Welcome to 2019, the year of… well, what is this year going to be in terms of eCommerce tech? 2018 was certainly the year of mobile, tipping past the 50% of eCommerce transactions in the run up to Christmas – and now accounts for a quarter of ALL retail sales. But what else is going to be hot in 2019?
Will it be ‘hot’?
Unlike most ‘what does the new year hold’ pieces, we need to start this one by looking at whether retail will be hot in 2019. Brexit uncertainty at the time of writing is already starting to crystallise from the ether of analyst reports and onto the bottom lines of many retailers.
Worrying results from ASOS – which grew by a mere 15% and which didn’t see a bounce from Black Friday – sent many careering into Christmas predicting the demise of retail: if even the online poster boy can’t hack it, what hope the rest?
Well, this is premature. ASOS, let’s not forget, is a mega-growth company. It has perhaps just seen something of a resetting of its own reality. It can’t grow forever.
Secondly, it did Black Friday poorly. It didn’t offer any Black Friday deals to Australia at all and its blanket 20% off everything promo everywhere else failed to ignite shoppers’ imaginations.
There is also the issue that many shoppers were focussed on buying for Christmas – and fast fashion wasn’t top of their lists. Any parent out there will attest, Christmas 2018 was expensive. They weren’t going to be buying fast fashion.
That is set to change now we are in January. There is a predicted post-Christmas bonanza in fashion, food and drink and hospitality blossoming around us now that the new year is here, which will see much of ASOS’ losses reversed.
And Brexit uncertainty won’t last forever. At some point soon – during January – what is going to happen will become clear. This, even if in a worst-case-scenario of a no deal cliff-edge crash-out, will release some spending back into the economy.
So, yes, 2019 will be hot in retail. It will be fiercely competitive, but that is why, perhaps, the technologies and trends we are about to get stuck into may be so much more important to take note of this year more than any other.
Voice: something to shout about
One in ten UK households had a voice assistant device in place before Christmas 2018. Christmas will see many more people get hold of voice devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. This, and the further penetration of high-end smart phones also given as gifts, will see shoppers across the board start to dabble more and more in voice commerce.
While in-home devices are the public face of voice commerce, the prevalence and increasing reliability of Siri and Google Home, will also see more shoppers starting to use voice commands to search and even buy.
And retailers get this. According to Red Box, which did some research into how voice is perceived in industry, three quarters (76%) of CIOs, general C-suite and IT management enterprise employees believe that a ‘Voice First’ strategy will be in place across retail businesses within less than five years, showing a clear shift towards recognising the value of the spoken word – with almost all (95%) C-level executives regard voice data as “valuable” or “very valuable” to their organisation.
Argos was one of the first to embrace voice commerce. Launching Voice Shop, the company has got in to bed with Google Home to let shoppers reserve 20,000 Argos items to collect from store.
ASOS has also been quick to jump on the voice train. Shoppers in the UK and US can now shop through Eniki, the ASOS’ online shopping guide, by saying “Hey Google, talk to ASOS” to either their Google Home smart speaker, or Google Assistant app on Android or iOS.
Using their voice or text, Enki will help them quickly discover and shop the latest products across six of ASOS’ top womenswear and menswear categories, viewable on their smartphone.
Even carrier partner Hermes has added more functions to its Alexa ‘skill’ – what they call apps on voice devices – to help manage customer deliveries and returns. This has been driven by the move by consumers to use their voice.
Expect more in 2019, especially as be-ear-podded hipsters start to talk to their smartphones to do their shopping.
Image: seeing is believing
Alongside voice, eCommerce in 2019 is also going to see a simultaneous shift to being visually driven. In fact, both voice and image shopping are really the next logical phase in the rise of mobile commerce – why tap on a ting keypad when you can just speak or point (or both) with your device to get what you want?
Again ASOS is at the forefront of visual shopping, along with eBay, Forever21 and Alibaba. Alibaba rolled out visual search back in March 2018, allowing shoppers to point a camera enabled device running the Alibaba app at something and it will find an exact match or similar (depending on which mode the user chooses).
ASOS, similarly, has launched visual search to tap into its almost exclusively mobile user-base – 80% of its traffic and 70% of its orders are mobile. The logic is that, with such a vast inventory – running at around 5000 items – visual makes it easier to find what you are looking for.
eBay, similarly , has turned to visual search to help consumers find what they want more easily. Again, eBay has a vast inventory and lends itself ideally to users simply pointing the app at the things they want and finding them.
As generations X and Z – plus all the millennials – come of age, the way tech is used is going to shift radically. Already, teens use voice search and the likes of Instagram and other image based social media (see below) much more than adults ever did. In turn, however, their parents will also start to use it and before you know it, we will all be pointing and talking at our devices to do the shopping.
Already, some kids don’t know what a supermarket is: food arrives on the doorstep after mummy talked to the little round thing on the kitchen counter. Soon, they won’t know what shops are – getting things will involve pointing a retail app at something and getting it delivered. And the owner of that app will be the winner.
New platforms: media and social media dominate
One of the platforms that could well steal a march in the move to visual commerce is Instagram. 2018 saw many retailers start to use the image-based social media site to start selling. M&S famously becoming one of its earliest proponents. Expect to see more brands turning to social media to combine the power of the platform with visual search.
