who provides such a solution. This is particularly important in the fashion industry, where many consumers enjoy ordering 6-7 items and then sending back whatever they don’t want to keep.
Pay later also includes solutions that make shopping more flexible.
In Sweden, it’s becoming very popular for consumers to buy by adding purchases to their Klarna account instead of paying right away, and companies with both online and physical stores are reaping the benefits of that convenience. Each consumer’s purchases are added up and billed once a month – much like how a credit card works – but without the need for a physical card, nor the high-interest fees that come with it. Klarna takes all the risk, the merchants always get paid.
Expect this easy shopping payment solution to spread to many more countries soon. In the UK and US, a very similar solution is already in use, called Slice it in 3 and Slice it in 4. The distribution of these payments is designed to match the timing of each consumer’s next paycheck, as you can read more about in our article ‘Millennials are ditching credit cards – what merchants need to know’).
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4. Shopping with a deeper purpose
In 2019, more consumers than ever will get tired of brands that exist only to bombard them with marketing campaigns. Instead, they will align themselves with brands that can meet their longing for a deeper, more meaningful connection.
“Everything will be focused on inspiring consumers to be a part of your world, a world where they feel like they belong,” predicts Elin Alemdar, founder of fashion brand Stylein.
Your target market wants to be a part of the micro-universe you provide because they like not only what you sell, but also what you stand for, do and believe in.
Lip service won’t cut it, you must demonstrate a genuine commitment to your values. Some companies now go as far as taking legal action and involving themselves politically to drive their causes. One example is outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, which has sued the US federal government over planned cuts to Bear Ears National Monument. The e-commerce company has also endorsed political candidates in Nevada and Montana who take their concerns seriously, Trendwatching reports.
Fredrik Palm, ceo of Desenio, a company selling stylish wall art online, predicts a wave of new e-commerce companies that combine sustainability and hyper-niched positioning:
“Many people have environmental anxiety, but don’t know how to personally make a difference. Choosing these brands will be a way to keep on consuming, and at the same time feel that they are contributing something.”
5. Omni-channel experiments
We’ve seen traditional retailers advancing in the digital space for years.
More recently, we’ve also seen hardcore online businesses (like Amazon) establish physical stores in addition to their online presence.
Certainly online and offline channels can support each other – but very few have figured out exactly how yet. 2019 will be the year of running experiments on how to optimise the digital and physical world and make them work in harmony – and that transition isn’t easy.
“The many profit warnings and the number of stores closing down are indications of how difficult it is for many companies to adapt to the world of e-commerce and globalisation,” says Johan Lidenmark, Chief Digital Officer at sports retailer Intersport. “I believe many boardrooms struggle with the question about where the focus should be. It’s important that the board is aligned, heading in the same direction. For us, we have a shared understanding of how to work omnichannel. We are focusing on creating a great shopping experience online, but particularly in our physical stores. Digital is the engine to drive visitors no matter what channel. It’s a mind-shift that needs to take place, as well as adjustments within the organisation, including competence shifts towards digital focus and experience.”
One of the trailblazers in optimising the omnichannel experience is beauty brand Sephora, which has been experimenting with its studio and Beauty TIP workshops for a couple of years. Visitors get experiences they won’t forget; a free 15-minute express service or a full 60-90 minute consultation and makeover.
“The opportunity here is to make that long-term connection with the client. She has the ability to come in and from skincare all the way through makeup get a full consultation with one of our beauty advisors,” said Deborah Yeh, SVP of marketing and brand at Sephora, speaking to Retail Dive.
In other cases, retailers are trying new ways to combine physical experiences with convenience. Visitors to the XXL store in Stockholm, for example, can now try products on the spot, then have any variation of that product – like their preferred colour – delivered to their home within an hour. They can even choose to pay for it many days later if they want, using Klarna.