E-commerce, in simple terms, is business conducted on the internet. E-commerce first took the world by storm in the late ’90s and has skyrocketed since the early 2000s. In terms of social impact, e-commerce has already surpassed the invention of railways and airlines. While railways and flights mastered distances, thereby leading to a transformation in the global economy and a change in human thinking, E-commerce has gone a step further by eliminating distances altogether. In the e-commerce era, it is commonplace for any digital marketing agency or customer to be located worlds apart and yet complete the business transaction in a seamless manner. E-commerce is driving a substantial part of retail growth in many countries and the pace is showing no signs of abating, thanks to emerging technological trends.
Drones are among the most exciting developments in the e-commerce space. Wal-Mart is seeking to test drones for a variety of purposes, ranging from taking inventory to streamline distribution. China’s second largest e-commerce player, JD.com is developing a drone that can deliver packages weighing as much as one metric ton across the hinterland of the country. The day is not far when drones will deliver consignments efficiently, quickly and at significantly lower costs compared to traditional logistic companies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI-aided Voice assistants are in a nascent technological stage, but have still gained immense popularity in e-commerce as evidenced by the spread of Amazon Alexa and Google Cortana. Amazon’s Echo Alexa is already allowing consumers to order a pizza from a local delivery company with the help of a simple vocal command. There will come a time when embedded buying will replace interactions with digital store fronts. Mobile apps and websites may also become redundant as inventory management will be built into all devices, thanks to embedded AI-chips.
Chatbots are computer programs that simulate conversation with human users over the internet, thereby helping businesses to connect with customers, and eliminate wait times and dropped calls. Many believe that it is a matter of time before virtual assistants and chatbots intersect with each other.
VR / AR
Retail stores have traditionally distinguished themselves vis-à-vis their online counterparts in providing a sensory experience to the customers. E-commerce businesses will be able to offer the same retail store experience of touching, seeing and smelling soon through the means of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
The biometric system is a recent trend in e-commerce technology. Biometric innovations such as fingerprint, voice, iris and facial detection are no longer the exclusive preserve of the security apparatus, but are being increasingly used as powerful marketing tools. Apple iPhones saw a rise in sales after its recent addition of the fingerprint feature.
The growth in mobiles has been nothing short of revolutionary. Mobile devices are getting smarter and screens are getting smaller with each passing day. These gadgets are fast becoming the preferred tool for accessing the internet, with recent statistics suggesting a market share in excess of 50%. No matter, companies are optimizing their websites for mobile viewing and making use of mobile apps to connect with the new breed of consumers that transcend the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar business.
Mobile Money Transfers
Mobile money transfer is the new kid on the block in the e-commerce arena, thanks to the simplicity and ease of money transfers. For instance, the M-Pesa platform has already experienced tremendous growth in many parts of the world.
Payment processors are hopping onto the e-wallet bandwagon. The entry of Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Wallet is set to make online checking-out and buying a simpler and more secure option in the future. And with giants such as PayPal looking to acquire e-wallet providers, the checkouts are about to get easier and e-commerce is set to flourish.
Cloud hosting and hybrid cloud solutions are the new norm in ecommerce. A disproportionally large amount of services are being delivered over the internet rather than locally or on-site. For example, the shopping account, inventory management system, and shipping and returns software are located on the cloud servers and accessed through a sole website login.
The boundaries between e-commerce and physical commerce (retail store) are getting blurred, albeit slowly. Companies are looking at using existing online customer data to personalize their online and offline relationships, and provide a customized shopping experience to the customers. Shopify, a leading e-commerce platform, recently unveiled a point-of-sale system to connect physical and online retail. And Amazon is pioneering a same-day delivery system that will substantially reduce the time advantage that is currently enjoyed by offline businesses, a development that will forever change the shopping experience and the dynamics of the e-commerce industry.
Pop Up Businesses
Showrooming and webrooming phenomena are coming into vogue, whereby customers are visiting a local shop and subsequently purchasing online for a bargain, or vice versa. Such new and alternative ways of shopping are more detrimental to online-only ecommerce retailers as customers tend to indulge in webrooming or check things online and then buy at a physical retail shop. There will soon come a time when retailers will move to bridge this gnawing gap.
To conclude, the e-commerce industry has just begun to blossom and still has a long way to go. It is the responsibility of e-commerce players to push the boundaries by testing new growth initiatives, implementing innovative technologies and enriching the shopper experience.