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These 4 Business Trends Will Have a Major Impact In 2019 -- Watch Them Closely

New ways to pay, shipping competition, AI and the gig economy are all factors that will deeply affect future U.S. businesses. Are you listening?

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You've likely experienced your fair share of ups and downs throughout 2018, so to minimize the "downs" side of the equation and lead your team in the right direction in 2019, think about starting to prepare now.

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Related: 5 Video Marketing Trends You Should Follow in 2019

While setting some New Year's resolutions on how to improve your leadership skills will certainly help stimulate better results in the future, it's equally essential that you monitor the trends that could affect your industry -- and the business world as a whole -- in 2019.

Thankfully, you won't have to depend on guesswork to know what changes could be coming your way because there are specific business trends that experts have described. Here are four of the biggest to keep your eye on:

1. Increasingly diverse payment options are coming.

The seemingly countless headlines about Bitcoin and blockchain may no longer be as prominent as they were at the beginning of 2018, but they've illustrated an important trend unlikely to go away: Customers are looking for more flexible banking models and payment methods.

Speed and security are a big part of the equation, which is why the ABA Banking Journal predicts that contactless credit card payments will become an important trend in brick and mortar transactions. Allowing customers to tap or wave a card at a payment terminal to quickly process a transaction falls perfectly in line with the norms of digital shopping.

Of course, many customers don't want businesses to merely adopt new credit card technology. Enabling your company to also accept non-traditional payment methods -- be they through applications like Paypal or alternative funds like Bitcoin -- could also prove key to winning new customers in the new year.

2. It's time to embrace AI.

Artificial intelligence (AI) really started to enter the mainstream in 2018, with chatbots and virtual assistants making their presence felt in a wide range of industries.

Each of these advances is designed to improve the customer experience or streamline business operations, and all of them could have a big impact on your bottom line as customers become more and more comfortable with AI.

In a phone interview, Omer Khan, founder and CEO of VividTech, explained to me that, "Today's chatbots and virtual assistants are able to handle more customer service tasks than ever before to better facilitate the customer journey. As they utilize machine learning to better respond to customer requests, these interactions become even more efficient.

Related: 6 Trends Impacting the Future of Payments

"We're also seeing chatbots that integrate the brand personality to further streamline these online conversations and improve company results," Khan said.

Though not every AI application may be necessary for your particular business, it's important that you analyze the options that are out there and consider how they could improve your processes and services.

3. The shipping wars will continue.

The priority customers assign to shipping that's free and fast is bigger than ever before — and that's not going away any time soon. Amazon, Walmart and Target all entered a major Black Friday battle in an effort to sway customers with superior shipping deals.

Other major retailers like Home Depot, Best Buy and Nordstrom are also trying to improve their free shipping options. Direct-to-consumer ecommerce brands will soon be focused on more than just transit time. Maintaining brand quality, owning customer data and improving the entire shipping experience will also prove essential.

In fact, customers are placing an increasing value on free, fast shipping. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers in one Alix Partners study agreed that they "browse for products based on their preferred shipping options." Some were even willing to spend more on an individual product if free shipping is available.

For ecommerce businesses, adjusting the product lineup isn't going to be enough to win new customers. Providing a faster, more streamlined delivery process could prove a key differentiator for building your brand.

4. The gig economy and remote work are here to stay.

The Fed has estimated that as many as 75 million Americans participate in the gig economy in some way. Our increasingly digital and decentralized world has also created more opportunities for people to launch their own business ventures. These trends have led to a sharp increase in remote work, with over 43 percent of employees, according to a Gallup survey, working at least part of the time from home.

Though the gig economy may not have had much of an impact on your industry yet, there's no denying that shifting priorities in employment will continue to make a difference in the workplace.

For one thing, employees are placing more value than ever before on having a flexible work environment that allows them to spend more time out of the office. Adapting company policies to allow for remote work could help improve employee retention, but it must be managed appropriately to keep productivity at appropriate levels.

Finding the right balance for achieving flexibility and high-quality results will prove crucial as businesses try to keep their best and brightest from jumping into the gig economy.

Ring in 2019 the right way!

As this list illustrates, new business trends are poised to disrupt everything from marketing to employee management. Is your business prepared to handle the challenges ahead?

Related: 7 Reasons Why the Gig Economy is a Net Positive

By doing your research now, you can better identify how to successfully incorporate these changes into your business model so the competition doesn't leave you behind.

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