2012 was a great year for e-commerce, for both consumers and marketers alike. And from the looks of it, 2013 is shaping up to be even better.
In 2012, consumers who were once wary of virtual buying, continued to increase their spending online, where they’ve discovered that better optimized and personalized sites are starting to offer them a richer, more relevant online experience. Marketers, once dependent on gut instinct and guessing games, now use easy-to-use, sophisticated tools to create sites driven by real-time user behaviors and data.
But as much as e-commerce has evolved, 2013 promises to be full of even more great leaps forward for consumers -- and for the online businesses that serve them. More channels and devices are digitally disrupting the market, and consumers are more fickle than ever.
Thanks to smarter marketing and better technology, 2013 just might be the year we see a real shift in how close consumers and companies can really become.
Trend 1: True, Real Time Personalization, for Everyone
Personalization is not new, but its widespread popularity is. And like any other widely-adopted concept, personalization has elicited a number of conflicting definitions ... and questions: What exactly is it? A certain set of tactics? A defined approach? A specific technology? Ask 10 different people this very question and you’ll get at least five different responses.
Personalization can be simple (i.e., based on one or two collected insights) or complex (i.e., based on multiple insights processed by detailed formulas and algorithms), as long as the end result is an optimized 1-to-1 (or individual) customer experience.
Either way, now that this complex technology is being made easily available to the masses, we’re going to see major industries like finance, travel and media lead the charge, but also expect businesses in other industries, such as gaming and charity, to take advantage of personalization solutions to offer more custom experiences.
Because of this, consumers should expect to see more of the general information they share online used by retailers. Everything from age, geography, life stage, incorporating social profiles (e.g., married versus single) will play a part in offering a more relevant, more valuable shopping experience.
Loyalty programs as well will start to become a more important part of the e-commerce lifecycle -- it’s not just for frequent fliers anymore. Now businesses across industries (retail, finance, etc.) are launching loyalty programs -- and integrating data into comprehensive customer profiles -- to offer the next level of personalization and service.
Trend 2: Mobile Grows Up
Year in and year out, it’s almost a requirement that the word “mobile” shows up in a predictions piece. We’ve been watching it for years, ever since Apple disrupted the market with the iPhone in 2007. But fast forward to 2013: it’s an entirely different game, with different consumers and different competition.
It’s no longer enough to just ensure that your site functions properly on mobile devices, or that you have an app presence. As consumers adapt to living their lives from their mobile phones and tablets, they’ll expect platform-specific offerings that offer a better shopping experience, geo-specific content, special offers and other elements that complement and enhance life on the go.
While Apple may still lead the smartphone charge, they aren’t the only player in town -- and you shouldn’t assume that your consumers are all on the same device. Moving forward, responsive design will be a must have for mobile sites, the site that’s designed for optimal viewing no matter which mobile or tablet device is being used.
Consumers are simply going to lose patience with sites that fail to keep pace. Gone are the days of resizing, scrolling and otherwise struggling to view a site depending on the size of your computer or device screen.
Not only are consumers no longer using the same mobile device, they aren’t accessing your site from just one channel. PCs rule the work day, tablets are used in the evening and phones are always there.
Whether it’s online or offline, mobile or PC, marketing efforts and promotional offerings must be fully integrated with an on-the-go user in mind. This means meshing these two worlds by doing things such as introducing mobile devices and tablets to the in-store experience (as a way for consumers to browse and engage) and mapping online and offline shopping profiles.
Trend 3: Seamless Experiences Across all Channels
Thanks to e-commerce evolution, we’re now in the possession of multiple channels to reach consumers, an era that is both a blessing and a curse. But there is no stopping it: consumers expect a completely seamless shopping experience no matter where they are -- at their desktops, on their smartphones and tablets, or on social pages and sites. Thankfully, with emerging tools and technologies, it’s now easier to integrate CRM and multichannel data across all brand touch points.
The phenomenon of "Big Data," while overhyped to some, will actually be a very powerful trend if companies can harness its power and use it wisely. Essentially, if a brand can measure, analyze and directly translate this knowledge into improved decision-making and customer experiences, it will drive improved business performance.
Most businesses have an abundance of useful data, however very few are using this data to provide targeted individual experiences at the right time in order to respond to savvy consumers’ needs. In the coming year, expect to see more brands getting a handle on this to offer customers more targeted offers across all channels, in real-time.
Probably one of the most important channels we’ll see come of age is social media. Because for far too long, marketers have treated social media as an island from the rest of their strategy -- and in turn, have not reaped any benefits of it being a useful sales tool. Going forward, we’ll see more brands using social data to personalize experiences on the website, as well as applying testing and personalization to their own Facebook pages.
In the end, consumers are a mixed bag of personalities, demographics, geographies and psycho-graphics. Every specific piece of data you can gain about each of them, across multiple channels (especially on-the-go channels) is going to be used to create better online experiences.
With the continual evolution of consumers and the emergence of new technologies, we have no choice but to keep revolutionizing the way we optimize the customer experience, and continue finding vital keys to long-term brand engagement and loyalty. I’m looking forward to seeing what really pans out in 2013.
Editor's Note: To read more of Mark's thoughts on E-Commerce, check out Taming Fickle Mobile Shoppers with Customer Experience Optimization