Editors note: James Gagliardi, vice president of product and innovation at Digital River, co-wrote this article with Brad LaRock.
Connected consumers will define what e-commerce looks like in 2014 and beyond. The entire commerce experience is being impacted by the rise of social networks, the mass adoption of mobile devices, emergence of more smart objects, and the sheer breadth of global companies that all offer consumers choice and opportunities for in-depth, multifaceted research opportunities before they buy.
These connected consumers have more choices and information available at their fingertips than ever before. As a result, they are also leaving behind a record of their behaviors, preferences and interests, which in turn are creating an ever-growing source of knowledge for companies. Entire e-commerce strategies are emerging around this proliferation of digital activity and resulting data. Nonetheless, these mobile, social and data revolutions will be bounded by global shifts in economic and political power, and the challenges of operating globally and locally. These market dynamics and others are at the center of seven key trends that we believe will define e-commerce in 2014:
1. “Glocalization” strengthens
In 2014, e-commerce will continue to expand its global reach with an understanding that consumers prefer a localized purchase experience – captured by the dynamic word combination “glocalization.”
In other words, demand for foreign goods is strengthening, but consumers prefer, and often times expect, a local e-commerce experience. By localizing payment methods, currency support as well as marketing and merchandising campaigns, companies can more effectively compete with local incumbents. This “glocalized” e-commerce will continue to expand as the biggest players fine-tune their processes and use massive economies of scale to make such operations feasible for the long term.
2. Compliance in a complex legal world
The idea of “glocalization” can often be derailed by legal hurdles that online merchants face in an attempt to localize their businesses. To be a top performing e-commerce player in 2014, a company will have to manage the legal risk and hurdles of regulation with local knowledge and strict business practices.
In Singapore, for example, companies of all sizes have until July 2, 2014, to comply with the Personal Data Protection Act, which requires them to adhere to and provide inventory mapping, process audits and staff training guidelines. In the EU, merchants that sell products with batteries contend with Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) disposal and recycling regulations, the rules of which vary country-by-country and often change.
Staying up-to-date on global, as well as regional or country-specific regulations, is vital. The goal for global merchants should be to ensure that they meet or exceed any compliance deadlines and stay ahead of any on-going changes.
3. Continued importance of the BRIC countries
The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) markets continue to be desirable for global merchants in light of growing population numbers and a budding middle class that will drive competition among global e-commerce providers within those markets.
The entire output of the BRIC economies is predicted to surpass the aggregate GDP of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the UK by 2020 according to the 2013 Human Development Report from the United Nations. The buying power and connectivity of the BRIC market is also growing. In terms of smart devices, the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that shipments to BRIC countries will overtake more developed markets in 2014. In turn, the wider usage of connected devices will enable further e-commerce in the BRIC countries, which are home to more than 40 percent of the world’s population.
The BRIC markets will remain a priority of international companies and certainly e-commerce merchants. Although BRIC markets are full of opportunity, they are also complex and associated with a certain amount of risk that global merchants will have to overcome and manage.
4. Social commerce evolves
Companies that view e-commerce strictly as a website-driven channel will struggle to compete in 2014 and beyond. In 2014, social commerce will be about making commerce a seamless part of the social network experience. Although consumers will still make the overwhelming majority of e-commerce purchases on company websites, social media networks will increasingly be the initial point of contact and research. A wide variety of social networks are working on integrating commerce directly into their platforms and these efforts will make significant progress in 2014.
Consumers will leverage their networks to get information about products and services, as well as look for discounts, offers and loyalty rewards programs. Companies will actively encourage buyers to make purchases and talk about goods on their social networks. As social media analytics evolve, companies will seek better ways to measure the ROI from their social efforts.
Some big brands started and then closed Facebook stores because of underwhelming ROI. These stores didn’t take off mainly because they copied the company’s regular e-commerce store instead of providing a unique social commerce experience.
In 2014, companies may try another pass at in-social network commerce. The brands that make the purchase experience a seamless part of the social experience, rather than a process that takes individuals away from engaging with their friends, will have the best chance of success.
5. Big Data and analytics advance
It’s nearly impossible to write a 2104 forecast on e-commerce without mentioning “Big Data.” While the term might be overused, its importance to e-commerce cannot be overstated.
Big Data and analytics will evolve beyond segmentation for email lists. E-commerce merchants will collect and analyze data to discern shopping patterns that have predictive value and to understand consumer experiences in digital and physical contexts. Fitness equipment manufacturers, for instance, have begun to link their products with smartphone apps, providing users with long-term analytics on their heart rate activity, running distances, speed, calories burned and other training metrics. Their users benefit from the digitally enhanced experience, and the data they create also provides usage insights that inform product design and e-commerce strategy. Product manufacturers will have to start building commerce into their products to future-enable those products.
Data will be the driver for capturing more customers, upselling to existing customers and retaining them for the long term. The underlying tools for the management of this data will only grow smarter, faster and more affordable as companies catch up with an overabundance of data. Big Data analytics should emerge in 2014 as not just a buzzy trend, but a core business practice that e-commerce firms use to understand their business and their customers in fundamentally new ways.
6. New Monetization Models
Big data and analytics will also give rise to new ways of generating revenue. New monetization models will rely on an in-depth understanding of customers to deliver value over a long period of time.
For example, in-game commerce within both app-based and console-based games will grow in 2014. Game companies used to focus on making an upfront sale. Now, they are looking for ways to establish recurring revenue streams in-app or in-game by selling lives, items or other items that enhance gameplay. Many games algorithmically change the rules and gameplay to keep players interested for longer periods of time. Renewable in-game sales and extended interest from players will provide an additional revenue source for development firms, along with possible partnership and product placement opportunities for brands.
Subscription-based business models will also grow in importance. Consumers will increasingly trust companies to curate and regularly deliver physical goods like food, clothing and accessories. As a whole, data driven business models will aim to personalize what might otherwise be an impersonal online experience.
7. B2B Replicates B2C Successes
Online shoppers today expect a seamless and simple process when they shop for personal products. They want a smooth user experience, one-click shopping and a host of other features. That’s exactly what a B2B business buyer is expecting to get today.
B2B companies will increasingly provide the same convenient shopping experience for their business customers. Beyond that, they will also offer videos, graphics and interactive content – all which have been effective in B2C e-commerce.
Many B2B providers have refrained from providing their own e-commerce experience, choosing instead to rely on fax orders, phones and print catalogs. In 2014, businesses that target B2B buyers and fail to enter the e-commerce era will be at a greater risk of losing customers to competitors who have embraced it.
The seven trends detailed above reflect the expansion of e-commerce in a world defined by consumer choice and connectivity. Ultimately, companies will ‘glocalize’ and endure the legal complexities of this choice in order to be competitive in the world’s most dynamic markets. Similarly, companies will expand their social commerce presence to gain a presence in the world’s largest conversations, or reinvent their B2B commerce experience to provide an outstanding user experience. Online retailers will be easy to do business with, or they will be ignored.
Choice and connectivity is also at the heart of big data and emerging business models. Companies can now target particular consumers with marketing, product design and entire business models based on recorded and analyzed consumer behaviors all created through digital activity. In each of these trends, the value of personalizing e-commerce on a societal, group and individual level is clear. In 2014, global firms will realize that mobile, social and big data strategies may look different in each market and are the gateways to record sales volumes.
Which e-commerce trends will have the greatest impact on your business?