Update: For the latest trends, see our 2020 ecommerce trends post. Ecommerce is a fast-moving beast - and if you aren’t constantly moving with the times then your business will die. Kleiner Perkins’ Internet Trends 2018 Report found that:
- US ecommerce sales expanded 16% YoY to $450 billion in 2017;
- and the average consumer now makes 60% of their purchases via digital channels.
Stats like this are set for further growth. But the winnings will be reserved for those who stay ahead of the curve and push industry boundaries. So we collaborated with 17 experts to find the ecommerce trends in 2019 set to fuel serious sales growth. Here's what we found:
Top ecommerce trends 2019
The results of our conversations were fascinating - but varied widely. So for ease of consumption, we narrowed down our findings into three main predictions where your focus needs to be in the coming year:
- Customer experience will be the key brand differentiator.
- Social, chatbot & AR selling will go nuts.
- Google updates could kill organic traffic for many sites.
Let’s take a deeper look at each one of these below along with what our experts said:
Trend #1 Customer experience
Customer experience is something that seems to crop up time and time again. And it’s here once more for ecommerce trends 2019. The difference? In the past, customer experience was almost like an optional extra. Something that could get you ahead of others while still allowing room to compete on other things. But in 2019 brands will need to provide an epic experience as standard.
"We’re all aware of the huge retail bankruptcies that took place in 2018 - Toys R Us, Sears and plenty more. Why did these fail? Not because of a lack of demand, but because people can buy the same products via a better experience somewhere else. "Look at what some of the trendsetters in the industry are doing and there’s a stark difference. They’re creating enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing experiences in-store that people actually want to spend time at, not just buy and get out. Then online there are interactive and personalized buying processes done through smartphone apps and social media messaging - all integrated together into one omnichannel experience. "This is how serious retailers will succeed in 2019. We'll likely see more trailblazing brands win big by adopting these ideas, while bankruptcies continue to hit the 'old guard'."
~ Matt Warren Founder & CEO, Veeqo
What’s involved in customer experience?
The problem here is that ‘customer experience’ is a rather broad topic. So what exactly do we mean when we say 'customer experience'? And what specific things can you action in order to improve it? Standard things include:
- On-site UX.
- Shipping and fulfillment.
- Customer service.
- Solid returns process.
- Trust, safety and reliably handling data.
"Companies are going to begin recognizing the importance of trust and safety divisions and placing a greater importance on the practice as a whole in 2019. This means full transparency about nearly everything, including but not limited to policies (refunds and exchanges), the names of the leadership team, the sourcing location of the products, how data is going to be handled, what protections are in place to ensure security, how products are going to be shipped to them and in general what users can expect."
~ Augustin Kennady Media Relations Director, ShipMonk
But being good at most of these things is now pretty much the norm. And (according to our experts) 2019 will see two things in particular play a bigger role:
Ecommerce personalization can involve selling products that are customizable for buyers - e.g. adding a name or photograph. But the big thing in 2019 will be all about collecting data on each person interacting with your business that can then be used to serve them more relevant content and products.
"Brands and ecommerce companies enabling and empowering customers through personalized experiences in 2019 are in a prime position and setting themselves up for long-term success. "People today are looking for products that reflect their personality or help them to build their own different identity. So it could be a great point of difference for companies who provide expansive personal experiences in terms of customized products, language, curated suggestions and stories."
~ Saud Ibrahim Digital Marketing Manager, The Jacket Maker
Gartner even predicts a 15% profit boost by 2020 for those who successfully adopt ecommerce personalization. Typical data areas to track include:
- Purchase history.
- Items currently in or previously added to shopping cart.
- Search queries on your site.
- Social media behaviour.
- Customer location.
- Customer demographics.
All this can then be used to highlight specific products to certain customers based on:
- Their own activity.
- The activity of others with similar demographics.
The founding father and master of this is (of course) Amazon. They track what you browse and buy in order to then recommend further products suited to you all over the site: But all this is no longer as complicated as it seems. And is by no means reserved solely for giants like Amazon. Smart ecommerce retailers of all sizes are doing it by using a combination of:
- Advanced website and platform software (like Shopify Plus)
- Investment in custom development
- Utilizing apps and plugins (like Beeketing’s Personalized Recommendation tool).
- Offering personalized recommendations via chatbots.
"Innovative ecommerce retailers will push the current limits of personalization in 2019. This means going beyond passive product recommendation models by integrating conversational features that actively recommend products to consumers based on demographics, purchase history, locality and any other actionable data. "The idea will be to create an online shopping experience that feels like it comes with the support one would find from a human associate in a store. Imagine logging into a favorite clothier’s website and being greeted by a bot that knows your dimensions, color and style preferences, and can actively assist you in shopping for a new item."
