6 Ecommerce Trends of 2019 to Help You Stay Competitive in 2020

One of the biggest challenges for ecommerce retailers is that you now have more competition. But it’s not necessarily competition from companies who sell in your same product category. Today online merchants also compete with other digital experiences. For instance, if customers can buy lunch with two clicks on their phone, they’ll start to get frustrated when they go to an apparel site with a multi-step checkout.

To help ecommerce retailers strategize for the road ahead, Sara and Nicole discuss the emerging trends of 2019 that will continue to guide the industry in 2020. You’ll learn about:

  • Online strategies that luxury brands use to communicate exclusivity and white-glove customer service
  • How environmental sustainability is becoming integral to ecommerce
  • The evolution of ecommerce personalization, including helping customers find the perfect fit
  • Technology that shoppers will come to expect, including progressive web apps, 3D product visualization, and chat bots

Full Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Recommerce. I’m Sara, the founder of Command C, and today I’m here with Nicole, our Sales and Marketing Manager. Hey Nicole.

Nicole: Hi there, Sara, great to be here.

Sara: Likewise. So today, we’re going to do our “official/unofficial” 2019 year in review as it relates to ecommerce.

Nicole: Doing it in October? Yes, the year in review “thus far”.

Sara: Yeah, the year in review thus far. A lot has happened this year already, and everybody knows that fourth quarter is not a time for us to be talking about anything else other than the holidays. So that’s why we’re doing this now.

Nicole: Sounds great.

Sara: So we’ve been reflecting a lot on what has happened in the world of ecommerce in the last nine months, and I think we have some really interesting and compelling points of reflection. The first few are – they’re not new ideas or new topics – but it has seemed like as these things relate to the world of ecommerce, there have been some pretty deep evolutions this year.

Ecommerce Trend #1 for 2019: Luxury was finally reflected in the online experience

Nicole: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. And I think the one that comes foremost to mind is that 2019 is the year that luxury brands landed in ecommerce. There was a really interesting article that came out in Women’s Wear Daily in April. They noted that the average age of a luxury buyer is now 34-years-old, and that’s down from 48-years-old. So luxury is now serving a younger audience and that younger audience just expects, I mean look, I think we all do, but particularly younger people…younger consumers barely know a time before online shopping. So those brands, to serve the shifting demographic, they’ve got to come online. And the good news is a lot of them are really delivering. It’s been exciting to see. The other interesting component of luxury online is just that there’s an element of luxury, like by the very nature of being luxurious, you’re saying high quality, exceptional customer service and things like that, I think those brands have been hesitant to believe that they can communicate that online – but it turns out they are.

Sara: Yeah, I think really what you’re saying is it’s not that these brands just came online in 2019. It’s that luxury was finally reflected in the online experience in 2019.

Nicole: Exactly, exactly. An example that comes to mind is the Gucci site. I would really encourage people to take a look at that. They do shopping from the runway collection. And so you can flip through the different outfits that they put together for the runway and then shop by that look. And I think that’s great. There’s also brands that are doing a lot more around exclusivity. So for example, prior to when a new collection is launched, you can join their waiting list. So then you get a first look at the new collection online. Or there’s kind of this “coming soon” anticipation thing, which luxury has a lot of that to it. It’s like you’re “in the club,” so they’re communicating that online.

Sara: Yeah. I think also a challenge that I’ve seen in the past for luxury brands who are trying to make the transition online is around customer service. I mean luxury and white glove service go hand in hand. And I’ve seen some brands struggle in the past with how to replicate that experience in the online arena.

Nicole: Absolutely. I mean you definitely don’t want to be disappointed when you think of some of these brands that have legendary service and then to not get that experience translated. One company I thought just is doing a fantastic job is Dior and just, it’s a very simple thing they do, but it’s so smart, which is where when you’re on the Dior site and you have a question, you can leave your phone number with them and a Dior expert will call you to answer your questions. And I think that really communicates, yes, that’s how this should go. I shouldn’t be chasing any answers here. Part of the luxury is that you help me with what I need, so thank you so much.

