The Commerce EvRolution, Part 1: Shopping Trends

Did I just make up a word, EvRolution? Why not. Technologists and marketers have been doing it for years. We’ve come up with ecommerce, m-commerce, and t-commerce to describe online commerce on, respectively, desktop computers, mobile devices, and tablets.

We have multichannel commerce, which implies marketing and selling products through many channels. Now we have omnichannel commerce, which implies delivering a seamless experience regardless of where or how consumers choose to interact with a company.

Whatever term we assign to it, commerce is evolving quickly to keep up with the revolution in mobile devices.

Whether you are a global retailer, pure-play online retailer, brand manufacturer, mom-and-pop local store, or small-to-medium-sized ecommerce merchant, you are likely impacted by rapid adoption of mobile devices.

According to Forrester Research, total U.S. online retail sales will be $252 billion in 2013, growing to $327 billion by 2016. That’s a small portion of forecasted total retail sales of $1.8 trillion in 2016. But, 44 percent of offline retail sales will be influenced by online shopping. That’s another $1.6 trillion worth of sales influenced by shoppers online, with most of them using a mobile device.

Mobile devices and technologies are revolutionizing shopping. Consumers are simply using the devices they are most comfortable with and demanding they deliver the same level of service that their desktop computer or an in-store sales person might deliver.

They are also creating new business opportunities for restaurants and other retailers. Rather than operating just online or in a physical store, retailers can open pop-up or mobile stores and leverage social media, online stores, and mobile apps for consumer ordering and payment convenience. They can go to the consumer rather than the other way around.

As consumers spend more time shopping online, there is an evolution in the way different channels are reacting to the new paradigm. This multi-part article explores key consumer shopping trends that are rapidly forcing changes in the way channels sell them products. I’ll examine the following:

  • Key consumer shopping trends;
  • Global multichannel retailers;
  • Pure-play online retailers;
  • Brand manufacturers;
  • New channels;
  • Small-to-medium-sized online retailers.

This article will focus on key consumer shopping trends. In the next installment, I will address how channels are responding to those trends.

Consumer Shopping Trends

Since consumers are at the heart of this EvRolution, I’ll start with consumer shopping trends.

  • Desire to shop online. Most people under the age of 40 prefer to shop online. Period. Research increasingly bears this out. Some exceptions apply for things like clothes you need to try on and food. But watch for those lines to blur as well, as retailers develop new solutions.
  • More pre-purchase research online. People like the ability to research, compare, and create wish lists without being pressured to buy. This trend is accelerating. Even if they buy in-store, they are likely to research online first.
  • Mobile shoppers. People who shop both on mobile and in physical stores spend more. As more online stores are optimized or offer apps for online purchases, this trend will grow.
  • Lowest price. Consumers are using tools to monitor prices automatically. There are apps that recommend when to make a purchase based on daily pricing trends. Consumers showroom and shop online for better prices while in physical stores.
  • Shoppers want it now. They want it shipped the same day with two-day delivery, or they want to pick it up now. Amazon Prime created a monster for online retailers with its free two-day shipping. Global retailers are responding with in-store pickup. Watch for this to be next day and same day delivery expectations in the coming years.
  • Free returns and return shipping. Not only do customers want you to ship them the orders free, they also want you to pay for the return shipping if they don’t like an item. This trend will increase as well.
  • Payment flexibility. If you offer only credit card payments in your store, that’s not going to cut it in the future. Consumers love PayPal. New choices will be added from all sorts of places in the future. Think Square, Facebook, and Pinterest.
  • Shopping with friends. Shoppers want their friends’ feedback and ideas. Facebook, Pinterest, Wanelo, Fab, Fancy and more are all tightly integrated with social shopping. Again, this trend is increasing online. It’s always existed for physical stores.
  • Consistency. Consumers want the shopping experience to be the same regardless of the channel. Omnichannel commerce is simply a response to consumers who want to be able to order the same product online that they saw in the store at the same — or lower — price.
  • Sourcing indifference. Consumers don’t care where it comes from. They don’t care if you have to ship it from your store in Florida to their homes across the U.S. Just get it there in two days or they will simply order from Amazon.
  • Great online experience. Does your website load in, say, three seconds? That may not be fast enough for consumers today. Once they are in the store, they want good search and navigation. They want the store to be optimized for the device, but they also demand all the content — including reviews, ratings, descriptions, images and so forth.
  • Seamless experience. If a consumer starts a cart on her smartphone, she wants to access that same cart on another device if she decides to buy at another time.
  • Online coupons. Coupons are back. Daily deals are dead. Coupon aggregators are hot with consumers. Searching online for coupons is popular as consumers seek the lowest price.
  • Showrooming. Consumers are using bar code apps to scan UPCs while in physical stores to shop for better deals, or research.
  • Wish lists. Wish lists and gift lists are being used to save and share gift ideas. This extends beyond weddings to birthdays, holidays, and so forth. This allows for personal gifts that consumers want, instead of impersonal gift cards or unwanted gifts.

Consumer showrooming is a trend physical stores are dealing with.

Consumer showrooming is a trend physical stores are dealing with. This shopper is scanning a UPC code with his smartphone.

Universal Trends

As a result of consumer actions, here are common responses by various channels and supporting systems.

  • Mobile. Retail channels are quickly deploying and upgrading mobile sites and apps.
  • Experimentation. There is a lot of experimentation with new channels – virtual stores, pop-up stores, in-store product customization, marketplace selling – as retailers try to find new and unique ways of reaching consumers and creating loyalty.
  • Social media. Social media is being used for branding and messaging as well as promotional marketing. Smart retailers are using it for direct communications and research into buying motivations.
  • Pricing automation. Retailers are using automation to monitor and manage price changes. Dynamic pricing software is used to execute price changes within multiple channels concurrently based on real time conditions. Changes occur constantly throughout the day.
  • Big data. Retailers are discovering the gold mine of information they already have about consumer buying habits. As they consolidate information from online and physical stores and learn to mine it and combine it with third party information more effectively, consumers will be targeted with more appealing, highly personalized offers.
  • Brands competing with channels. Major brands are getting into the retail game with both physical and online stores. Gone are the days when they worried about channel conflict. They are aggressively pursuing “lifestyle” stores rather than simply product stores to reinforce brand images. Think Apple, Nike, and many more.
  • Faster delivery. All channels are moving toward faster delivery in response to consumer demand. Free delivery is also the norm rather than the exception.

In “Part 2: Channel Trends,” I’ll explore changes to each of the retail channels. In “Part 3: Smaller Merchants,” I’ll offer competitive strategies for small to mid-size retailers and manufacturers.

Dale Traxler
Dale Traxler
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