The ecommerce industry was born of technology. Ever since 1995 when that first book was sold on Amazon, the way consumers shop and the paths they have to do it have changed as a result of the tech making it possible. Ecommerce has been around for fewer than 30 years, and yet will account for $4.9 trillion in sales in 2021. The rate at which growth and change occur in this industry is unrivaled.
New technology (and related software) has fueled the meteoric rise in ecommerce, accelerated more recently by the true necessity to shop online due to global lockdowns in the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the rise of these technologies, consumer preferences and behaviors are changing just as fast. Any ecommerce brand not aware of this tech will be quickly left behind, so keep reading to learn how technology is changing ecommerce—and what a brand can do.
By 2023, it’s predicted that 75% of organizations will have AI-powered processes in their regular business practices. This technology is well past the piloting phase. Already, AI is used by the most competitive brands to analyze data and power more aggressive strategy and operational agility.
In ecommerce, AI-powered tech now enables brands to collect and “think through” user purchase and behavioral data to segment users by what they buy, where they hang out, and hundreds of other user tags. For online brands, this means giving better product suggestions, knowing when to “pull the trigger” on that great email sequence, optimizing ad copy for specific interests, and remarketing content that speaks directly to each consumer’s top need.
The power to segment consumers in more personalized and meaningful ways is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the revolution happening in digital marketing. Ecommerce has already changed as a result, and these trends will continue to drive the industry to an increasingly personalized user experience.
Product Visualization Through Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
One of the biggest technology trends in ecommerce comes in the form of “product visualization,” or the way consumers can now view a product. Since the 1990s, this has evolved from small, low-resolution photos to multiple enriched images from every angle, product videos, and augmented reality (AR)-enhanced experiences. Virtual reality (VR) has also gotten a lot of attention in ecommerce of late.
The biggest drawback to online shopping is the inability to see, test, or try on the desired product. Even with all the conveniences of ecommerce, this factor alone inhibits an immeasurable number of sales. It can be hard for consumers to imagine how that dress will fit or how that coat rack will look in the corner of their hallway, and they become understandably trigger shy as a result.
Product visualization technology now fills that gap, and the resulting adoption of this technology by brands in recent years has been extraordinary.
Just imagine that same consumer looking for a coat rack. Instead of wondering whether it will be too big or small for the intended space, the consumer can point a smartphone where the coat rack will go and insert a high-definition image of the rack directly into the view.
For an even more intense experience, in virtual reality shopping, users actually “enter” a virtual world with a compatible VR headset and video to see and “try” a product before buying it.
These technologies have already impacted the way consumers make buying decisions and will continue to play a bigger part in ecommerce.
Social media has adapted just as fast as ecommerce, if not faster. In just 20 years, the concept has shifted from text-based updates between friends to an increasingly visual and interactive user experience.
Ecommerce, it seems, was always destined to link up to social media. Just scroll through a Facebook feed today, and you’ll see requests for product recommendations, or ask your friends what they do on Pinterest, and you’ll learn of “discovery shopping” where users scroll through images in the search of “inspiration.”
Ecommerce technology has led to curious new innovations based on how users spend time on social media, notably through recent integrations made possible through “shoppable posts.” For example, a brand’s page on Instagram can feature beautiful product photos that pop up in feeds, each of which is linked directly to that brand’s Shopify page for that product. Users can now purchase the products without ever leaving the network.
The key here is that social commerce enables a new level of seamless shopping. Social networks are already some of the most popular destinations on the internet, so instead of directing users somewhere else, brands can facilitate a purchase in-app.
Of course, there’s more to this tech than just linking an Instagram page with Shopify. To sell on multiple channels, product data (from SKUs and descriptions to enriched photos and product videos) have to be optimized in multiple versions to be suitable for each platform they’re sold on.
Undoubtedly, this opens a can of worms of product data management, however, tech has responded to that need, too, with solutions like product information management software (PIM). You’ll read more on this technology when we get into the biggest technology-driven shift the ecommerce industry has seen yet.
Image Search Technology:
It was four years ago that Moz performed a study of all Google searches and found that 27% started in Google Images. Today, with new image search technology on the rise, this number has grown and will likely double by the end of 2023.
Why? Consumers like to see whatever they want to buy, of course. This requirement has given rise to image search optimizations in ecommerce as well as two superb new technologies giving consumers even more paths to purchase:
- Reverse searches
Consumers can now take photos of products in the physical space around them and perform a reverse search to find where to buy the products online. To tap this path to purchase, ecommerce brands have had to further optimize their product images to be findable by Google, in particular.
- Scan-in-buy apps
For those brands with a brick-and-mortar presence, consumers can now also open a mobile app in-store and take a picture of a barcode to purchase the product immediately. These apps come equipped with image-based searches, too, so that consumers can easily navigate physical stores and find what they’re looking for.
New search technology is always followed by new SEO trends and strategies, too. In the case of enriched image searches, metadata strategies are at the core of making a brand’s products findable. PIM solutions come into this, again, to help brands organize that data product-by-product.
Mobile Apps & eWallet Technology:
Mobile optimizations are a must for every ecommerce brand, with as much as 69% of purchases on ecommerce sites happening on mobile devices today.
This trend doesn’t stop there, either, because optimizing an ecommerce site for mobile isn’t enough to make the mobile shopping experience what it should be.
New mobile technologies like eWallets have made lasting waves in ecommerce. In general, users shopping online understand the benefits and added security of performing certain activities on their phones. They’re regular smartphone users. They also value convenience over price in most cases. Added mobile wallet functionality to the shopping experience, thus, fits right in with this changing norm.
Mobile apps also give return customers (and those aficionados of loyalty dollars) a frictionless way to buy from ecommerce catalogs they already know and like. The demand for these kinds of solutions has fueled app development tech, including the option for ecommerce brands to outsource the development of their apps or even plug-and-play into templated app solutions.
All these tech-powered strides in ecommerce have been walking us in the same direction toward a totally frictionless buyer experience. Adult smartphone users spend up to eight hours a day on their devices, and the time on laptops and desktops renders our lives even more digital. The ecommerce industry has responded with new technologies and content trends to keep users engaged (and for brands to meet those changing expectations).
Among the most notable changes in consumer behavior is the rising trend of multichannel shopping. Consumers average almost three touchpoints with a brand before buying a product, not to mention the touchpoints with other brands as the shopping process takes place. That shopping process involves everything from “discovery shopping” on social platforms to marketplace hopping to compare prices. Ecommerce shoppers are wise to their options, and the only brands who come out ahead are those in the right place at the right time.
For ecommerce brands, this means multichannel selling.
The benefit to selling on multiple online marketplaces (along with social channels and ecommerce websites) is that a brand can catch the attention of all users no matter how complex their paths to a product page.
Of course, technology has responded to this trend, too. As it turns out, preparing product data on thousands of products with the intention to sell them on multiple platforms means optimizing that data for different audiences, platform requirements, and points in a buyer journey. Aggregating, optimizing, storing and exporting this data to load perfectly-optimized product information to multiple channels would not be feasible without a tech solution.
That’s why product information management (PIM) was created.
Today, software like PIM is capable of working seamlessly with data sets to simplify the optimization processes and get ecommerce brands up and running on multiple channels in weeks instead of months. This tech has changed what’s possible for brands while enhancing all the other technologies covered here. The final result is an increasingly seamless, interactive shopping experience for buyers.
Author’s Bio: – Alex Borzo
Amber Engine is a software company passionate about ecommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.