Ecommerce Trend #2 of 2019: Online retailers got serious about environmental sustainability

Sara: Right. Totally. All right, so shifting gears, our next topic. Again, this is not a new topic, but what I have really seen is that it feels like this year, globally, folks have really started to take sustainability more seriously than they have before. Climate change is the challenge of our time.

Nicole: Absolutely.

Sara: And similarly, ecommerce is the consumer model of our time. So both of these things are here to stay. Both of these things are still relatively, in the grand scheme of things, young ideas. But I think this year, what we’ve seen is the merging of these two sectors in a way that we hadn’t before.

Climate change is the challenge of our time. Ecommerce is the consumer model of our time. Both of these things are here to stay.

Nicole: I agree. I agree and it’s been really exciting to see. It makes me think, one of my favorite pieces of news from this year has been a study that came out of MIT. They did a test where they set up a model ecommerce site. As people in the study were purchasing their products and checking out, in the shipping selection, when they were determining the shipping method, the study highlighted that you could get it super fast as is often one of the options, or you could select a different option that would get your package to you in a slower way, but it would have less of a footprint on the environment. I believe it said that it would save a certain amount, a certain number of trees. Sure enough, 52% of the people in that study chose the slower shipping method. I believe when you and I were talking about it a while back, you talked about the nudging element of that, right?

Sara: Yeah, yeah, totally. And I’ve seen lots of other innovative approaches to this as well, like lots of kind of product recycling, of returns options and scrap material recycling and…

Nicole: Even custom orders, where companies have decided that we just don’t want to stock a lot of inventory that’s going to end up in a landfill. Here we have the technological means to send me in your measurements. Send me in if you want this dress with the long sleeve or a short sleeve or a v-neck or a crew neck. We’ll make it for you and send it right to you rather than [keep] like a warehouse of stock that’s not going to go used. I think that’s just fantastic.

Sara: Yeah, it’s innovative and it’s appropriate. And it also reminds me of what Patagonia is doing, where they’ve created a whole separate site to sell used Patagonia goods, and it’s a beloved brand. It makes total sense and is totally symbiotic with their brand voice and it appears to do really well.

Ecommerce Trend #3 of 2019: Major leaps forward in personalization, including online sizing

Nicole: Absolutely. I agree. And you know the other, when thinking of kind of big themes of 2019 thus far, the other one that comes to my mind is the leaps forward in personalization. And one of the things I find really interesting is … kind of what we were talking about with the luxury brands, where it’s just tricky to try to communicate something like exclusivity on a website that’s available to everyone. There’s a paradox there. In personalization, that paradox is like this idea of how are you going to communicate sizing digitally? But wait a minute, I’m three dimensions and I’m looking at this on a two-dimension screen. How is that going to work? I have been really impressed by the efforts that innovative retailers are making to get that point across.

And there’s all sorts of things happening – like you submit your measurements to a website, create a profile and then that website, that brand forever has your measurements available for you as you shop. Think about the customer loyalty factor on that. Or custom fit finders and things like this. I’m thinking of another company where you can submit the measurements of your favorite garment. So let’s use pants, which can be kind of hard to fit. If you have a favorite pair of jeans, you submit to them brand, “Okay, I have this brand of jeans I already love, this is their size, this is the inseam.”, give all the stats there. And then again, the brand has that information and now you’re shopping based on the information about your own size. It’s super cool.

Technology has caught up with innovative thinking to where these innovations are possible – and they’re possible within a reasonable budget.

Sara: Yeah. And I think what’s enabled that is the technology is finally there. I think in all three things that we’ve talked about, it’s like again, these ideas aren’t new, but the technology has caught up with innovative thinking to where they’re possible and they’re possible within a reasonable budget at this point in time. And that’s just a really, it’s an exciting time to be in this space.

Nicole: I couldn’t agree more. And exactly what I love about that MIT study is it’s literally like adding a button that says you can make a more environmentally-friendly decision here. Do you want to do that? And people are choosing yes.

