Retail websites will get less boring and marketing and tech teams will face more pressure to collaborate.

With 2016 upon us, the time is ripe to reflect back upon the year that was and to look forward with predictions for the year to come. In 2015, we continued to see a huge growth in e-commerce with close to $350 billion in online retail sales expected by the end of the year, according to Forrester Research. We also witnessed a significant increase in the pace of online promotions. Not all that long ago, companies were content to roll out 3 or 4 major campaigns per season and a handful of promotions per month. But no longer. These days, retailers are expected to act more like Media companies. In 2015, many retailers were launching new promotional campaigns on a weekly – and in some cases daily – basis.

Online retailers and brands are becoming increasingly aware that low prices and speedy delivery are only part of the story. Driven by increasing competition from online-only giants like Amazon and eBay as well as a growing array of nimble startups, many companies are realizing that something else is needed to stand out in an increasingly crowed online ecosystem.

E-commerce is shifting from an era dominated by Transactional Commerce to one harnessing Experiential Commerce. Transactional commerce is focused on price and efficiency — prioritizing tools that help shoppers zero in on a specific product and convert quickly. In contrast, experiential commerce is more immersive, attempting to understand the shopper throughout their journey and develop an emotional connection that delights, inspires and informs.

How can online retailers prepare for this new approach and ensure that marketing, sales and e-commerce strategies are cohesive and successful in the New Year?

In 2016, we predict that:

  • The End of boring e-commerce sites – Face it, the majority of e-commerce sites look remarkably similar: a mosaic of promotional banners that gives way to a basic product grid. Although this approach is effective for price-driven shoppers and people who know exactly what they’re looking for, it doesn’t do a great job of engaging socially connected, undecided or experience-driven shoppers. Unfortunately, most e-commerce platforms don’t give their customers many other options. But new platform and hybrid integration strategies are making it possible to deliver much more interesting and varied online shopping experiences. Expect to see more shopping sites in the coming year that replace or supplement the cookie-cutter product grid with engaging content, more fluid layouts, increased social interaction, rich media, and more.
  • E-commerce and marketing teams will learn that they have to succeed together or risk failing alone – Marketers, merchandisers and e-commerce managers must work together more closely to attract new shoppers and retain existing customers. E-commerce transactions can no longer exist in isolation from other stages in the end-to-end customer journey. Online shoppers expect to shift effortlessly between commerce, social, marketing, and customer support experiences. This requires marketers and e-commerce teams to create unified experiences that cut across multiple channels, devices, and functional areas. Increasingly, fast and efficient cross-departmental collaboration – paired with tight systems integration – will become a necessary pre-condition of any successful e-commerce solution.
  • Commerce goes global – We live in an age of global commerce, communications, and community. Gone are the days when brands offered just one or two international sites: today, a global e-commerce and marketing footprint is increasingly the norm. But as they expand globally, many companies have struggled to find the right balance between centralization and localization. Companies need to have tighter control over the global brand message, but they need to make accommodations for regional variety. Companies that can manage the logistics issues involved in global expansion will be far ahead of their competitors. Expect to see more e-commerce sites go global in the coming year – but don’t expect all of them to succeed.
  • The divide between digital and bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to crumble – Online shopping and the in-store experience often feels like night and day. Online shopping is all about efficiency and convenience. In-store shopping is characterized by browsing, serendipity and face-to-face contact. But the increased focus on omnichannel experience is making this distinction increasing irrelevant. In-store shoppers can now access kiosks, connect to store beacons with their mobile device, receive help from digitally enabled shop assistants, and pay with their phone. Online shoppers can access live shopping assistants, engage in social conversations, explore products via interactive rich media, and have goods delivered on the same day. As in-store and online shopping continue to share best practices, expect more retailers to offer experiences that blur the line between these two extremes.

It’s still too early to tell how all this will play out. Will online and brick and mortar stores will become more aligned? How will organizations adapt to the faster pace of the current breed to mobile, tech-savvy customers.  What role will global commerce play in keeping online stores relevant and profitable? Only time will tell. But one thing is sure – as a wider variety of consumers spend more time online, retailers must find new ways to innovative and collaborate if they have any shot at earning their share of the dollars that will be spent online in 2016.

CoreMedia provides content and asset management technology for business-to-consumer and business-to-business e-commerce sites.