What’s next for e-commerce?

An abstract concept of someone making online purchases on a smartphone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

e-commerce continues to boom. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show online sales accounted for 18.6% of all retail transactions in 2019. More startling is the growth of mobile channels: WorldPay predicts m-commerce spending will overtake e-commerce by 2023.

For retailers, evolving their business is the key to maintaining market share and nurturing customer loyalty. Research from Mintel published in 2019 is telling: 86% of Brits shop on Amazon, with nearly three-quarters (70%) of them buying something from the site at least once a month. 26% of them also have Prime accounts, giving them access to more and faster delivery options.

Speaking to IT Pro, Martin Willetts, technology consulting partner at Deloitte says: “The rate of evolution with consumer behaviours has been difficult for some brands to keep pace with. Those e-commerce organisations that are investing in the flexibility of systems, tools, and processes, are the ones turning the challenge into a real opportunity.

“The biggest trend is how e-commerce organisations are transforming their capabilities, so they can adapt to support consumer needs while also scaling operations as digital shopping habits continue to proliferate," Willetts continues. “Also, consumers are increasingly expecting full transparency from brands with regards to both the sustainability and ethical sourcing of products.”

Mobile retail channels will increasingly become the focus for consumers, as they consolidate their use of smartphones. The use of digital kiosks, self-service and cashless checkouts are expanding – all using smartphones as their payment mechanism.

According to a new State of Mobility in Retail Report from enterprise mobility management firm SOTI, 67% of consumers perceive mobile technology as the most effective way to provide a faster shopping experience. Additionally, more than three-quarters (76%) of consumers want in-store staff to use mobile devices to provide a better experience, and nearly one-third (32%) are unwilling to sacrifice personal data security to improve their in-store experience, revealing bold new insights about consumers in the modern retail landscape.

e-commerce is now a multi-channel, multi-touchpoint experience for consumers. They don't see separate channels, but simply want convenience and speed when they are ready to buy goods and services.

Channel agnostic

The question of whether e-commerce businesses should become 'mobile-first' is now moot. The omnichannel has cemented itself as the model e-commerce, and m-commerce is based upon. Indeed, the distinctions are disappearing.

Mobile channels will become increasingly important as a commercial space. Estimates from GSMA suggest over the short term, 1.4 billion people will start using the mobile internet for the first time, bringing the total number of mobile internet subscribers globally to 5 billion. By 2025, the estimated figure rises over 60% of the global population.

“Looking at both commerce channels separately seems counter-intuitive to me,” says Ennis Al-Saiegh, CEO of Smarter Click. “The rise of mobile traffic and ultimately the improved conversion journeys that have had to be improved for this medium, has resulted in improved efficiencies if you treat both channels as a pure ‘commerce’ channel. Treating them as one commerce channel means your brand values, user experience efforts and marketing teams are all aligned to deliver an enhanced experience.”

Deloitte’s Willetts adds: “A ‘Unified Commerce’ approach across physical and digital channels that is modular, flexible and data-driven will be key to ensuring memorable shopping experiences. There is huge potential for retailers to achieve greater value from their marketing spend, seeking to drive customers to the business from any channel to any channel. Again, with a consistent marketing experience regardless of the medium.”


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How businesses will construct their e-commerce storefronts is also changing. Headless commerce separates the design of a business’ e-commerce enabled website, with the IT infrastructure that supports it. The practical advantage is the deployment of an e-commerce business can easily be multi-channel.

Speaking to IT Pro, Chris Adriaensen, senior manager of solutions engineering at Auth0, explains: “Headless content is effectively the removal of the end-user interface from backend systems, providing e-commerce solutions as a set of flexible APIs. Front-end developers can take user data and content to create far more dynamic and personalised experiences across different devices and touchpoints.

“Headless e-commerce allows for more than ‘if you liked these teabags, buy this coffee’ and means content can be delivered in more effective ways, suited to the identity of the user. Power users might get a different experience than first-time buyers, for example. With new tech-driven experiences, such as Amazon Go-style smart stores and AR-powered dressing rooms for clothing still in their early stages, a ‘headless’ approach also facilitates a faster time to market allowing retailers to adapt to new channels, technologies and use cases.”

Consumers want integrated, cross-channel shopping experiences with their purchase journey beginning on one channel and often ending on another – increasingly, their smartphones. Supporting this level of integration is a significant challenge. Here, automation can help and will expand their influence as new services come onstream to help multi-channel retailers deliver their goods to diverse audiences.

New opportunities

According to Statista, 35% of American households have a smart speaker. What's more, over a quarter, 26% made a purchase using their speaker last year. This rapid expansion of voice commerce is set to continue.

Data has also become a vital component of successful e-commerce. With masses of information collected about the shopping preferences of individuals, the future of commerce is personal. Brands and retailers that can make personal connections with their customers and deliver new innovative experiences will maintain and expand their market share.

Finding patterns and value in the data being collected will become the province of AI. "Though most e-commerce companies today aren’t using AI in earnest today, we expect this to change rapidly over the next couple of years,” explains Michael Scharff, CEO of AI-powered conversion platform Evolv. “We see AI as a means to an end, not an end itself. e-commerce companies should look to adopt AI to differentiate themselves from the competition, create exceptional omnichannel experiences, and enhance their customer experiences.

Gartner predicts that, in 2020, 85% of customer interactions are managed without human involvement. It’s a trend that has moved at rapid speed. In connection with mobile devices and personal assistants, AI makes a powerful tool for shoppers. Finding products by visual search or making orders via voice assistants becomes hassle-free.

And no retail business can now ignore social media as a commercial channel. According to the most recent “Reimagining Commerce” report from Episerver: “On average, one-fifth of consumers have made purchases directly because of a social media influencer’s product post. Among younger consumers, that number is even higher, with 50% of Gen Z shoppers and 48% of millennials having purchased products either directly by clicking on a post or later on as a result of the influencer’s endorsement.”

Deloitte’s Willetts concludes: "A key technology trend, in response to evolving consumer behaviours, is the need for a flexible and adaptable Commerce platform – with 'cloud', 'headless' and 'microservice-based architecture' often being near the top of business's requirements list.

“These trends have led both to a resurgence in custom-built e-commerce platforms using smaller ‘lighter’ SaaS vendor’s offerings – as well as some of the larger e-commerce platform vendors re-architecting their platforms regularly to avoid being left behind.”

How consumers connect with the stores they want to buy from will also be transformed as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G expand and mature. Using the smartphone as the conduit to reach individuals when environments become smart and connection speeds have low latency delivers massive opportunities to all businesses no matter their size.

e-commerce is changing once again. Customer-facing websites and portals will increasingly adopt the headless approach, with the smartphone now the key battleground for consumer spending. Integration is the key to successfully navigating the next stage of e-commerce evolution.

David Howell

David Howell is a freelance writer, journalist, broadcaster and content creator helping enterprises communicate.

Focussing on business and technology, he has a particular interest in how enterprises are using technology to connect with their customers using AI, VR and mobile innovation.

His work over the past 30 years has appeared in the national press and a diverse range of business and technology publications. You can follow David on LinkedIn.