Ecommerce is one of the most influential developments of the Internet age, yet in many ways it is still in its relative infancy. Online transactions make up only 7 percent of all retail in the United States, up from 2.8 percent in 2006. The growth of ecommerce is even more pronounced in emerging markets such as India, where online retail sales jumped from 3 percent in 2010 to 34 percent in 2014.
This growth is spurred, in part, by the technology continuously developed to improve the online shopping experience for both customers and sellers. Between the robust payment infrastructures of companies such as PayPal and the centralized hubs of discovery like Amazon, ecommerce has thrived in recent years. But refinement is always possible, and the tech landscape is crafting exciting developments to build into the ecommerce process.
Technological Advances for E-Commerce
As ecommerce growth continues, new technologies emerge to take it to the next level, including these most notable advances:
Integrated Approaches to Retail
Selling to customers via a combination of in-person and online channels — already a dominant strategy — will continue to grow. New technologies focus on integrating the approach to omnichannel sales instead of looking at digital and in-person sales individually. These new tools work to manage inventory and returns, plus optimize shipping, for companies that sell through multiple channels but want to create a streamlined customer experience.
Interacting with the Multi-format Customer
Customers now discover goods and services in many different ways, which means to optimize marketing is a greater challenge than before. Technology is addressing how best to sort offline, mobile, and online campaigns. Features such as geofencing allow companies to target customer smartphones by location, and marketing automation technologies can help guide consumer decisions online.
Accessibility Technologies and Platforms
Because ecommerce covers only a small subset of overall retail, many companies are still making the transition to online transactions. Accessibility technologies and platforms, which help businesses that traditionally sell offline move into the online space, hold huge growth potential. These vary from software tools that help build online stores to startups platforms such as Garmentory, which allows boutiques to list their inventories in a curated discovery marketplace.
Blockchain technology was originally discussed only in the context of bitcoin, but lately companies have realized its usefulness elsewhere. Customers value security of information, and blockchain technology is helping to design online payment systems that are safe, anonymous, and scalable.
Improving Efficiency for Entrepreneurs
With these new advances, it’s time for tech entrepreneurs to take a hard look at their plans for platform development and to consider these ways to strive for efficiency on both the supply and distribution sides:
1. Think about the end-to-end customer experience.
Build an ecommerce structure with the customer’s experience in mind. Ask questions about all elements of the customer’s interaction with your ecommerce site. Does the customer expect the product to be delivered in a few days, or a few weeks? How many stock keeping unit options will you need to satisfy customers? Will ecommerce software like Shopify be sufficient, or will you require more customization that necessitates something in-house? Knowing and focusing on the customer’s expectations is essential.
2. Build for sustainability.
Even in the early stages of your business, understanding what you are trying to grow into goes a long way. You might have 10 customers a week right now, but your system should be built in a way that limits the strain of growing into serving hundreds or thousands of customers. Build your system with your goals, not just your present reality, in mind.
3. Build data collection into your processes.
Big data is one of the most powerful tools available to ecommerce entrepreneurs. Every time a customer and your business interact, that creates a data point that can be used to help fine-tune your processes. If possible, build data collection into your platform’s structure right at the outset. This will set you up to derive insights about your customers and how to interact with them.
As e-commerce continues to gain popularity with sellers and consumers, more technological developments will emerge to improve the system. By being conscious of new technology and its capabilities, you can better design a system that thrives in this new market.