20/20 Vision: Looking Back at the Evolution of Digital Shopping Innovation
The past 20 years of e-commerce and digital have been a long journey for retailers. We’ve gone from slow, primitive websites with poor user experiences to the fast, intuitive, omnichannel offerings we know today.
However, while retailers sometimes struggled to keep up with rapid advancements in technology and rising consumer expectations, clear standards have emerged that are essential for both satisfactory and successful e-commerce experiences along this journey.
the e-tailing group, now part of Astound Commerce, has studied the trends that have defined e-commerce since 1996 with annual mystery shopping reports. In its latest report, 20/20 Vision: Looking Forward by Looking Back at 20 Years of Digital Shopping Innovation, Astound Commerce analyzed the evolution of e-commerce over the past two decades to paint a clear picture of the capabilities that have become standard features for today's leading retailers.
These are a few of the e-commerce must-haves that industry leaders have adopted and mastered:
- Personalized Recommendations: As consumers expect more individualized experiences, brands must provide personalized product and shopping cart recommendations. While just 44 percent of retailers used these features in 2001, 99 percent provide personalized product recommendations today.
- Immersive Product Visualization: When shopping online — where the luxury of touching and feeling a product before purchasing isn’t an option — product visualization is critical, from spin to dimension details. Almost nine out of 10 retailers meet this need today by providing thorough and clear visuals of products through alternative views, different color options and high-quality, zoomable photos.
- Accessible Customer Feedback: Customers have grown weary of promotional messages. They want to hear directly from shoppers who have already purchased products, especially when ordering online. That’s why reviews on e-commerce sites have jumped from 32 percent proliferation in 2005 to 94 percent today.
Many of the features that seem simple today were major technological advancements when they were first introduced. Just as augmented reality and voice-controlled assistants have gained ground with only the most forward-thinking retailers, features like inventory transparency and video merchandising were once offered by a select group of elites. The study found that 10 features experienced the biggest market penetration since they were first introduced, including:
- Inventory Transparency: Customers want products as fast as possible from the most convenient channels. If they can’t pick items up from their favorite store location, they’ll go to another nearby location or order online — but they need real-time visibility into inventory levels in order to do so. As omnichannel strategies become widespread, this feature has reached 95 percent penetration (compared to just 24 percent in 1999).
- Flexible Payment Options: With options like Apple Pay and Visa Checkout becoming more popular, retailers are prioritizing support for alternative payments. In fact, 83 percent offer PayPal support on their websites now, compared to just 22 percent in 2007.
- Post-Purchase Merchandising: Marketers are finding valuable opportunities to grab customer attention immediately post-purchase by using product recommendations and other merchandising-driven messaging. Now, 90 percent of brands studied use this strategy, compared to only 38 percent in 2003.
The features that dominate the e-commerce market today reflect a wider focus on increased convenience, personalization and transparency drawn from customer demands over the last 20 years. Features and capabilities that didn’t exist in the early 2000s are now expected. With this in mind, brands need to be prepared to adapt quickly if they want to hold their ground as a market leader for years to come.
Lauren Freedman is the senior vice president of digital strategy and chief merchant of Astound Commerce, a global digital commerce agency.