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Making predictions about the internet is a great way to look very silly. But just because people have been so very, very wrong in the past doesn’t mean we should stop making educated guesses about what the future of the web will be like.
After all, trend-setters and first-movers can have a tremendous advantage online, and being a web pioneer can be extremely lucrative.
And there may be no industry where thinking ahead is more important than in the competitive world of eCommerce.
Many of today’s biggest web companies owe their success to correctly anticipating trends and putting themselves in the right place at the right time to take advantage of them.
Amazon is the behemoth in 2021 because its founders saw the potential of online retail early, and have continually evolved the company to take advantage of a shifting eCommerce landscape.
At Formilla, we spend a lot of time thinking about how the internet works today, and how it will change in the future. So what will the eCommerce web look like in 2030, and beyond? We’re ready to go on record with some predictions.
AI-based chatbots use natural language processing and machine learning to “talk” to site visitors. Chatbots can be added to existing sites via a plugin or app and can provide customer support, deliver key marketing messages, and handle basic sales tasks (such as collecting contact information and qualifying leads).
While we’re still in the early years of chatbots as business tools, they’ve been growing in utility and popularity – and are now poised to take off exponentially.
In 2016, Matt Schlicht of Chatbots Magazine outlined a future where chatbots will “completely kill” websites and mobile apps.
And while we haven’t reached that point yet, the trends he identified in that article are just as apparent today as they were when the piece was first written.
More businesses add chatbots to their sites each year, chatbots load and respond quickly, and chatbots are an intuitive and easy feature to use because they rely on natural language communication.
With these factors taken together, it’s easy to see why chatbots are going to continue to surge over the next decade.
They’re only going to get more common (because they save businesses money and save customers time), which means consumers are going to become more comfortable with them – and will look for them across the web.
At a certain point, a business site without a chatbot will be like a business without a Facebook page – basically unthinkable on the modern web.
And because of the realities of chatbot training, the more bots are used the “smarter” and more effective they become.
So we can see a future where the increasing presence of chatbots leads to more consumer demand for them, while also making them more effective at handling customer needs.
That’s a positive feedback loop that will shape the future of doing business online.
So chatbots will reach mass levels of popularity. But you know what won’t? Virtual reality shopping experiences.
2020 should have been a record year for virtual reality adoption – but it just wasn’t. Industry analysts are still hopeful for resurgent growth in 2021, but during a year where people across the entire world were stuck at home, craving escapism, the VR market declined by about 7%.
VR boosters can point to the financial instability of 2020 as a reason consumers weren’t ready to make the leap on some expensive new tech, but that didn’t stop high-ticket items like graphics cards and new gaming consoles from constantly and repeatedly selling out.
It’s clear that consumers wanted to spend, but they just weren’t convinced that a new VR headset was the best place for them to put their money.
VR headsets are complex and expensive, and though the actual experiences they offer in gaming and entertainment can be fun, it’s hard to argue that the work required to use them is “worth it” for something as simple as online shopping.
Combined with that, the company currently doing the most to make consumer VR affordable and widespread is Facebook – which comes with mountains of baggage and negative sentiment, especially with younger consumers and the very VR enthusiasts to which the company needs to appeal.
In the early days of VR, evangelists were eager to discuss VR’s potential for eCommerce, offering scenarios where going to the mall or going car shopping would be replaced by virtual equivalents.
And while the brick-and-mortar retail world has continued to struggle and online shopping did soar in 2020, there doesn’t seem to be any hunger in the general population for elaborate virtual stores or “immersive shopping experiences.”
The dominant trend in eCommerce is for shopping to become easier, faster, and more seamless – the exact opposite of what VR shopping offers. Most people are happy to shop on their computers or phones, without needing to involve any extra gadgets.
As we brush off virtual reality shopping as a trend, it is important to note that AR (augmented reality) still does have quite a bit of potential.
Augmented reality is a lot simpler and lighter, and has seen widespread adoption in technologies like Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters.
AR features on eCommerce sites can do things such as show you what a new pair of glasses would look like on you or how a piece of furniture will fit in your home.
These experiences are lightweight, convenient, and useful – and we predict you’ll see a lot more augmented reality eCommerce enhancements over the next decade.
The battle over data and privacy will define the next decade of the internet. Battle lines are already being drawn, with giant players like Apple and Facebook squaring off on different sides.
After years of experts ringing alarm bells about online privacy, and riding a surge of public demand, governments are taking action in the form of regulations like GDPR and CCPA.
Online companies are having to make adjustments to the way they do business, informing visitors about the data they collect.
At the start of 2021, both businesses and consumers are still getting used to this “new normal” of disclaimers and “opt-out” options all over the web.
But there’s little chance of these laws being reversed, and we can expect to see high profile legal action in the coming years making an example of companies that don’t comply with the new policies – so the web of the coming decade will need to be built with more consideration for data privacy and disclosure.
In 2020, Pew Research asked a variety of experts for their predictions about the future of the web, and many of them weighed in on privacy as a defining issue.
Their viewpoints are instructive and useful for eCommerce companies and anyone else making their business online over the decade to come.
Tracey Follows of Futurmade said: “it is my belief that we will see the emergence of a new category or industry of ‘media forensics’ where experts will trace your privacy infringements through your data trails and seek compensation on your behalf.”