Sara: Yeah. Yeah. Super exciting.

Ecommerce Trend of 2019 #4: Progressive web apps

Sara: So, we just talked a bit about personalization. This next trend is an offshoot of personalization and maybe the one I’m most excited about: progressive web apps. A progressive web app is a site that is still web based, so it’s not an app. It’s not something that the user has to go to the App Store and download. But it is built specifically for the experience of the device at hand.

In the responsive landscape, you’re really starting with one kind of device as the main device that you’re targeting and then you’re adapting that same website to fit on other devices. Whereas, in a progressive web app, you’re actually building the site from the perspective of the device on which it’s being used. So the way the information on the page is delivered might take a very different approach than the desktop environment.

And this is just a further extension of ways to personalize an experience based on the device that’s being used. Lancome has a really interesting example of this, where they tailor their content differently. Some of the content that you experience on desktop is just not there [on mobile] because it’s not as relevant to the mobile experience or it’s delivered completely differently on the mobile experience than it is on the desktop experience. And this just opens up a whole world of innovation and it gets around the barrier of having an app. We’ve never been a company that builds apps. It’s always been a bit philosophical for us because there’s just such a barrier to entry to asking user to go to the App Store and download something, when browsing on the web is what they do and that’s easy and there’s no extra steps there.

Nicole: Yeah, no, I completely agree. And it’s interesting when you just go to lancome.com and suddenly you’re having a very easy mobile experience like just went right there. I didn’t download a thing. It’s great. It’s really cool to hear about that technology. What other kinds of innovations in tech, retail tech are you seeing that you’re thinking about these days?

Ecommerce Trend #5 of 2019: 3D Product Visualization

Sara: Another technical aspect of ecommerce that I’ve been seeing evolving quite a bit is around product visualization. There are more and more third parties emerging that are lending themselves to creating 3D model assets. And at Unite this year, Shopify announced that their product section will natively support video and 3D model assets. So I think that the barrier to entry to companies being able to show their products more holistically is decreasing. I have seen that tools and technologies and companies that really specialize in 3D-model rendering aren’t quite there yet.

The technology is there, but there’s still usually a high barrier to entry in terms of time and cost, but I think that we’re almost there. I’ve really seen the platforms that support these other things evolving to support them. Not in the wearable space, but I think a lot about where this has really caught up this year is in the real estate market. I don’t know if you ever browse real estate sites or whatever, but it’s a not-so-great habit of mine. But with 3D-home tours, there’s lots of out-of-the-box technology that supports that kind of thing now. And I believe that, I also heard recently that Adobe has announced some new advances around augmented reality and 3D imaging. So anyways, I’ve seen this becoming a growing trend this year and it might not be 100% there, but it will be a thing of 2020.

Nicole: I was going to say this is like Predictions 2020, yeah. Okay.

Ecommerce Trend #6: Chat bots get integrated to answer customer FAQs (and more)

Sara: Yeah. And then the other thing that I’ve really seen, not only evolve in terms of the technology but be adopted on a wider basis this year are chat bots. And I think that that’s reflective of the demographic who are shopping online and wanting this technology being ever prevalent.

Nicole: I think it’s particularly useful for frequently asked questions, right? I think probably every retailer could name here’s the four things we are asked every day, and chat bots can really just help knock those out for you.

Sara: Absolutely. And I read recently that, I can’t remember where I read it, but something like 60% of consumers say that they prefer digital self-serve tools. I know I do if I’m going to get the answer that I need through them. I also know that the time it takes to make a phone call and sit on hold is statistically much higher than it is to get someone online via a chat bot. So that is something that has really stepped up its game and frequency this year.

Nicole: That’s a great point. I mean, if you’re not Dior calling your customers, I think that’s a great alternative.

Sara: Absolutely. Well, those are our top trends of 2019. The year is not over yet, but I’m pretty sure they’ll hold strong and thanks for talking about it today.

Nicole: Always a pleasure. Thank you so much.