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E-Commerce Trends in 2018: Voice, Subscriptions, Personalization

By John P. Mello Jr.
Jan 4, 2018 10:53 AM PT
e-commerce-2018-trends

The mushrooming popularity of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home will fuel e-commerce in the coming year.

"You're going to have a whole new frontier of commerce space driven through voice and brand recognition," said Michael Levine, marketing vice president at Photon.

"It's going to be a different type of playing field for these brands," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Where it used to be more visual, it's now going to be driven by voice."

As smart speakers and speech recognition spread throughout living rooms in America, retailers will start adapting to the new technology and learning how to engage consumers with it.

"Brands will use these to create enhanced connections with consumers and augment their voice assistant offerings to deliver tailored, data-driven buying experiences," said Bob Glazer, managing director of Acceleration Partners.

That will occur "especially as voice-enabled search becomes more accurate and user friendly," he told the E-Commerce Times.

More Voice Buys in 2018

Advertisers also will feel the impact of smart speakers in the coming months.

"A recent study by Walker Sands revealed that one in three consumers plan to make a purchase through a voice-controlled device in the next year," noted Andrew Mimault, a senior digital media specialist at Chacka Marketing.

"This should serve as a wake-up call to increase emphasis on how advertisers -- both big and small -- integrate voice into their search program and how to use it creatively," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Voice and pay-per-click will merge in the same way we've seen programmatic buy placements with television," Mimault added.

Online merchants can expect to see smart speakers getting "smarter" next year, too, which will impact sales and customer engagement.

"We will see intelligence that will better understand our preferences," said Patti Doyle, CEO of Vennli.

It will "impact how those voice assistants drive customer engagement from before the sale all the way though to customer experience," she told the E-Commerce Times.

New Agnostic Voice UI

Voice interfaces for retailers won't be limited to the smart speaker leaders, either.

"Look for new, merchant-agnostic voice interfaces as well," said Mike Comstock, a senior adviser at GrandCanals.

"You can speak to TVs now -- and perhaps Xfinity from Comcast, which already has voice navigation, will enter the retail interface arena," he told the E-Commerce Times.

While retailers and advertisers will be discovering the benefits of voice-driven sales and engagement next year, they will discover its limitations as well.

"Retail is a highly visual space," noted Judge Graham, CMO of Ansira.

"Consumers may use home assistants to place their usual and routine Amazon orders or fulfill their Amazon Fresh grocery lists, but for larger and more unique retail purchases, mobile and desktop shopping will remain essential," he told the E-Commerce Times.

There's a long way to go before the ideal voice shopping experience emerges in the market, said Jack O'Leary, an analyst with PlanetRetail RNG.

Still, "I do think the tech will get there, and retailers and brands should be prepared," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Subscription Mania

A hot trend in 2017 that will get hotter in 2018 is product subscriptions.

"Anything that saves consumers time will grow, so anything that requires continuous, frequent purchases will shift toward the subscription model," Crowdtap CEO Matt Britton told the E-Commerce Times.

The addition of connected devices in the home will contribute to an increased use of the subscription model. For example, Brita is connected to Amazon's Dash system, so when a filter needs to be replaced in a Brita device, a new one is ordered automatically.

Competition also will fuel the subscription fires.

"The subscription landscape is one of the fastest-growing ones," said Erich Litch, chief revenue officer at 2Checkout.

"Traditional retailers realize more and more that they are now in direct competition with a new breed of companies focused on subscription offerings," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Meanwhile, online retailers may go beyond auto replacement in the coming year and into auto procurement.

"Amazon is going to start sending you things before you order them, based on the history of what you bought," CrowdTap's Britton predicted. "As they integrate their purchase of Whole Foods, I think that's more likely to happen."

Make It Personal

Personalization will be another sweeping trend next year.

"Personalization will dominate the e-commerce space in 2018," Ansira's Graham said.

"Creating unique customer experiences will be an important part of the industry, and product suggestions based on past purchase history, geographic location and personal information will be key," he noted.

"The focus will no longer be on closing the sale, but on understanding the customer decisions that ultimately impact their purchase and loyalty," said Vennli's Doyle.

Customization will become increasingly important next year, because the target demographics of retailers will be changing.

"Retailers are coming to the realization that their main target demographics -- millennials and, increasingly, Gen Z -- connect with brands that are proactive in engaging them," Acceleration Partners' Glazer observed.

"In 2018, we'll see more brands looking to create free-flowing channels of open dialog and product customization options with audiences to deepen brand connections and drive product interest," he predicted.

Omnichannel Becomes Table Stakes

For the first time in history, millennials and Gen Zers have the greatest percentage of purchasing power, GrandCanals' Comstock noted.

"So you can expect increasing approaches that cater to those segments' behavior in the use of mobile and social platforms they already use, such as Instagram and Snapchat -- and even virtual or augmented reality," he said.

2018 also will be the year that "omnichannel" will become entrenched in the e-commerce industry.

"You want to have a seamless presence across all platforms -- retail store, branded online store, mobile app -- because people are judging all those experiences as one," explained Evan Tennant, national director of e-commerce for Adtaxi.

"Up to now, that idea of a seamless presence across platforms has just been a best practice," he told the E-Commerce Times.

That's about to change, though.

"Omnichannel is going to go from something that's a suggestion or recommendation," Tennant predicted, "to something that's going to be table stakes."


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.


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