Technology is the backbone of e-commerce. Not only does it help connect sellers and customer on mobile and web platforms, but also enables the effective management of customer orders, deliveries, returns and payments of purchased goods. In fact, technology plays an important role throughout the value chain, in areas such as recruitment, marketing, and advertising, among many others.
Technology even enables search, customization, and personalization for customers, which is fast becoming an obligatory feature expected from any e-commerce venture looking to succeed. As technology becomes more advanced and sophisticated over time, its role reaches critical levels of importance in the e-commerce value chain.
Here are the five emerging technologies that will impact e-commerce the most.
1. Ubiquitous e-commerce and 24/7 Sales
Mobile devices have changed the way we live in radical ways, contributing to every aspect of our daily existence, becoming an integral tool for day-to-day living. According to trade analysts, 90% of all people keep their mobile phone within reach at all times. And as mobile penetration increases, along with better quality services, this trend is assured to grow.
And with the rolling out of 4G connectivity in mobile networks, users the world over are beginning to experience a faster and more reliable mobile internet experience – which in turn is giving rise to mobile commerce.
In 2016, companies such as German online retailer Zalando had 90% of sales via its mobile app, while UK’s Shop Direct achieved 62% of total sales on the mobile platform. This trend is leading to the launch of new e-commerce apps, as e-tailers are encouraging their customers to shop via mobile-based apps. Not only does the mobile strategy give e-tailers a direct sales channel between the e-tailer and the customer, but it also acts as a branding tool that is perennially close to the customer.
2. Digital supply chain
Ensuring on-time delivery is a key differentiating factor for companies in the e-commerce space. As a result, the successful management of extreme market and spiked-demand has become the new focus area, optimizing the supply chain management process for these companies, and playing a critical role in ensuring efficient and faster delivery models. Technological innovations are also enabling other critical areas of supply chain, such as:
- Port management (autonomous freight shuttle debuts),
- Inventory management (hack-proof RFID chip),
- Brand protection (invisible digital markers to help fight counterfeit products),
- Warehouse management (robot technology for collaborative automated order picking),
- Infrastructure (deploying drones to inspect bridges), and
- Delivery (using drones to deliver shipments).
e-commerce companies are also investing in emerging technology startups to gain a competitive advantage and maximize profits. Specifically, startups specializing in warehousing and logistics solutions are gaining traction as they offer great automation opportunities to e-commerce companies. According to 2015 estimates, warehouse-focused companies increased investments by 8%, crossing $1 billion in total investments.
3. AI-powered personalization
In today’s hyper-commoditized market, where differentiating a business from the likes of giants like Amazon, Alibaba, and Flipkart, is becoming increasing difficult; e-commerce vendors are focusing on providing a superior customer experience. A means to accomplish this has been to use technology that drives a high degree of personalization, such that each customer is treated as an individual target segment, rather than a part of a generalized mass.
Many AI companies are transforming e-commerce by devising unique solutions for e-commerce companies. For e-commerce businesses, AI technology is becoming increasingly important since it holds the potential for dynamic and adaptable targeting, which helps companies get the right pitch, at the right time, to the right customer, on the right platform.
For example, India-based AI company – Artificia, uses visual search and discovery tools to link individual images with a user’s interests in order to recommend products that are more likely to purchase. Similarly, Infinite Analytics’ delivers AI-powered personalization solutions by interacting with users through text and voice messages, while also being able to identify and find products based on pictures.
Given such radical innovations in technology, the boundaries between brick-and-mortar retailers and e-retailers are expected to blur even more. AI-driven personalization will not only lead to the conversion of one-time transactions but also drive personal and trust-based relationships between consumers and e-tailers, that effectively improve customer lifetime value.
4. Demand-driven forecasting
Anticipatory shipping is the closest e-commerce can come towards clairvoyance. Amazon patented a “method and system for anticipatory shipping” in 2013. This means that, rather than just relying on inviting or reminding customers to repeat their purchases, Amazon is experimenting with a process that can predict a customer’s shopping list and deliver the products to their nearest fulfillment center – even before the order is placed.
Anticipatory shipping definitely has the power to save the customer a lot of valuable time and effort as they are set free from mundane tasks such as shopping for household essentials and having to travel to markets.
Although this phenomenon is still in its experimental stage, we can easily see its disruptive potential should it become implemented on an industry-wide scale. Such technologies have the potential to take data analytics to the next level and allow companies such as Amazon to expand their customer base manifold while enhancing customer loyalty to a great degree.
5. New payment services
Convenience is an essential value proposition associated with e-commerce. Faster, efficient and secure payment options have played a big role in driving the unprecedented growth of the e-commerce market in recent years.
Payment modes tend to vary across regions, for instance, the U.S. and Canadian markets are dominated by credit card payments, while the European market is more partial towards debit cards and digital funds transfers. Emerging economies, on the other hand, are still based in cash, however, they too are rapidly moving towards digitization.
According to Gartner, 50 percent of consumers in mature markets will use smartphones or wearable-tech for making mobile payments by 2018. According to Forrester’s mobile payments forecast 2016-2021, mobile payments in the EU-7 are expected to rise at a CAGR of 19% – from $52 billion in 2015 to $148 billion in 2021. Forrester also predicts that in-person mobile payments will become a fast-growing segment, while remote mobile payments will constitute over 65% of mobile payments by 2021.
Of late, with the emergence of contactless payment options, such as Apple pay and Google wallet, security levels have also reached an all-time high. This higher degree of digital security has bestowed customers with a new confidence, especially those consumers who have been laggards in the online shopping segment due to concerns over making digital payments. This is further expected to give a boost to cashless payment modes and in turn, lead to inflating e-commerce sales.
Overall, e-commerce has indeed been growing in popularity – especially under certain demographics such as millennials. For the current generation of young people or “digital natives” as they are called, technology is a normal part of their daily life. Similarly, technology is also paving the way for e-commerce to become a persistent presence in the lives of the user in an unbelievable fashion. This is an inflection point where the millennial generation and its preference for ubiquitous technology is assuredly going to allow e-commerce to reach the masses unlike ever before.
According to recent estimates by eMarketer, worldwide retail sales are expected to reach $4 trillion by 2020. Without technology, it would be totally naïve to even expect that e-commerce could achieve such an impressive market size. As technology continues to evolve, becoming more sophisticated and advanced, we expect the e-commerce industry to reach unmatched levels of growth by 2020.