2017 was a tangibly transformative year for retail, and specifically e-commerce, thanks to a handful of burgeoning technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and voice-assisted devices. At Quill, we’ve consulted our crystal ball to predict what 2018 has in store for the retail industry. Here are some of the retail and e-commerce trends that look set to be influential this year.
Most consumers begin their purchase journey with an online search, whether they’re looking to locate their nearest store or buy online. Given the rising popularity of voice-driven connected home devices (like the Amazon Echo) — and with 600 million people already using voice assistants on a weekly basis — it’s likely that 2018 will be the year in which web content and SEO practices are transformed by voice search.
While these devices are currently primarily used for informational search queries like "is it going to rain today?", the addition of screens to the next generation of voice-assisted devices — starting with the Amazon Echo Show — will unlock the potential for them to be used for online shopping, much in the same way that the addition of high-quality screens to mobile devices sparked the rise of m-commerce.
The explosion of "conversational commerce" will necessitate a fundamental shift in how retailers approach their website content and SEO strategies. Retailers need to ensure that their product category pages are optimized for “visibility” in voice-driven search results, as consumers shift from searching using typed keyword phrases (e.g., "black evening dress") to more complex, spoken queries using conversational language (e.g., "show me evening dress ideas for a smart work dinner").
Likewise, retailers will need to optimize their product description content with appropriate metadata that anticipates customer voice queries. For example, a customer viewing a product page for a handbag may ask "is the strap detachable?" In a context where a voice assistant would be expected to supply a spoken response, the product page will need to include the relevant content to answer these types of questions. If retailers aren’t ready for these more contextual, conversational product queries, consumers won’t get the answers they need to complete a purchase, leading to falling conversion rates as voice-driven search takes hold.
Picture-Perfect Image Search
Another trend that will have a significant impact on e-commerce is image search. This innovation enables consumers to use a reference image (e.g., a photo taken on a smartphone) to find and purchase matching or similar products.
Considering the widespread penetration of smartphones — 85 percent of respondents in Deloitte’s 2017 Mobile Consumer Survey now own or have access to a smartphone — most of us now have a high-quality camera in our pockets. The principal barrier to widespread use of image search for online shopping is, therefore, retailers ability to integrate and deploy the technology within their e-commerce sites and apps.
ASOS, Amazon.com and Zalando are just a few of the brands leading the way in image search, having already implemented visual search tools. It’s likely that others will follow these market leaders as consumer awareness of this functionality increases. As with so many other emergent e-commerce trends, the companies that are slow to move in line with the evolution of their online customers’ needs will suffer.
Sharing is Caring: A Growing Economy
We expect that the sharing economy — a movement that has already revolutionized the hospitality and transportation industries, with Airbnb and Uber as the most notable examples — will also gain greater traction in the retail industry in 2018.
Research from PWC indicates the sharing economy will be worth $335 billion by 2025. This trend has been driven in part by higher financial insecurity amongst younger shoppers (widely dubbed "Generation Rent"), who place less value on ownership of physical objects and assets, while generally preferring flexible models of consumption (e.g., streaming music vs. purchasing CDs) and sustainable brands and products.
Fashion startups such as Rent the Runway are already tapping into this broader trend, with business models that are based around the idea of renting — rather than buying — designer clothing for special occasions, giving their customers a less expensive, short-term alternative to ownership. Given the potential future value of the sharing economy, this is a trend that online retailers can’t afford to ignore and should consider how best to leverage.
2018 promises to be an exciting year for retail and e-commerce. With technological innovations disrupting shopping experiences at an ever-greater pace, the businesses that are willing to adapt now will be the first to profit from these emerging trends. Those that fall behind — as we’re seeing in all major e-commerce markets — risk extinction.
Ed Bussey is the founder and CEO of Quill, a digital content production partner for brands.
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