~ Kristine Neil Owner & Creative Director, Markon Brands
Examples of personalization in action
There are a variety of ways to actually put personalization in place on your ecommerce site. Here’s a look at two of the best we’ve seen: #1 Very.co.uk weather-based homepage Very.co.uk has a wide product range - from fashion to homeware to electricals. So to combat this they customize their homepage based on what area each browser has shown most interest in. E.g. spend your time searching and looking at music stuff, then you’ll see more music stuff. But one of the best things is the personalization according to current weather. Here’s what you might see on a rainy day:
While a sunny day might see something more like this:
You can use a tool like Weather Unlocked to help do this. #2 Gymshark localized global selling Global ecommerce is more possible than ever these days. But to be successful, you’ll need more than just one broad website serving the entire world - personalizing via localization is key.
"In 2019, take 'think globally, act locally' to heart. The international marketplace is more lucrative than ever, but only if you deliver a consistently amazing customer experience. Ecommerce tech is finally starting to catch up to this concept, so take advantage of whatever can help you grow globally while thinking locally."
~ Cara Wood Digital Marketing Manager, ShopPad
Fitness apparel brand Gymshark do this brilliantly. You’ll get automatically redirected to the correct storefront based on your location, but can manually change to a whole host of different regions and countries: With the site language then updating to whatever’s primarily spoken in that country. Like German for Germany and Austria:
2) Building an integrated community of buyers
The second area of customer experience that brands should look to take advantage of in 2019 is about connecting two things:
- Building a community of fans and followers, as opposed to standard 'customers'.
- Integrating this community to be able to buy from you via a true omnichannel experience.
"I had the opportunity to talk to several very successful ecommerce businesses during this year and one thing they all had in common was they built an active community among the users of their brand. These brands, through a combination of online discussion groups, offline events, promotions, free resources, benefits, etc. manage to transform their customers into a marketing team whose mission is to spread word of mouth."
~ Alfredo Gómez International Growth Manager, Ecommerce Nation
A community of fans comes from positioning yourself as more than a seller of products. It's about providing engaging content and social activity, and then selling products off the back of it. Think about being consistent with things like:
- Dedicated social media content, videos and posts.
- Activity on relevant forums or online groups.
- Useful/entertaining blog posts and/or emails.
- Engaging fans face-to-face via pop up stores.
- Getting involved with relevant influencers in your industry.
Gary Vaynerchuk's Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a fantastic book for understanding the mindset of this content first, community building approach to online selling.
"Influencer marketing is now a mainstay in the marketing world, but I believe the model is shifting. Traditionally, most brands paid a flat fee, but ecommerce companies are often frustrated by low or hard to measure ROI. "What we've been seeing is brands express an increasing desire for performance based payment, to ensure their marketing dollars are being used effectively and influencers deliver top quality work. With this kind of payment model, we're going to see more and more brands trying out influencer marketing because there's less risk."
~ Michael Quoc Founder & CEO, Dealspotr
Community building itself isn't necessarily a new thing though. It's combining it with a fully integrated omnichannel operation that's going to pay-off big in 2019. This means unifying every sales channel to create a single commerce experience. Buy anywhere, deliver anywhere, return anywhere. So your followers and customers can do things like:
- Buy an item directly on Instagram via shoppable posts and have it delivered to a local delivery locker while checking order status on your mobile app.
- Browse your physical or pop-up store, scan an item via mobile app to add to their online cart and purchase later at home in a preferred size.
- Add to cart on mobile app while on the train to work then log on to your desktop site at the office to complete the purchase and have it delivered to home.
The bottom line is people can easily utilize whichever channel is most convenient for them to complete their desired action at that particular time - and the experience stays the same.
"Consumers are increasingly looking for a more integrated buying process, and want to connect with retailers in whichever way suits them in any particular moment. "Omnichannel gives much more flexibility to interact with a brand – and therefore provides a far superior overall experience. Ultimately, businesses that successfully implement this will be the ones who win."
~ Matt Warren Founder & CEO, Veeqo
Missguided putting omnichannel into action
Missguided are a leading fast fashion retailer in the UK who are crushing it when it comes to omnichannel. To start, they have a mega social media presence - with over 3.5 million Instagram followers and 1.2 million Facebook likes. Regularly posting engaging, tongue-in-cheek content that appeals to their fan-base of young, fashion-conscious women:
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by MISSGUIDED (@missguided) on Dec 1, 2018 at 6:32am PST
But this is all backed up with a strong omnichannel operation. They have their own Missguided smartphone app, which I can use to browse and add this sweater dress to my cart:
This then still appears in my cart regardless of where my next interaction takes place. Like on the full desktop site: I can then move through the buying process in a truly integrated way by:
- Utilizing their 'click and collect' feature.
