The Evolution of Traditional eCommerce and How to Stay Competitive
During the past few decades eCommerce has grown to outpace traditional brick-and-mortar stores. As consumer spending habits shift toward eCommerce channels, even retail giants like Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Walmart are struggling to compete. No longer does a company need to invest in a large physical space in order to sell a variety of products and reach their target markets. In fact, census figures show a steady decrease in department store sales from $19.9 billion in 2001 to less than $14.2 billion in 2014.
Even so, simply taking part in the eCommerce boom isn’t enough. With few barriers to entry, the online sales landscape is becoming more competitive, and it takes effort and careful planning to stand out. Here is a brief history of the evolution of traditional eCommerce along with a few strategies to help you stay on top of current trends.
How Did We Get Here?
The basic systems of eCommerce came about in the 1970’s and 80’s with simple sales interactions that took place over message boards on pre-internet networks. It wasn’t until 1994 that eCommerce began to resemble the system we see today. The internet was becoming more popular outside of scientific and academic circles, and some technological developments like security protocols, high-speed internet connections, and web browsers allowed for faster online transaction capabilities.
In 1995, Amazon launched as an online bookseller, and eBay launched originally as AuctionWeb. As computers and the internet became more common in households, these modern-day eCommerce powerhouses along with a growing number of online businesses continued to expand their offering of products and services.
From the 2000s to now, hundreds of eCommerce services have emerged that can fulfill most any consumer need. Services that used to require visiting a physical location, such as renting a movie or buying groceries, are now possible and common online. With more businesses joining the rise of eCommerce, an increased attention to the user experience became necessary for companies to be successful.
What Sets Some Companies Apart?
Along with the technology we use to engage with eCommerce sites, consumer expectations are continuously evolving. The defining feature of successful eCommerce sites is their ability to adapt to this changing marketplace. To ensure you do the same, it’s important to understand these recent trends in internet marketing.
Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, stands to take over a significant portion of retail sales. In the second quarter of 2015, adults in the U.S. spent 59 percent of their time online on mobile devices. However, just 15 percent of the dollars spent occurred on mobile devices.
Though the percentage of purchases made on mobile devices may seem low, mobile optimization is becoming increasingly important. Aside from Google’s announcement that mobile-friendliness is a ranking signal on mobile searches, the fact that browsing the web on mobile devices has surpassed time spent on a desktop points to an opportunity for some businesses to take advantage of m-commerce.
The factors currently holding back mobile purchasing habits include poor shopping experiences due to small screen sizes on smartphones, unreliable connection speeds on mobile devices, and fears about security issues. However, smartphone companies are working to enlarge phone sizes to improve the user experience. Also, many eCommerce sites have introduced one-click checkout options, which provide a convenient workaround for a poor user experience. Creating a mobile app is another way to ensure you have some control over the user experience.
This trend relates in part to the issue of security for online payments in both mobile and desktop purchases. Credit card companies have responded to security concerns by releasing EMV credit cards that are designed to protect against international data breaches. However, since this chip technology isn’t part of the payment process in online transactions, EMV cards don’t provide a major security benefit to online shoppers. Instead, eCommerce websites can provide assurance to customers by using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate in order to encrypt credit card information.
Consumers are also looking for payment methods that are simple and easy to use, and they expect a variety of payment options when shopping online. While it wouldn’t be feasible to feature all possible payment methods, you should research the methods your audience is most likely to use. Google Wallet, Amazon Payments, and of course, PayPal are just a few options to consider incorporating into your site.
Social media helps companies to attract large audiences, establish a stronger web presence, generate leads, and increase traffic. Social media allows companies to connect with target audiences in a public channel, which can increase awareness and craft a more personalized reputation for your brand. By tracking the way social media users interact with your brand, you can also get valuable feedback directly from current and prospective customers that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
With the variety of options including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and others, it’s important to set clear objectives for how your business will use social media and which channels your content and interactions are most suitable for. However, some forms of content are appropriate for multiple platforms. For example, incorporating video into your marketing strategy can enhance conversion rates and increases the likelihood that people will share your content on their personal channels.
Along with the personal connections possible within social media, creating a personalized user experience can have major benefits to your eCommerce website. This includes things like user-specific product recommendations, saved search histories, relevant ads, and individualized emails and deals. Each of these can ensure that you’re actively satisfying the needs of your customers which in turn encourages customer loyalty and engagement with your brand.
With technology and consumer expectations surrounding eCommerce in a constant state of flux, it can be difficult to know what marketing efforts are valuable. Although these will continue to evolve over time, considering these trends as you develop your marketing strategy can help your business to stay competitive within the ever-changing eCommerce landscape.