05 Nov 2012
It's no secret that online shopping is about to become the hottest thing in the entire retail sales industry. While it has been growing steadily for the last decade and more, some new changes are going to affect the landscape to a previously unimagined degree as brick-and-mortar businesses wholeheartedly embrace the online shopping model. Many traditional American retailers such as Walmart, Kmart and Toys R Us who felt they couldn't compete with purely online giants such Amazon have begun to increase their interest in the online sector, and the same thing is beginning to happen in Europe. It's now common to see 'free shipping' deals for online purchases, increased consumer engagement using social media, and even new infrastructure developments to handle the increase in volume.
In the USA, one of the main forces behind this change will make some online shoppers groan: sales tax. At the moment, most online purchasing decisions are exempt from sales tax unless the retailer and the consumer are located in the same state. However, many states are beginning to consider legislation that would remove this advantage, which creates a more balanced atmosphere and has offline retailers looking to dramatically expand their online presence, which is driving some interesting new trends in the online shopping sphere.
10. Mobile phones are more or less ubiquitous now, and retailers haven't missed this fact. Most major retailers now offer some type of app that lets consumers check stock, receive sale notifications instantly and even compare prices – all while they're on the go.
9. The old modernist saying, 'Form follows function', has been taken to heart by retailers who have finally accepted that consumers using their mobile apps and websites are mostly interested in functionality, not clunky extras. This may change as technology improves (imagine using Google Glasses in your bedroom mirror to try on new clothes!) but at the moment, consumers just want to get the information they need – and companies are responding.
8. Shipping costs have been one of the major hurdles that online shopping has tried to overcome, with limited success. Most offline retailers will have a leg-up in this arena, thanks to a new innovation known as 'in-store pickup'. You complete your purchase online and save the shipping cost by simply dropping by your local store in a few days to pick up your purchase without having to wait in line.
7. Alternatively, many retailers who don't have the massive presence of chain stores are likely to open specific locations that are simply pick-up points for online purchases and not actual retail stores.
6. Social networking has been hailed as the king of viral and guerrilla marketing efforts, but we're just beginning to scratch the surface of what can be accomplished with them as companies finally begin to get a handle on the platforms and the way they can be integrated into current marketing initiatives. Social engagement in exchange for quick deals and exclusive sales is currently leading the pack, but expect more creative uses of the technology to appear in the coming months as the consumer generation most comfortable with social media grows into the height of its purchasing power.
5. In addition to large social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, there have been several efforts to create social networks based around a retail store – and perhaps unsurprisingly, these have largely been failed efforts. One trend that might change this is the impact that customer reviews are having on Internet shopping. As consumers grow to rely on the reviews of other consumers found on retail websites, tightly-knit networks of consumers in niche markets are likely to thrive. This can be a boon for retailers, if they are able to use these networks to help market their products without alienating the users.
4. Video has largely been absent from the online retail sector, with the possible exception of the electronics industry. As fashion retailers and even hardware stores begin to embrace the concept, however, user-generated videos are poised to become a popular feature, especially via the niche networks mentioned above.
3. Another advantage of using social networks in conjunction with traditional email marketing is the ability to offer single-day and limited-spot sales. The possibility that consumers may miss sale opportunities has them signing up in droves for these marketing channels, which is dramatically increasing interest among retailers.
2. Also in the deals arena are sites known as aggregators, which scour the internet for a wide variety of these types of single-day and special coupon deals and present them all together. The fact that these sites are replicating all over the Internet showcases just how important a factor price is during these tough economic times.
1. Finally, one of the most important emerging trends is the rise in international sales. Online shopping has completely changed the retail world, and never is it more apparent than when you purchase something from a New York retailer and have it shipped to you in London or Tokyo. This is especially true in the types of niche-market sales that the online shopping is already famous for, whether you're a collector of rare stamps or obscure art-house films. However, as we've seen already, price is a major deciding factor for most consumers at the moment – and if they can get a better deal shopping from an international retailer, you can be sure they'll jump at the chance.
One bonus trend that you're likely to see in the coming months is a direct result of all these others, and it's a simple one: a better shopping experience. Consumers have gained a real ally in the online retailer, and having instant access to price comparisons, unbiased customer reviews and unprecedented product selection can only boost consumer confidence and online shopping in general as we move forward into the coming decade.