- Seeing consistent, accurate inventory across every on and offline channel.
- Buying on one channel and checking order status on another.
- Returning in-store or online, regardless of where original purchase was made.
Trend #2 Social, chatbot & AR selling
One of our most hotly tipped ecommerce trends for 2019 is that selling will continue to develop way beyond adding items to traditional ecommerce carts. This means a lot more products will be sold inside social media messenger apps and a variety of on-site and in-app chatbots.
"Chatbots definitely have to be on a retailer's technology roadmap in 2019. These can be integrated with product search capabilities as well as making personalized recommendations and even completing post-sale customer service tasks. Technologies from IBM, Google and Amazon are good foundations to create custom applications that use AI to power these online bots."
~ Igor Nesmyanovich CEO, Eradium
The fact that these chatbots can be always in operation is a huge advantage for retailers. In fact, the 2018 State of Chatbots Report found that speed and availability are perceived as the most valuable chatbot factors - with 64% of respondents citing "24-hour service" as a benefit. It's like having a personal shopper engaging every person interacting with your brand. Except it's there 24/7 with no limit on the number of people it can deal with at once.
"Chatbot consultants will be big in 2019. What makes a great consultant? The ability to listen to the need of the customer and suggest a suitable solution. "That’s exactly how AI works: compares the inputs from the user with its huge database and returns the best answer. Moreover, the chatbots don’t need a lunch break, and their response quality is becoming better with each new customer."
~ Illia Termeno Director, Extrabrains
Consider things like:
- Directly install a live chat tool on your site, like Drift, Tidio or Intercom.
- Create a Kik bot.
- Build your own Facebook Messenger bot.
- Interact on WhatsApp via both live and automated messages.
- Improve conversations with store apps , like Happy Messenger and WhatShare.
There are a whole host of engagement tactics to use within these chatbots themselves. Including offering coupons via chat, running Facebook ads straight to Messenger and adding item-specific chat prompts on product pages.
"Consumers will engage with Facebook bots even more in 2019. Ecommerce research on future trends has already seen a considerable rise in social shopping, and Facebook are only making it easier. "The whole buying process gets done in the Messenger chat itself. From selecting a product to entering address details and completing the payment process securely, all of it through an intelligent chatbot with human-like conversations."
~ Kim Smith Content Marketing Manager, GoodFirms
Lego putting chatbots into action
Lego recognize that one of the biggest problems people have is deciphering which of their many kits or products to buy. And they overcome this brilliantly with Ralph, their Messenger 'Gift Bot':
Ralph takes users through a series of questions covering things like:
- Age range of the person receiving the gift.
- Price range of what you're looking to spend.
- Interests of gift receiver relating to Lego products ranges (Star Wars, superheroes, architecture).
And then churns out product recommendations based on your answers:
Don't forget about Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented Reality has been around for a couple years now. Huge brands like IKEA have even gone viral with apps that digitally place furniture into people's homes:
But (like chatbots and social selling) our experts predict AR will become more widely used as one of the top ecommerce trends in 2019.
"Any retailer who ignores AR will be left behind in 2019 and beyond. This is already becoming prevalent with some bike and furniture shops, where people can use their phone to view exactly what a product will look like in their home and how much space it will take up. But it's also starting to be used by some accessory and clothing companies."
~ Stacy Capiro Founder, Growth Marketing
Recent updates from Apple and Google mean their latest smartphone devices are often fully equipped with AR capabilities. But taking advantage of this technology is no longer reserved solely for businesses with massive budgets. You can build your own AR app through Google's ARCore or Apple's ARKit and a little freelance investment.
"Apple and Google have been aggressively pushing the AR capabilities of their most recent smartphones. This means most consumers will be able to see what they’re buying online in more detail than ever before, bridging the gap between in store and ecommerce retail even more. "As this is the closest ecommerce is going to be able to get to letting people feel and hold a product themselves, something that has traditionally disadvantaged ecommerce retailers, we can expect retailers to increasingly embrace this technology as more consumers come to expect it."
~ George Hartley CEO & Co-Founder, SmartrMail
AR will be more beneficial for some businesses than others. For example: Furniture, clothing and fashion accessories would be particularly nicely suited. While a coffee retailer may not find as much use. But its furor comes from directly addressing one of the biggest consumer problems in ecommerce: People couldn't see what items looked like in the real world until they'd been delivered. Now they can.
"Augmented Reality helps buyers choose products by creating an environment that makes online shopping seem more realistic. With this tactic, it's possible for your buyers to see exactly how a sofa will look in their living room or how a pair of sunglasses will look on their face. This makes the online shopping experience less stressful, especially for those bigger purchases."
