But there's a problem with trends. Many are born to die. And trends that have staying power will inevitably become ubiquitous and won't offer a competitive advantage.
Cutting-edge retailers don't follow trends, they identify the ones that have staying power and leapfrog them before the rest.
What are some examples of trends retailers can leapfrog today?
I'm happy to report that in 2015 m.dot sites are rapildy dying out in favor of responsive design and dynamic serving.
Responsive design has its pros and cons, and the trend among Internet Retailer 500 is towards the dynamic / adaptive approach, as it doesn't require a complete website overhaul, is likely better for SEO and provides more opportunities to tailor the experience for specific devices rather than by screen dimension.
Beyond this, omnichannel retailers should explore ways to become "responsive" to user context, namely when the user is in-store.
One example of this in action is Sephora, which bakes beacon-powered features into its mobile app that allow customers to scan products for rating and review info, augmented reality and more while in "store mode."
Don't be surprised if "store mode" becomes the new normal in mobile applications for omnichannel retailers.
User-submitted photo galleries are easy to adopt thanks to tools like Olapic, and are used on a number of Internet Retailer 500 sites.
Some galleries have integrated "shop this look" to link directly to product pages...
...but fail to integrate this social content into the product pages themselves. User-submitted images provide additional context that, like text-based reviews, can inspire and influence purchase. Confining them to bolt-on social galleries misses this opportunity - especially considering these galleries are often only featured at the bottom of home pages or behind obscurely labeled navigation menu links.
Further, social galleries could be treated like the online catalog, with the ability to search and refine by tags, keywords or product categories. For example, a shopper may wish to filter all social images by "festival looks," or "ankle boots."
Image recognition and visual search technologies may also aid in "more like this" recommendations for the customer that wants to browse your store by social-submitted images, rather than catalog results.
Think the consumer isn't interested in browsing this way? It's sites like Pinterest that are conditioning consumers to a new age of product discovery.
Never forget that ecommerce experience has always taken cues from outside ecommerce.
Content + Commerce
In the electronic age where choice abounds, story-selling through rich content like videos, interactive experiences, parallax product tours and editorial content can give a brand a competitive advantage.
But too often the content isn't "shoppable" - requiring the customer to link out of the content experience to a traditional product page.
A retailer's ecommerce platform is often the roadblock to truly commerce-enabled content. As Bernardine Wu of FitForCommerce shared in a recent interview with GetElastic on the State of Content + Commerce:
(The ecommerce platform) requires a robust set of APIs in order for the commerce engine to communicate with the content system (CMS). For a platform to secure the depth and breadth required to completely segregate the content from commerce is a tall order. It requires restful API services at all levels, including services around presentation, site management, segmentation, checkout, promotions, order management, and dozens more. These APIs must be bi-directional as well, allowing for content and data to feed into and be extracted out of the commerce platform. Secondly, the platform must be completely autonomous in terms of dependency on any frontend (content) system or response. There are a myriad of additional attributes and features required to present a seamless experience for the user.
Once a retailer is able to embed commerce within its content assets, the leapfrog opportunity is to apply personalization to target the right content to the right customer in the right context. This involves integration with analytics, customer profiles, personalization engines, social networks, and any data source that is useful for precise targeting. An ecommerce platform must be able to accommodate these integrations through APIs.
With the right technology framework, a marketer can support natively shoppable content both on and off the business' dot-com website (mobile apps, social networks, affiliates and in-store digital).
42% of the Internet Retailer 500 have a mobile app, and these apps are typically replicas of the online storefront coded for various smartphone platforms.
As we've discussed before on this blog, the ecommerce catalog approach is not necessarily the best user experience for mobile. Innovators will continue to explore opportunities to incorporate the native smartphone features that boost mobile experience and popular app-like experiences like eBags' Obsession's swipe right/left navigation and truly reinvent digital shopping.
Mobile apps also serve as the bridge between digital and physical, with the ability to pair with in-store digital like beacons. While any retailer can experiment with in-store digital, leaders will avoid siloed projects that aren't integrated with the ecommerce system, and ensure in-store behavioral data and context is collected and shared across marketing programs, and rolled into a single customer view wherever possible.
Not if, but when
These are just a few examples of ecommerce trends that have potential to go even further than their current conventional application to ecommerce. And they will - it's a matter of who "gets there" first.
*The intersection of the next most immediate thing that people really want, and matching it to the next immediate thing that you can provide.
If your goal is not just to follow, but to leapfrog 2015's ecommerce trends, we have resources for you:
- The 2015 Advanced Commerce Maturity Scale is a self-assessment tool that provides a Meyers-Briggs-like profile of your company, with descriptive and visual results to help you fully understand your current level of ecommerce maturity relative to the current standard of excellence. The tool includes guidance on how companies like yours are/can move up the curve in customer experience, digital strategy, technology and organizational dynamics, short and long-term.
- The first of a series, our ebook The New Customer Journey: A Convergence of Content, Context, Channels and Commerce is available for free download. The book covers the what and why of experience-driven commerce, its impact and how to know if your company is ready.