Staying competitive in a rapidly growing market, where your competitors are companies like Amazon, is not something you can achieve without anticipating upcoming trends and preparing for them. Small businesses often don’t have the budgets, connections or manpower, comparable to those of eCommerce giants, but they do have them beat when it comes to flexibility of their business operations, and the leeway this gives them when it comes to minimal acceptable reaction times.
This being said, you are still not given a free pass to wait around indefinitely. Technology and consumer habits are changing at a pace you won’t be able to follow without finding a roadmap and preparing for what lies ahead. Here are just some of the things that will mark ecommerce in the years to come:
Big data is already being created much faster than we can find a use for it, and the Internet of Things is still in the infancy stages. When most of our devices are equipped with at least some kind of data gathering capabilities, not being able to process that data and derive actionable conclusions from it would leave you stumbling in the complete dark.
Developing a serious data mining and processing infrastructure is neither cheap nor easy, and is probably beyond the scope of most small businesses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start dipping your toes into the data pool. Organize collection and analysis of internally created data. Gather competitor insights in bulk by finding and scraping lists of best eCommerce web design and development companies, then scrape the individual competitors sites, identify the important metrics, find out who they are targeting, who is linking to them, etc. You may not have the budget for more demanding data analyses, but you do know who does, and while trying to draw conclusions from the actions of your larger competitors isn’t the quickest or the most indirect way to mine data, it is infinitely better than doing nothing.
Even though the most ambitious talks about automation seem just as absurdly fantastic as those about the largest-scale data processing, automation is already very much a part of our reality and is much more affordable than you might think. Naturally, automation in its broadest sense has been around forever, but the kind we are talking about has only recently become streamlined and cheap enough to (almost) become commonplace.
You could save a lot of money and time by automating everything from customer service tasks like answering frequently asked questions to actual purchasing processes. Different AI-equipped chatbots, service bots and what-not-bots are not only capable of performing programmable, predictable tasks, but of actually learning from the data they gather during their operation. They are not able to do this completely on their own, of course, but managing them is nowhere near as demanding as sticking with human-only assistance.
Consumers are getting spoiled for choice and savvier when it comes to technology and marketing. You’ll need to keep finding new ways to distinguish yourself from competitors, without setting off triggers in the minds of your customers. It doesn’t take more than 3 seconds from the moment they feel you’re being condescending, manipulative, or in any way shady, for them to already be on a competitor’s website that has similar prices and perks, while also seaming more honest.
That’s why the amount of exposure you’re getting as an eCommerce business isn’t close to being your main concern, its quality is. Focus on building a portfolio of consumer-provided coverage. Influencer marketing is, of course, one of the ways to achieve this, as are social media campaigns, but there is nothing that consumers take as seriously as an honest customer review. The more confirmations they get of your reliability and competence from people outside your company, the likelier they are to lend you their trust.
Omni-Channel Marketing and Retail
We’re already using a number of different devices to shop and begin our purchasing process online only to complete it offline (O2O commerce) where we can feel the actual item we are buying; or vice versa - have a brick and mortar store as an initial touchpoint, but then proceed to buy the item online for a lower price (showrooming). If you are not providing for all aspects of the purchase experience, you’re missing out on potential customers.
Even though people are more than used to relying on mobile devices for product browsing and research, they are not as comfortable with them when it’s time to make a purchase. Providing an impeccable mobile experience, not a crudely reworked miniaturization of your desktop site, is essential in changing their minds. If you’re selling something customers don’t like buying without seeing it in person, consider opening showrooms in critical locations.
In essence, it boils down to this, stop treating your marketing channels as separate segments of your overall strategy and instead organize them so that they complement each other.
The Bottom Line
Just because you have a modest budget and can’t afford an in-house team of data scientist doesn’t mean you’re fatally disadvantaged and that there is no place for you in the developing ecommerce ecosystem. You can make up for most of your limitations by keeping your ear to the ground, analyzing data of those who analyze everyone’s data; automating processes that don’t require human touch, or that could, because of higher potential for error, even suffer from it; realizing that the first isle that customers are drawn to when they come into your showroom is perhaps indicative of what they might like to see above the fold of your site; and constantly keeping an eye on how your customers and consumers in general are changing.
Larry is a tech writer with DesignRush - a new digital destination to offer inspiration and overview of the current design and technology trends. Larry has several years of experience in creating content for the web, usually on topics centered around web design and development. To stay updated with Larry's latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.