Jules Shiells interviews us for CreditCard.com.au, about ecommerce changes, growth, trends, and comparisons against offline. There’s a lot of interesting things you can do to take your ecommerce store to the next level and get ahead of your competition.
Jules: Do you see the online shopping landscape as constantly evolving or have we come to a bit of a standstill?
OV: It is scary how fast the online shopping landscape is evolving. Darwin would be proud of its adaption. Ecommerce sales in 2013 will come to about $37 billion – up from $33 billion last year.
New web technologies are created every year that allow ecommerce stores to do things they couldn’t. From suggestive search functionality, to interactive video, and even eye tracking for website optimization for less than the cost of a cup of coffee per day, ecommerce evolution is rapid.
Take a look at another aspect: social media. A 2012 Nelson report showed 1/3 of social media users prefer to contact a company via social media than phone. Another study found 42% of browsers who contact a company on social media expect customer service to respond within 60 minutes. This was definitely not the case back in 2011. Good support is key – that’s nothing new. What’s evolving is how customers want support.
What or who pushes these changes? (consumers, e-tailers, web design specialists, technology experts or something else?)
The origin is the consumer. It is businesses independent to an e-tailer that catalyze change between the consumer and the online store.
Good technology develops with someone in mind. Entrepreneurs find opportunities based on consumer needs or wants.
Look at eye tracking. 5 years ago it was limited to companies on the stock exchange that could dump big bucks into market research. A Carnegie Mellon professor found a 88% correlation between mouse movement and eye tracking. Businesses independent to ecommerce stores have developed what is effectively eye tracking software that monitors mouse mouse movement that anyone can use with a few lines of code.
When analyzed well, an e-tailer may discover one topic in their navigation gets no attention so they may remove it or users are not browsing down to the “buy” button. All this is consumer-driven – though it couldn’t exist if others didn’t push it.
The majority of e-tailers are reactive. They observe a large online store in a different niche or carefully monitor their leading competitor. It’s when a technology is developed, written about over the blogosphere, then implemented by a few ecommerce leaders that others begin to perk up then test.
What changes have you noticed in website design for e-tailers over the years? (to the benefit of consumers and e-tailers)
The biggest change is responsive design. A responsive website design means the website changes how it looks based on browser size. You can have a page appear normally on a desktop device and the exact same page look differently (yet good) on a mobile or tablet device.
Google in a recent presentation at the Brisbane Entertainment Center shared their findings that users are jumping between devices when searching and buying online. Good mobile design is critical. A lot of ecommerce stores I consult find 30% of their sales come from users on mobile devices.
Other big changes involve simplicity because it often converts better, image-heavy products because consumers want to know everything about a product, and faster checkout processes with less fields and no registration requirements.
Do you think online shopping will move towards something more ‘experiential’? What are the possibilities?
I don’t think it is. It is.
Firstly, let’s define “experiential”. In an ecommerce context, I see experiential as a positive experience when shopping online.
What are some aspects of an online store that contribute to a positive experience we’re seeing in stores? Live chat simulates the staff in an offline store waiting to help a browser. Free shipping adds to the feeling of an offline experience while retaining the feeling you got a bargain because you brought it online. Social media, reviews, customer photos, and video all let you inspect a product and create a social experience.
Then there’s more advanced experiences some e-tailers create like customizations of a shoe. You can’t see how the shoe would look in a regular store, but online technology lets you see it in a click.
The possibilities are only limited by technology, creativity, and the affect such practices have on the bottom-line – that’s what matters in end. If a cute development was made by the store owners to create an experience and it decreased sales, I hope the company overlooks sunk costs and drops the experience. Your reward should be a slew of happy customers, not designers or award-givers.
What do you see as the future of online shopping? And will it eventually obliterate ‘real-life’ shopping?
The possibilities will continue to evolve, moving towards simulating an offline experience in some areas (like live chat) and moving beyond offline shopping in other areas (like real-time product customization).
Online shopping will continue to grow as barriers get conquered. One barrier is security. Security is still a concern for consumers, but phone numbers, live chat, association seals, and consumer education build trust to grow an online store.
Do you think these changes could make online shopping more expensive? (as e-tailers perhaps offer more of an ‘experience’, and bricks and mortar retailers decline)
No. The only reason (I hope) an e-tailer would develop a better experience is to boost conversions. If the changes don’t pay for themselves, then it’s a bad business decision. Most e-tailers will see it as a cost of doing business – a pursuit to lead their market, drive more sales, and even stay in business. A unique experience gives an ecommerce store the option to differentiate itself then charge more.