With 2014 underway, here's a sneak peek at 3 trends that are driving ecommerce's evolution this year -- topics we'll be covering frequently on Get Elastic in the upcoming months.
1. Merchandising beyond the storefront
Most ecommerce sites are based on an online catalog - with category browsing, search, product pages and a checkout process. This simple structure has been enhanced with reviews, cross-sells, personalization and rich media, but is this as good as it gets?
Merchandising beyond the storefront involves embracing new ways of taking catalog information and injecting it into new experiences (mobile and tablet apps, in-store kiosks, wearable devices, in-video, shopping aggregators, 2-D signage, social networks, and the like).
There's much potential for taking catalog assets and delivering them to new touchpoints, but little application today. We'll be covering the who, what, why and how of this opportunity as technology and innovation press ahead.
2. Product pages 2.0
On one hand, the digital experience is enhanced by taking catalog content and delivering it to various touchpoints. The reverse can also be effective - harnessing content that exists in other touchpoints and baking it into product pages to provide customers with the ultimate product information. For example, using image recognition technology such as Ditto, which can spot your brand marks in photos across social networks, or pulling reviews from across domains (rather than rely on only reviews provided through your site).
Do product pages have to function the way they do today, or might they be completely re-invented?
3. Commerce in-context
Authors of Age of Context: Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy Robert Scoble and Shel Israel identify five forces of context that impact the future of buying: mobile, social media, data, sensors and location. We're already seeing technology like Bluetooth Low Energy (iBeacon) in retail shops. Big Data offers the potential for harnessing intelligence far beyond your ERP and web analytics data, and new devices like Google Glass, FuelBand, Nest (and whatever's next) will play a role.
The holy grail for marketers in the Age of Context is "pinpoint marketing" -- the ability to deliver hyper-personalized and contextual messaging and offers to the individual. But with all personalization, there's much room for mis-targeting. The arms race is to develop predictive tools that minimize this margin of error.
Another important element of contextual commerce is understanding the relationships between things and their relevance to search intent. This is the direction Google Search is moving with its Hummingbird update. A better understanding of these relationships between things provides better results, and in the ecommerce space, this translates to higher usability and conversion rates.
Traditional product discovery on an ecommerce site involves using a search box, with results matched to keywords. The quality and appeal of results depends on how well the site search tool can deliver and rank results. "Searchandising" and personalization may be layered into the experience, but even the most advanced ecommerce search experiences lack the capabilities of Google's emerging Knowledge Graph.
Imagine an ecommerce search tool that understands a query like "show me the top 3 Android phones with the longest battery life"? Or "show me handsets with more battery life than iPhone 5"? And instead of typing in a search box, the query was simply spoken? A search tool with an artificial intelligence that understands natural language processing, semantic relevance and works like a helpful salesperson, without the limitations of the human brain? Imagine "search results 2.0" that resemble Google Now cards, with different presentations for different query types and product groups.
Google's vision for Knowledge Graph is far from realized, and I don't expect ecommerce will get there first. But there's much about the way we shop digitally today that can evolve with these technological advances, and some will catch on to this opportunity far sooner than others -- perhaps even leapfrogging Google (with regards to ecommerce site search and guided selling).
These are exciting times, bring on the New Year!