When it comes to e-commerce, it seems like one day you are in and the next you are out. With online shopping now more accessible than ever, customers steadily are becoming harder to please, and they are considering it a given that their rising expectations be met every time.
Just having an online version of a physical store isn’t enough anymore, as consumers don’t want to grab and go — they want their shopping to be an experience in and of itself: interactive, immersive and enjoyable.
So it’s to be expected that trends in e-commerce will continue to shift, fueled by consumers’ desires and tastes. Following is a list of trends that will change the way e-commerce operates in 2019:
1. Interactive Product Visualization
Most would agree that when it comes to online shopping, illuminating visualization is the best way for merchants and marketers to present their products to consumers, so they can study every detail and make an informed purchase decision without regretting it afterward.
In addition, one of the obstacles between consideration and purchase is consumers’ uncertainty about product authenticity, especially when it comes to the luxury segment. Since customers can’t physically touch the item they’re considering, their hesitation can be overcome only by presenting them with high-quality images of products displayed in as many views as possible.
Consequently, the seamless zoom feature has become very popular lately, as it allows customers to zoom in on certain details to get a better feel for the product without actually touching it.
Still, even after implementing zoom and making sure that photos are of high enough quality to withstand being magnified, and do not take too long to download (that can result in a drop-off rate of 39 percent), a retailer can take it a step further.
To enhance the online shopping experience, merchants also can consider using demo videos to show products in action. According to Fifty-two percent of participants in a recent poll said that watching product videos makes them more confident about their online purchase decisions.
3D imaging is another option, and it is often the best choice from a visual perspective. American Greetings, a creator and manufacturer of social expression products and e-greetings, looked at every visualization option and, in addition to high-quality photos, now also presents site visitors with 3D images.
Considering that reenacting the in-store experience for greeting cards online is almost impossible with the current visualization tools available, 3D product imaging has solved a major problem for American Greetings. Glitter, foil, embossing, and other attachments are quite common with greeting cards, and it can be difficult to appreciate these features with traditional 2D photography.
It’s only recently that current 3D technologies have advanced enough to be able to process product features that not so long ago were considered out of reach: black, shiny, and glossy objects such as silks, leathers and jewelry items, as well as anything transparent, unusually shaped or textured. Depicting all of that is now possible without obstacles.
Increased customer engagement is not the only benefit of 3D product imaging, as it also boosts metrics that are far more tangible, with conversion rate being a prime example.
With 3D product imaging, TSUM, one of the largest luxury goods department stores in Eastern Europe, managed to increase its conversion rate by almost 40 percent for products in the shoes and bags categories.
TSUM is the first company to have digitized more than 40,000 products in 3D. This case study proves that it is possible to digitize large numbers of stock keeping units (SKUs) in a reasonable time frame with the right tools.
To sum up, with a combination of 3D view, seamless zoom and limitless configuration options, online shopping is bound to transform into a futuristic experience and exceed the highest of customer expectations in 2019.
2. Artificial Intelligence Solutions
As of now, there’s little to no doubt that the future of e-commerce lies with artificial intelligence. From personalized 3D avatars and virtual fashion advisors for increased interactivity, to AI-gathered never-seen-before data for boosting sales, AI is at the helm of an e-commerce revolution.
In order to avoid confusion, let’s separate more hands-on use cases for AI in e-commerce (virtual style assistants and immersive try-it-on sessions) from those related to data (product management and marketing insight gathering).
Remember the character Cher from the movie Clueless? She had her computerized ultimate virtual wardrobe assistant armed with yellow checkered outfits. Seeing the program instilled pangs of envy into the hearts of many teenage viewers of the film.
With the help of AI, though, such an experience is closer than ever. The Echo Look, Amazon’s pilot of a “fashion assistant,” recently was introduced in the U.S. to a limited audience.
The program analyzes the user’s outfit through a combination of algorithms and human stylist insight and passes on its fashion judgement.
Net-a-Porter, an e-store offering designer fashion, is experimenting with technology that scans user data for planned trips and events, and then offers ad hoc style options.
Virtual fashion assistants still have a long way to go, but what was considered fiction just a few years ago now is becoming very real.
As business decision making becomes steadily more data-driven, demand for measurable metrics is higher than ever. Conversion rate, website traffic and customer engagement levels are important guides for marketers in all industries, yet some don’t even realize they have need of previously nonexistent data that is now available.
AI analytics tools of 2019 will be able to track the way potential customers interact with product imagery embedded into retailers’ websites, whether 2D or 3D images, and present the most telling metrics on a heat map. Apart from dwell time, the tool will highlight points of customer interest and the best angles for thumbnail product positioning.
With the insights gathered by AI, e-commerce merchants will be able to improve product visualization, choose winning color combinations, and put bestsellers at the forefront of their offerings. For instance, say that 70 percent of a product page visitors spent the lion’s share of dwell time examining the clasp on a certain jewelry item or zoomed in to see the stitching of a particular dress. To an aggressive marketing team, this type of data could prove invaluable.
Information like this is completely new to the market, and according to Smart Data Collective, the way retailers track their inventory and consumer interest soon will be revolutionized with the help of AI. Keeping in mind ever growing consumer expectations, “soon” is actually now.
3. Renaissance of Physical Stores
It is true that when it comes to the future of e-commerce the only direction that retailers want to go is forward, and brick-and-mortar stores seem to be a thing of the past.
Yet for some consumers, nothing e-commerce has to offer can quite measure up to the physical in-store experience. In fact, leading global retailers like Amazon and Alibaba now are experimenting with the newly revived power of hands-on shopping.
In fact, Amazon recently opened a new retail store in New York offering a range of products that have a four stars in their customer reviews. The items selected are bestsellers and directly reflect what customers are buying.
“Amazon 4-Star” turns traditional shopping on its head by replicating the virtual within the physical instead of vice versa. Copying the structure of the Amazon website, the store has products organized by headings already known to online shoppers such as “Trending Around NYC,” “Frequently Bought Together” and “Amazon Exclusives.”
Alibaba Group also seems to believe in the renaissance of physical stores, as it recently debuted its first FashionAI concept boutique in Hong Kong.
The store displays a selection of Guess apparel with the help of a “smart mirror” that displays product information on a special screen while shoppers are examining the items. The smart mirror points to where the garments in question can be found, while also diplomatically admitting that it doesn’t know who’s the fairest of them all. It’s definitely a very smart mirror.
Another way to bring the digital shopping experience inside physical stores is digital signage.
While digital kiosks aren’t unknown to brick-and-mortar retail, digital signage, in 2019, will be able to offer additional interactivity, increased engagement, and a seamless omnichannel experience, as any product visualization available to websites also can be used for digital installations.
Interactive kiosks feature a variety of products offered by the store, and — depending on the digital signage software provider — introduce different ways of storytelling. Some show branded films, while others focus on 3D product imaging. Both are interactive, yet — as always — it’s up to the customers to decide which approach works better.
Besides offering improved product visualization, digital signage next year will allow customers to browse goods that are not available in stores, get a purchase code, and order home delivery. Just about any relevant shopping scenario will be possible.
As both SMB and enterprise retail largely have been going digital, brick-and-mortar stores might have been expected to take a backseat. However, the retail market rarely reacts the way it’s expected to, and the recent renaissance of in-store shopping confirms that.
The Bottom Line
Improved product visualization, AI for both in-depth analytics and boosting engagement levels, and revival of the physical store are the e-commerce trends to keep up with in 2019.
These trends, when combined, form a solid foundation for a holistic business strategy meant to boost sales and pave the way for brand innovations and a futuristic, yet satisfying, customer experience.