~ Morgan Bachemin Digital Ads Director, Online Optimism
Trend #3 Google updates
Organic search is an absolute stalwart traffic source for many online businesses. So one of the unavoidable ecommerce trends in 2019 has to be updates to Google's algorithm that will make SEO harder. Meaning your organic traffic could quickly die if you're not prepared.
"I expect Google to continue to tweak their algorithm even more in 2019, with user metrics being the main focus of their changes. Meaning sites will need to keep users on their web pages longer than search term competitors do. "Providing extremely detailed content on product pages that answers people's questions, links to on-site buyer's guides, spec sheets, owner's manuals and videos will help keep users on your site. Websites that provide so much great information that searchers will not have to click back to the search listings will be rewarded well."
~ Dave Hermansen CEO, Store Coach
Google rose to prominence as the king of search engines by focusing on one thing more than any other: User experience. If you find exactly what you're looking for in as few searches as possible then Google knows you'll come back. So everything is geared towards helping people do that. And in 2019 Google is continuing to push for ranking only the very best pages, not simply the most optimized ones. Meaning there are two page metrics set to play an even bigger role:
- Bounce rate
- Average time on page
"In 2019, expect more minor changes to Google's algorithm, and if you're using SEO for competitive keywords, you need to be well and truly on top of your game. Learn the basics of ecommerce SEO, see what your competitors are doing and then one-up them. "Google is only going to get smarter too. Time on page will start to have an effect on SEO rankings. As a result, your run of the mill Shopify or WooCommerce theme isn't going to benefit you anymore. You'll need to start customizing elements of your page to increase the time on page and make the transaction funnel as frictionless as possible. You'll need to do that without adding plugins either - Google likes a fast website. "Long story short, if you're using SEO in any way, shape or form, you'll be left behind in 2019 if you don't start spending more time on it."
~ Phil Forbes Growth Marketer, Packhelp
Mobile-first is coming too
On top of this heavy UX and engagement focus, Google has been slowly rolling out mobile-first indexing. And this will only take more effect in 2019. What is mobile-first indexing? Basically, the mobile version of your site will become what Google looks at first in order to determine their rankings. Key point: This ins't just for mobile searches. A poor mobile experience could see your site drop rankings (and therefore organic traffic) for desktop too - as explained in this Moz blog post:
"It’s called 'mobile-first' because it’s not a mobile-only index: for instance, if a site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. But the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of that site, and a site with a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost even for searchers on a desktop."
The key is to start thinking about your site from a mobile-first perspective too. Place your focus on:
- Prioritizing mobile page speeds and load times.
- Optimizing images and dynamic elements for mobile.
- Making sure your design is completely mobile responsive.
And this can only be a good thing for retailers anyway with mobile playing an increasingly popular role in the overall ecommerce picture.
"You cannot ignore consumer desire to shop from mobile devices. Google's recently launched Showcase Shopping Ads and 'social selling' are going to be huge - both tactics are striving to gain attention in the mobile ecosystem to help make mobile shopping more convenient for customers. Overall, brands MUST adapt to the user's preference: using mobile devices over desktop when it comes to ecommerce purchases."
~ Bernard May CEO, National Positions
One final layer on top of this to think about in 2019 is Google's move towards voice search. This isn't necessarily about people making direct purchases via digital assistants (like Amazon Echo). But rather how people are searching for things. In other words: People are using tools like Siri, Alexa, Google Home and voice recognition on Google itself to search via speaking instead of typing. In fact, a Location World study found that 40% of adults perform a voice search at least once a day.
"Content that is voice search friendly is now given search engine priority and wins the coveted Google smart-answer snippets every company is seeking to gain. Voice assistants are the digital medium from which consumers will turn to discover new products and services in the future."
~ Nate Masterson CMO, Maple Holistics
Most people speak very differently to the way they type. So optimizing for voice search means taking 'natural language' into consideration on your pages. For example: Typing a search for coffee suppliers may just be "best coffee beans". Whereas someone might say "who sells the best coffee beans?"
Thriving in 2019 will take much more than just relying on the same strategies as previous years. You'll need to continue and monitor what's worked for you in the past. While also looking to place more focus on:
- Creating a better experience for your customers than competitors do.
- Utilizing personalization as much as possible.
- Building a community of fans around an integrated buying experience.
- Taking advantage of chatbot technology and, if applicable, AR.
- Adapting your site in line with Google algorithm updates.
These are the ecommerce trends of 2019 that retailers need to pay attention to. And what will help power serious sales growth in the coming year. Do you agree with our experts? Let us know if we've missed any prevalent ecommerce trends for 2019 in the comments below.