Online Shopping at it’s Finest: 10 Trends to Watch
Online shopping is about to explode. Retailers of all types are widening their product offerings, free shipping, adding in-store pickup and always doing social media experiments. It’s getting harder to tell pure play Internet retailers from the bricks and mortar shops with online portals, and most of the retailers are innovating how customers shop online from time to time.
1. In-store pick up. In the past few months we’ve seen Walmart implement in-store pick up for orders placed online, while Sears and Kmart are going a step further bringing online purchases out to your car. In Chicago, Sears and Kmart are even testing home delivery and bundling items with those from its retail partners at Sears’ Marketplace, further blurring the lines between online only retailers and those that came before. And in Florida, Farm Stores lets shoppers order groceries online and pick up at a drive through.
2. Pick up depots. Smaller retailers without a vast network of stores like Walmart or Sears may open designated pick up locations for goods ordered online. Retail consultant Neil Stern of McMillan/Doolittle points to French retailer Chronodrive.com as an example.
3. Mobile Apps. Smartphones are the dominant cell phone and apps for all platforms are growing. The ones that allow for price comparisons or send out coupons are already among the most heavily used with good reviews, but we’re just getting started.
4. Less flash more function. Forget about flashy apps or features like virtual dressing rooms. Consumers haven’t responded to these and rightly so. Maybe the technology will get there, but until it does, user reviews are better gauges of clothing fit and quality than any technology can offer.
5. Video. Look for more user-generated video on retail sites. Retailers are letting customers upload video clips modeling new clothes or using a new purchase. Davis believes this is one trend that will definitely pick up speed.
6. Social networking. Facebook and Twitter aren’t even close to played out yet. Consumers can increasingly “like” or follow a favorite retailer and get discounts or tips on deals. JCPenney is using Facebook to actually sell goods and more than 12 million consumers “like” Victoria’s Secret on Facebook as of last month (March), making it the most popular retailer on the site (its Pink brand ranks No. 2, according to the Channel Advisor Facebook Commerce Index). That’s an active population of customers reaching out and requesting information from the retailer. And social shopping is just getting started, says Jim Okamura, managing partner at Okamura Consulting, a group specializing in online retail. “There’s evidence (that Facebook offers) a good return on investment and there are a lot of retailers that haven’t done anything yet,” he says. “This is going to be the year of Facebook testing.
7. Daily deals and flash sales. This may seem like a very crowded playing field, but sites like Ruelala and OneKingsLane are reproducing at a furious pace. And based on how quickly many items sell out, often within minutes of email notifications going out, more will jump on this popular trend.
8. Retail based social networks. This is one trend experts don’t expect to happen at any large level. Sears is still trying to build a social network of its own customers and Walmart tried and abandoned a similar effort, neither attempt bodes well for its success. Facebook really owns this space, but look for small, focused sites to create communities of like-minded users, says Okamura.
9. International. “There’s been an accelerating trend in international or cross border e commerce, of small niche online retailers are now doing 10-20% of their sales outside of their own country,” says Okamura. Look to online shops like SousVide Supreme that sells specialized cooking equipment and StyleTrek.com, a community built to launch up and coming international designers as models. Other big name retailers like Zara and Top Shop are building out their online business to reach U.S. shoppers, even as the store base grows more slowly.
10. Deal aggressors. Of course there are always deal sites, like Deal news, Consumer Search, Fat Wallet and Brad’s Deals that are cutting through the din of so many sites and sales to bring consumers only the information they’re interested in.
And according to Don Davis, editor of trade magazine Internet Retailer, there’s one more positive side effect for shoppers: the in-store experience is likely to become better as online shopping grows. As it becomes easier to compare prices, stores will be forced to create better physical experiences with more knowledgeable sales staff and proprietary items hard to find anywhere else.
On one thing all our experts agreed. There will be more choices for consumers. More things to buy, more ways to compare products and prices, and more methods to evaluate goods.