It makes a lot of sense. For starters, that is where the consumers are and where they both look for and share inspiration. But is also allows for retailers to sell in a seemingly unbiased way. There is a book to be written on how marketing is going to change in 2019, but the old ways of advertising are dying: people want real stories, from real people, and to share knowledge and information.
Social sites such as Instagram and others offer this in spades – and they combine it with the power of visuals. Imagine, when in 2019, visual search is also added to Instagram?
Similarly, media companies are also going to find their place as trusted places to buy based on the same merits outlined for social media. Already Marie Claire has opened a website that curates fashion. Marie Claire uses its fashion editors to pick key pieces from the likes of ASOS, Farfetch and Topshop and styles them. These can then be bought from the site.
This turns publishing brand into trusted third-party marketplace, gets the goods out through a trusted channel and taps into the modern shopper’s need for independent validation.
Time Inc in the US and tech publisher Mashable, have also used their publishing outlets to tie up with brands so that readers can shop what they see in the articles they read online.
This shift in where retail happens is going to increase in 2019.
With more and more shoppers on mobile, the power of location-based search is going to grow and 2019 is going to see more bricks and mortar retailers adopt local search as a means of using the web to generate much needed footfall.
Getting a ‘Google My Business’ (GMB) listing is essential, as is a fully optimised mobile website. Combining these with all the other standard SEO tools will help businesses be found when being searched. It is already starting to become a power tool. Google a type of product on your mobile right now and among the listings will be where you can get that thing locally. In 2019, local is going to be the new… everything.
Throughout 2018 there has been much talk about ‘the payments revolution’, but this coming year is really going to see how people pay change dramatically.
We are already seeing the proliferation of Buy now, pay later – whereby the shopper orders the goods and then is only billed for what they haven’t returned within 30 days – and there is an increasing swell among retailers of bigger ticket items to start to offer three payment instalments or other forms of interest free credit.
These two fundamental new ways to pay will also be augmented by the growth in ‘hidden’ payments that happen during a process or within an app. Take Uber, for example, here you pay when booking, no money ever changes hands and no ‘pay’ button is tapped: it just happens. There will be more of this in the background of many retail apps.
There will also be a growth in the use of scan and go technology within retail stores, so that shoppers use the retailer’s app on their mobile to scan the goods they want then either have a barcode scanned on their phone at the checkout, or, better still, simply leave, the goods being charged to the card associated with that app.
Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Tesco low-cost spin-off Jack’s, The Co-op and even Budgens are all starting to use this cashier-less tech to revamp the in-store experience, so it is already in the mainstream.
Amazon naturally wants to take this one step further with its Amazon Go stores, whereby the shopper arrives and checks in automatically and contactlessly so long as they have their phone and the Amazon Go app on. Then they are scanned and watched by a range of in-store cameras the knows what they put in their bag. They then simply walk out when done and the tech reconciles what they bought with the cost and it is charged off their Amazon app. Simple.
These shifts in how stores work is in its infancy, however, such is the urgency for saving the High Street, expect to see these technologies implemented across all sorts of stores in 2019.
Delivery: making it happen
All these changes in how eCommerce operates has significant challenges for logistics. The upshot of shopping habits shifting towards visual and voice search and purchase is immediacy and location.
Shoppers who can point, click and buy are going to also want to receive rapidly and potentially where they are when they do the buying, rather than waiting to get it at home.
Similarly, those that buy through more ‘traditional’ methods are increasingly wanting to see their goods delivered to them where they are when they are there. Christmas 2018 has seen the missed delivery seem even more anachronistic than ever before – especially when free next day delivery and many other delivery options are on offer at point of purchase.
The challenge for logistics companies and retailers alike is how to make this happen and to do so cost effectively.
While Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn may have invoked the trusty bicycle to carry out instant city deliveries, for most UK retailers being able to offer a wide variety of delivery options will require working with a trusted third-party to organise a range of carriers – and perhaps even cyclists – to make it happen.
Further, these carriers need to invest in online and particularly mobile tech to offer consumers apps that allow them to have more control over deliveries – not only scheduling them, but rescheduling them and redirecting them.
This is great for the ever-demanding consumer, but is going to be a headache for retailers and logistics companies to make it happen affordably. Expect to see many try new ways in the coming year.
So the trends for 2018 can be broadly grouped into (1) new ways to shop and (2) new ways to make old fashioned shopping easier.
The first cluster revolves around mobile cementing its position as the go to device for eCommerce and aims to make using it even easier. Talking to the device, pointing the device or using both of these elements in conjunction with social media and location is a powerful mix.
Of course, these elements of m-Commerce have long been talked about, but 2019 is going to see them start to actually come to fruition individually, but also – and more importantly – come to fruition as a collective ‘tool’ for retail.
Similarly, location – driven by local search – is going to be a tool to help retailers push people into shops. Once there, however, they need to experience a new way of shopping, which is where again 2019 will see key technologies – mostly driven once more by mobile – come to fruition together.
All these changes are also going to have a massive impact on logistics – consumers will want deliveries where and when they decide works best for them, not what the retailer offers. This will be controlled by mobile too, from apps and voice devices, but will be challenging for carriers and retailers alike, however it will be the differentiator of winners.
So, where 2018 was the year of mobile, 2019 will be the year mobile joins everything together.
And with such uncertainty about the economy and with retail becoming more complex than ever, there is everything to play for with making these prophecies come to pass.
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