If something like this does come to pass, then it’s in the financial best interest of companies today to take privacy laws and data protection very seriously, so they won’t be the subject of potentially costly lawsuits down the road.
Ecommerce companies today need to be thinking about their use of data more carefully than ever before.
The “Wild West” era of the web is over, and we’re in for a messy decade where businesses will need to re-discover how to give shoppers the customized, personal service they have come to expect while being more careful and explicit about how they are collecting data and what they are doing with it.
“With Google moving to stop supporting third-party cookies, Apple bringing out more privacy controls and consumers getting savvier about their data, companies face more challenges than ever when it comes to retargeting and personalization. Data is still needed to deliver the best service and create effective tailored marketing, so eCommerce businesses need to start changing their data collection strategies now.
While first-party data is beneficial, online businesses should start gathering as much data that can’t be inferred as possible. Zero-party data is only available from customers and is powerful when it comes to crafting marketing and advertising campaigns, as well as delivering a high level of personalization. Asking customers questions – such as product preferences – can help you to build a greater understanding of your audience and deliver the service that customers want.” Matt Janaway, MarketingLabs
At the same time, consumers will be expecting more care in how companies collect and handle personal information, all evidence also points to the next decade of eCommerce being one where interactive and entertaining shopping rules.
In a recent webinar, market research group GWI discussed what the data shows consumers care about most in a post-pandemic world.
One of the key areas of interest was the fact that 29% of surveyed Internet users said that an entertaining shopping experience would make them more likely to buy a product when shopping online.
Notably, that’s higher than the 16% who credit influencer recommendations as a significant factor! That’s important news for companies to hear right now, as more and more marketing dollars flow into the influencer sphere.
So clearly eCommerce sellers have a challenge in front of them: how do you actually make shopping “entertaining,” especially in a way that appeals to the growing purchasing power of Millennial and Gen Z consumers?
One technique is through the rise of “Livestream shopping” shows, in which charismatic hosts engage with the audience and show off products in a way that’s half QVC and half Twitch.
After rising to huge prominence in China, livestream shopping as a format is slowly breaking through in the rest of the world. Viewers enjoy the exciting, interactive elements of these types of shows.
Shopping is frequently “gamified” with limited-time deals, and viewers tune in week after week to watch their favorite hosts, regardless of the products on display.
Though the exact structure and platforms are likely to shift as livestream shopping catches on in the western world, it’s already clear that this is going to be a powerful trend in eCommerce over the next decade.
GWI’s webinar also highlighted the fact that consumers during the pandemic are missing the personal interaction side of the retail shopping experience – and that’s where site design elements like live chat have an opportunity to rise in popularity.
Over the next decade, expect to see this site design element becoming more widespread than ever, as web stores strive to add more helpful and entertaining human assistance to the web shopping experience.
A good live chat agent can perform the same role as a skilled in-store clerk, offering suggestions, helping a customer find what they are looking for, and even getting to know repeat customers personally.
In addition to livestream shopping and on-site live chat, expect to see eCommerce becoming more granular and decentralized over the coming decade.
Products will flow through a complex web of micro-influencers across social media, and the act of shopping itself will become more seamless.
By 2030 we can expect to find product purchase opportunities right alongside influencer discussions of those products, as walls break down between social media and retail, and the lines between entertainment and shopping continue to blur.
Our last prediction about the future of eCommerce has to do with the fate of the brick-and-mortar world. After enduring years of decline, the COVID-19 pandemic was a killing blow for many physical retail stores.
Those that have survived face a world with the less physical competition but more online shopping options for consumers than ever before. What’s the right strategy for physical shopping locations heading into the next decade?
Part of the answer comes in using the internet to enhance the physical experience, rather than viewing it as separate.
Location-based marketing techniques like geofencing and proximity marketing can leverage physical location data from smartphones or IP addresses to target messaging specifically at consumers who are actually physically close to a real-world business location.
Clothing stores can use this kind of marketing to encourage shoppers to come in and try things on, even if it’s just to establish their proper sizes and fits before a later online purchase from the company’s website.
And stores with perishable goods might use proximity marketing to bring in shoppers at the end of a business day for significant discounts, earning a boost of brand awareness and loyalty that can pay dividends over time.
In a white paper from FIS titled “What retail eCommerce will look like in 2050,” the company predicts that it’s “likely that lines between eCommerce and traditional retail will blur to a point where we don’t even consider eCommerce a separate segment.”
Successful physical retail companies will be online companies too and will use their online and brick-and-mortar stores to complement one another.
In-store agents might staff live chat help desks when the physical stores aren’t busy, for example, and unified CRM data can track a customer’s interactions with a company regardless of where they take place.
The future of the web is coming whether you’re ready for it or not. Trends bigger than any one person or company shape the way consumers and businesses interact online, and if you want to be successful in the years to come you’ll need to look ahead and familiarize yourself with the tools of tomorrow.
If you want to add conversational commerce tools like AI-based chatbots and live chat to your existing site, check out a free trial of Formilla today.
Nick Scibetta is Content Marketing & SEO Manager for Formilla.com. In his writing career, he’s covered online retail, marketing, PC hardware, gaming, and sports.
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