Keeping ahead of the pack is a full-time business, and that's true now more than ever in the online selling business. The competition is fierce, mainly because it's so easy to start an online store. It also doesn't hurt that technological innovations are making it easier for consumers to buy online and keeping online sellers on their toes to keep updated.
You really can't afford to rest on your laurels. If you've been struggling, then it's time to make a change. Here are 12 predictions and trends to help you survive—and hopefully thrive—in the months ahead.
With retailers struggling to rise above the crowd, it's no longer enough that the ordered product just be delivered. Successful retailers will endeavor to exert more control over the quality of the product and excellence of fulfillment, i.e. fast home delivery. Amazon's already on top of this trend with same-day delivery in select locations.
Retailers understand that analyzing customer data can provide valuable insight into how to improve their conversions, but surprisingly few businesses actually use the information. In 2015, this oversight could become a much bigger problem, as proactive retailers seize every advantage that will curry favor with consumers.
For example, data analytics can be used to deliver customized offers to buyers for products they're likely to buy, based on previous purchases and search patterns. Retailers that fail to make use of data analytics will experience a major slowdown in conversion.
Consumers are going to favor retailers that initiate programs promoting social responsibility. This may be due to the recent recession that's made buyers more aware of how hard it is to live in a struggling economy. It will become increasingly important for buyers that retailers give back to their communities.
Even if it is just a small pledge to a charity, cause marketing can have a big impact on your business. Keep this in mind when you next make your promotional calendar.
Another shift in focus will benefit shrewd online retailers in 2015, particularly those intent on building their brand identity. While the global market is still the big playground, the local community is the perfect big fish-little pond scenario. Retailers that have a local presence, e.g., participation in trade fairs or exclusive offers to local residents, will see more sales overall.
You want to foster loyalty among your buyers, but the lure of reward points for your purchases is not going to cut it anymore in 2015. Too many retailers are doing it, and it will be hard for small retailers to compete point-for-point with the big boys. You have to come up with another way to encourage buyers to keep coming back.
We've discussed Millennials quite extensively on this blog. If you've missed the discussion, you should give it a look. This demographic, more than any other, will continue to dominate the retail scene. However, it would be a mistake to ignore the needs of Baby Boomers (the youngest members of this group are just turning 60), who may not be as tech-savvy as Millennials, but are more likely to make an impulse purchase.
At least they will be more likely so long as the purchasing process is made easy enough for them. Take measures to make the UX of your online selling business as easy and convenient as possible for both generations.
Brick-and-mortar (BAM) retailers had learned the wisdom of having an online presence to capture the online market. The year 2015 will see more online-only retailers with BAM outlets to service the offline market. Not all online store owners will have the capacity to do this in 2015, but it is something that should be in future plans, especially for sellers who have successfully built up their brand.
Online selling businesses that have already embraced omni-channel strategies will continue to have more success than single-channel counterparts. It offers customers the choice to do their shopping online but complete the purchase offline, and vice versa. It saves time and effort, and that's a premium service in the eyes of many buyers.
The main hurdle for many prospective buyers is their fear that their sensitive personal and financial information may be hacked. The increase in security breaches in 2014 is expected to spill over to 2015, making consumers more reluctant to patronize small retailers. Make plans to ramp up your site's security features, and make those efforts more obvious. Prominently featuring security badges on your site will reassure the fence-sitters and minimize shopping cart abandonment.
The influence of social networks on conversion is old news, but the recent push by top sites to make it easy for members to buy products in-site is likely to pick up momentum in 2015. It is crucial to become familiar with how to offer your products for sale on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Doing so will offer buyers a seamless shopping experience they're sure to appreciate.
The mobile market has been going like a runaway train for a couple of years now, and 2015 is not going to be any different. The competition among mobile payment solutions, in particular, will be an interesting development to watch — and prepare for.
Compatibility has always been an issue for online retailers. Now that most online retailers have figured out that they need to make their webstores display well on mobile gadgets, the next step is to experiment with these newer technologies such as smartwatches. Some online retailers will also need to be forward-thinking in improving the convenience and ease of the customer experience by providing features such as interactive window displays.
Some of these predictions may already be happening as the first quarter of the year draws to a close. It is not too late to start, however. The online selling business is not going to get any easier so the earlier you start making improvements, the better.
Have you noticed a big change we've neglected? Why don't you share your predictions for 2015 and beyond in the comments section?