We learned a big lesson in 2016: commerce is all about speed. Shoppers care about little else when it comes to the path to purchase and delivery, which is why implementing silly stunts that slow down the process — such as Domino’s asking customers to tweet their order with the pizza emoji, then taking three hours to deliver — have proven unsuccessful.
Smart brands in commerce will avoid gimmicks in 2017, besides the occasional stunt to bump up PR. Despite the hype around chatbots and shopping in virtual reality, the three advances that will transform the industry will be instant checkout, voice-enabled technology and the return of brick-and-mortar, all focused on closing the gratification gap between decision and ownership.
Speed Won in 2016
Savvy shoppers have come to expect a near instantaneous search, purchase and delivery experience. To tap into this growing expectation, e-tailers prioritized enhancing their offerings around two core principles in 2016 — convenience and immediacy — by designing easy-to-navigate, purchase-friendly sites and cutting down shipping times to hours.
On mobile specifically, retailers that offered convenience in the form of a clear, purchase-friendly user experience drove higher conversions. Case in point: after Pep Boys optimized its mobile web and mobile checkout, conversion rates jumped by 85%percent.
Immediacy was also a high priority. But how fast is fast? Deloitte found that consumers define “fast shipping” as within two days or less.
Beyond shipping times, the most effective e-retailers reduced checkout times to less than a hundred seconds, like Amazon. And brands such as Toys R’ Us (0:51) and Target (1:38) implemented speedy checkouts to reduce shopping cart abandonment and increase conversions. There is still room for improvement in this arena, however, as the average checkout time for top companies is over two minutes.
In this coming year, retailers need to double down on the technologies that make the path to purchase even more convenient and immediate.
1) Instant Checkout
Apple and Android Pay on the web enable instant checkout, allowing shoppers to avoid pecking in their personal information, dramatically reducing the time between intent-to-buy and purchase. Most brands see far more mobile web revenue than app revenue, which is why many of them, including Etsy, 1-800-FLOWERS, and Staples have already implemented instant checkout.Through direct integration in the browser, shoppers can seamlessly and securely make purchases by clicking an Apple Pay button. Browers on the Android devices offer the same simple checkout and will thrive for the same reasons.
2) Fast Mobile Websites
Mobile sites are slow. Largely because they’ve been merged with desktop sites as retailers went ‘responsive’. New technologies have emerged that allow all the benefits of responsive, including sharing of code and processes, but allow for much faster loading websites. Some of these technologies include service workers, HTTP2, and smartphones with much faster processors.
Sites such as Bloomingdales are great examples of how these technologies can create rich, engaging mobile websites that are faster than most native apps. As retail gets more competitive and shoppers grow accustomed to buying in fast-loading experiences such as Amazon’s native app, it’s imperative that retailers keep pace by upgrading their mobile web experience (as most shoppers will never download their app).
3) Voice Commerce
Voice already represents at least 20% of Google’s mobile searches. Amazon Echo and Google Home are bringing the simplicity of voice to the mainstream, allowing six year-olds to buy themselves gift (and cookies). If you work in digital commerce, use the Echo today to buy a household staple, such as “AA batteries”. There isn’t a simpler digital commerce experience, period. We are witnessing the birth of the voice commerce movement now. On one side will be Amazon, with the most fully-integrated experience. And on the other, Google will enable thousands of retailers, through its investments in Google assistant, Android, smart home technology, AI, and existing Adwords ecosystem. While shopping capabilities are not available yet, it is a logical next step, as Google assistant’s bot ecosystem just opened up to third-party developers.
Gimmicks to Avoid in 2017
1) Chat Commerce
AI-powered “chatbots” are becoming popular on platforms such as China’s WeChat to handle some commerce. However, chat is a poor experience for most eCommerce scenarios. It’s a low-fidelity interface, like voice, but still requires the screen and typing. None of the top 500 e-tailers have meaningful orders through chat. U.S. brands should focus on chat for customer service, not sales.
2) Social Commerce
The social media juggernauts have invested heavily in social commerce — Facebook and Twitter’s buy buttons, Instagram’s “Shop Now” button — but have failed to gain traction with retailers or consumers. Holiday sales from social media platforms even declined slightly in 2015 over the previous year. Social media may be effective for discovery and decision-making, but until retailers enable instant checkout it will be difficult to create social commerce purchase experiences.
However, “community-based commerce,” where brands offer subscription- and membership-based models, will continue to grow. By enhancing the traditional benefits of buying online with a personal, human component, brands can increase the size and loyalty of their user base. Some examples of this include Stitchfix’s concierge-based model that mimics a personal shopper, and Poshmark, which empowers an active social community of ‘Poshers’ who shop and style each other through a very passionate community experience.
3) AR and VR
Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are in their infancy and have had no impact in the way the mainstream shops. For online shopping, AR apps for trying on eyeglasses or seeing virtual furniture in your living room have existed since as early as 2010. While compelling, they have not fundamentally changed online commerce. And both examples depend on mainstream hardware, smartphones. Don’t make any AR or VR bets that rely on consumers bringing their own headset — they don’t have them yet and that won’t change this year. AR may enhance the in-store experience, making it easier to visualize your new kitchen, but it’s still early days and even the most compelling augmented in-store experience requires the shopper to, well…go to the store — why would they do that when Amazon can bring a product to your doorstep in a couple hours by simply uttering a few words?
Consumers today can order whatever they want, whenever they want, thanks to mobile devices. Retailers aiming to stay relevant do not need to waste significant time and money on trends that do not demonstrate an immediate payoff. The businesses that succeed will be those that prioritize convenience and immediacy throughout their shopping experience, wherever that may be.
In 2017, we expect to see twice as many M&A deals in digital commerce than we saw this past year, as larger companies realize they need to buy smaller stars to stay competitive — as with Unilever’s recent acquisition of Dollar Shave Club.
What do you think? I would love to hear whether or not you agree in the comments below.
Moovweb provides mobile commerce technology to 39 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.Favorite