In uncertain times, buoyed by economic instability, one thing’s for sure – the global e-commerce market is booming. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown effect has brought about a monumental shift in the way people shop; and businesses are having to adapt fast to remain competitive.
In 2021, global e-commerce sales reached just under USD $4.90 trillion. In the UAE alone, e-commerce revenue is forecast to reach almost USD $12m in 2022, amounting to nearly 7 million users in the region by 2025.
And while the thriving e-commerce market offers exciting opportunities, competition has never been higher.
Here are four need-to-knows about the future of e-commerce to help your business stay competitive in this ever-evolving environment.
1. Omnichannel shopping
Through the integration of both online and physical stores, omnichannel strategies can offer a seamless and holistic customer experience. Around 80% of customers will check out a brand online before stepping into its bricks and mortar store.
An omnichannel strategy merges the shopping process across a number of channels: website, social media, mobile apps and in-store. Customers have the opportunity to search through one channel, then buy from another.
How to make the most of the omnichannel experience:
- Click and collect: Customers can order online then pick up from a physical store.
- Loyalty vouchers: Customers can sign up for an email newsletter and receive barcoded discounts directly to their mobile phones – these can then be scanned and used when shopping in-store.
- Social media links: By linking your online store to your social media profiles, you’re effectively creating more sales channels.
As we slowly emerge from the pandemic gloom, online-only businesses are looking for more innovative ways to remain competitive. One way of generating more revenue and improving the customer experience is to delve into the pop-up space.
Pop-up stores are a short-term, low-cost opportunity for e-commerce merchants to connect with customers in a bricks-and-mortar setting. Customers have the chance to get ‘hands-on’ with the products, while merchants can use the experience to gain more insights into buyer behaviour.
A temporary pop-up store is a cost-effective, low-risk way to promote your e-commerce business and engage face-to-face with your customers without the costly investment of a permanent store.
How pop-ups benefit your business:
- Cost-efficient: A pop-up store costs around 80% less than setting up a permanent store.
- Increases visibility and brand awareness: A pop-up can spark curiosity, attracting new customers that have never heard of your brand online.
- Greater customer satisfaction: Customers can physically ‘touch’ your products and interact with a physical person rather than just a computer screen.
- Sense of urgency: It’s a great way to set deadlines for special offers which encourage customers to ‘not miss out’.
- Lead generation: If you can offer customers an enjoyable and fruitful pop-up experience, they’ll be more inclined to visit your online store, especially if you offer a discount or other perks on their next purchase.
3. Social commerce
Social commerce is on the rise. Direct selling through social media channels is set to nearly triple over the next few years. The lockdown effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive increase in the use of social media platforms. When you consider the average person in the UAE is active on around 10 social media accounts per month – the highest, per person, globally – social commerce offers a massive market of opportunity for e-commerce businesses.
Direct-to-consumer (D2C) selling is becoming increasingly popular on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, allowing customers to ‘shop now’ and complete a purchase directly from the platform. It cuts down the customer journey, with fewer clicks from discovery to purchase, speeding up the shopping process, to deliver a more convenient and satisfying buying experience.
Social selling also gives you the opportunity to interact with your customers directly via comments and direct messaging. You can use these platforms to really get to know your customers and create a personalised service based around their likes and dislikes.
How to use social commerce to your advantage:
- Live chat: A more sociable way for customers to reach you on the channels they already use – in the future customers will expect to connect with brands in the same way they chat to friends and family.
- Automated chatbots: Use AI to provide customers with an automated customer service that can be accessed 24/7/365. Although the majority of us prefer to speak to a real person, chatbots can provide the answers to basic queries when your team is not online.
- Customer opinions: Who better to ask for input and feedback on your products than your target audience? For example, voting polls are a great way to get valuable data on your customer preferences, while also letting them know their opinions matter.
- Informative content: Blogs, videos, livestreaming – posting content isn’t just about showcasing your products; it should interesting, informative, authentic content that your audience can relate to.
4. AI and AR
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) are taking the online shopping experience to a whole new level. From chatbots and voice recognition to real-world immersive technology, AI and AR blends digitalisation with real-world environments, enticing and engaging customers like never before.
These amazing technologies may require a major investment, but they are rapidly becoming the norm in the e-commerce market. AI and AR offer incredible potential to enhance customer experience and build on your brand’s reputation, giving you that all-important competitive edge.
How AI can improve your customer interactions:
- A more inclusive service: These technologies can help sight-impaired customers with their searches. For example, Facebook automatic text allows those with a visual impairment to ‘see’ an image using AI to describe its features to them.
- Bring products to life – virtually: AR technology can bring the screen to life, offering features like virtual try-ons, 3D immersive instruction manuals, product scanners and even virtual aisles. A good example is IKEA’s furniture placing application. It lets you position your furniture in different settings to get an idea of how your room will look before you commit to buying.
- Filter out fake reviews: Fake reviews, a common pain point for all businesses, can seriously harm your brand reputation. AI can also use smart analytics to identify authentic customer reviews and weed out fake ones generated by bots and competitors.
Ready to harness the power of e-commerce?
There’s no doubting that COVID-19 has rocked the world. But the e-commerce market will continue to grow, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. Are you ready to take your business to the next level?