9 retail and ecommerce trends to watch in 2018
With the end of 2017 rapidly approaching – the year that saw a continued squeeze on the high street, the decline of Vine, the rise of voice assistants, the launch of Apple’s iPhone X, and a collective obsession with Stranger Things – we take a look at the trends that look set to shape the retail and ecommerce industries as we head into 2018.
1. Mobile domination
That mobile is a critical channel for retailers is old news – after all, mobile accounted for 51% of UK online retail sales in Q4 2015/16. But it seems likely that more recent smartphone innovations (including Touch ID and facial recognition for payments) will only strengthen mobile’s domination as the mobile browsing and checkout experience becomes increasingly slick – could we be heading towards the death of the desktop for shopping?
2. Voice search & shopping
With the release of Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices and Google Home, the prospect of ‘conversational commerce’ – people using voice assistants to shop – has become a reality.
Although these devices are currently used primarily for general search queries (e.g. requesting weather forecasts), the introduction of screens for visual display could be a game-changer in terms of making them viable for shopping – enabling consumers to search for (and crucially, see) products. Read our full analysis here.
3. Image search & photo shopping
The days of searching for products via text queries may be numbered. Aside from the aforementioned rise of voice search, there is also visual search: using an image reference to find similar products. Google’s ‘Shop the Look’ feature, announced last year, opened the floodgates for this trend, presenting relevant product ads alongside Google Image searches. Meanwhile, eBay this year announced two new visual search features (‘Image Search’ and ‘Find it on eBay’), which use AI to draw on the company’s vast bank of image listings data, surfacing relevant products from photo searches. Considering other big retailers (including ASOS, Amazon and Wayfair) have also launched visual search features, it seems likely that more will follow suit.
4. Chatbots for marketing
Chatbots are starting to emerge as a credible front-line alternative to humans when it comes to performing simple customer service functions, like answering FAQs and directing shoppers to relevant web pages.
However, as the buzz grows around AI and appetite for efficiency increases, we can expect to see chatbots performing an increasing number of functions – potentially offering customers personalised product recommendations, serving up content or promoting deals and discounts.
5. Bricks-and-mortar pop-ups
Whilst the prevailing trend over the past few years has been the decline of the high street as online shopping has flourished, there are signs that the tide may be turning, with online retailers (and even publishers) starting to open pop-up and permanent stores in prime shopping locations. Key examples this year have been the opening of Marie Claire’s Fabled beauty department store on London’s Tottenham Court Road, and Amazon’s launch of a pop-up store in Soho to promote their Black Friday event. Just a gimmick or a taste of things to come? Time will tell.
6. Sharing is caring
The sharing economy has already revolutionised the travel industry (with Airbnb being the obvious leader) and we could soon see it having a similar impact on retail. A number of fashion start-ups have sprung up in recent years, based around the idea of monetised peer-to-peer lending of clothing or borrowing high-end clothing from a virtual closet, on a subscription basis. Notable examples include Rent the Runway in the US and Girl Meets Dress in the UK. With less value now being placed on ownership, this is a trend retailers will need to consider and understand how to leverage.
7. Becoming ‘asset-light’
Just as consumers are becoming less concerned with ownership of physical objects, so we can expect to see online retailers trying to become increasingly lean and asset-light. This means we will likely see the emergence of more marketplace-model businesses that hold no actual stock but excel at customer experience, as well as increased outsourcing of non-core business functions – like content production – to decrease overheads.
8. Augmented reality
The perennial challenge of shopping online – particularly for furnishings and fashion – is the inability to see how items look, fit and feel, whether on the body or in a room. Augmented reality has the potential to solve this problem, and brands including Dulux and IKEA have already launched apps that use AR technology to help consumers preview how an item of furnishing or a paint colour will look in their homes. Given the potential of this technology to increase conversions, it could be a huge opportunity for brands in these key verticals.
‘Fake news’ was named the Collins’ dictionary 2017 Word of the Year, reflecting a climate of general scepticism and a desire for truth and authenticity. Manager of Trends at research firm Mintel, Catherine Cottney, contends that, for consumers, this applies just as much to companies and brands as it does to governments and media:
“Quantified and qualified facts will be in high demand and consumers will expect greater transparency as standard, whether this is related to manufacturing processes or how efficacious a product is.”
“In terms of marketing, there will be a push for greater authenticity; consumers are set to see behind-the-scenes revealed through creative campaigns that put employees to the fore and capitalise on their years of expertise.”
Brands will need to keep this trend in mind, both when approaching their ‘hero’ content activity (campaign and advertising) and when producing Primary Content (including product descriptions) for their ecommerce stores – providing detailed, clear, realistic and authentic information will be crucial for winning over consumers.
To find out more about how Quill can support with content strategy and high-scale, high-quality content production in 2018, please fill out the form below to request a call-back.