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The 5 Most Innovative Trends in Ecommerce to Watch for in 2016 Ever hear of contextual shopping? It's coming to a website near yours.

By Thomas Smale Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Next year, 2016, is only a week away. Were you able to hit all of your goals in 2015? As New Year's approaches, many people begin to review what they've been able to accomplish in the past year, and to think about what they want to see happen in the year ahead.

Related: The Top 5 Reasons You Should Start an Ecommerce Business

This is an important exercise for your business, too. Indeed, it's critically important to get clear in your thinking, because you don't want 2016 to be another year that you let slip by without reaching your objectives. It's time to get focused.

Still, the good news is that there has never been a better time to be in ecommerce. Online sales are going to continue to grow, and if you want to be part of the new wave, you have to prepare. To help you do that, here are five ecommerce trends for 2016 to be aware of.

1. Improved mobile shopping experiences

Mobile commerce is constantly growing. In the past, many challenges associated with getting people to buy through smartphones and tablets have arisen, but a lot of those kinks have been ironed out.

Difficult and lengthy checkout processes, for example, are finally getting whittled down to their core elements. After all, you're going to convert very few shoppers if they can't get what they want with the fewest number of taps -- or clicks -- possible.

What's more, some retailers are already taking things to the next level by offering live chat support. This creates an immediate point of connection with customers. If you can reliably and consistently offer them good advice via their devices, they are far more likely to become loyal customers over the long term. This has massive implications for brick-and-mortar stores that also have an ecommerce component.

In short, mobile shopping is an area ecommerce businesses will be looking to streamline and dominate in 2016 and beyond.

2. Context will become the new personalization.

Data-based, personalized shopping experiences are now the norm. And though many shoppers appreciate customized product suggestions, others are annoyed when a product they viewed just once on Amazon continues to follow them around for weeks or even months on sites like Facebook, regardless of their actual interest level.

So, retargeting may be effective, and even incredibly relevant, but it doesn't always take context into account.

The idea is that if you become a member of an ecommerce site, it will remember your preferences. And the same personalized experiences are now being offered even to those who aren't even registered or logged in.

This means less friction to the customer journey. By presenting the right content at the right time, your business can efficiently lead shoppers on to a buying decision. For example, different sales copy could be displayed depending on the preferences of the customer accessing your site.

Personalization, then, is being replaced by contextual shopping, and customers will be seeing more relevant content coming their way than ever before.

Related: 9 Tips to Make Your Ecommerce Business Wildly Successful

3. Real-time analytics

Data is an invaluable resource in helping you determine how your business is doing. Unfortunately, with traditional analytics, spotting trends or problems was a time-intensive process. Traditional analytics also slowed things down because you couldn't provide immediate assistance to your customers before they left your site, perhaps for good.

This is where real-time analytics could be a game-changer. As you monitor customer and shopper behavior, you'll be able to identify problems in your sales funnel. The problem could be an issue with checkout or a coupon code. A lot of sales can be lost that way. But when you can repair problems on the fly or interact with a customer before he or she abandons that shopping cart, you'll be able to increase your conversion rate dramatically.

Real-time tracking will allow online retailers to offer a more holistic shopping experience, leaving fewer opportunities on the table.

4. Video marketing

We've known about the importance of optimized product descriptions and high-quality photography for ecommerce sites for years. If you want to remain competitive, however, these are mere prerequisites.

Many businesses are now taking things to the next level, with branded, custom video content. Video builds a lot of trust with prospective customers.

Educating, entertaining and informative product videos that tell an engaging story are really just the starting point. Behind-the-scenes production videos, demonstrations, 360-degree product rotations and even live streaming are now being looked to as viable strategies.

Video can boost your site's SEO, increase conversions, make your content more shareable and help your shoppers consume more information in less time.

Many ecommerce businesses have built large YouTube followings, while others have even started using apps like Instagram and Vine to capture the attention of prospective customers. There are more opportunities to create a presence where your customers are than ever before.

5. Social collaboration

Social collaboration is on the rise in the ecommerce world. It's one thing to have products your customers want. It's quite another to allow for further customization by the users, but this is exactly what's already happening on marketplaces like Etsy.

Social collaboration isn't just about having a site where shoppers can drop their templates into existing designs. Prospective customers can actually alter the designs of existing products and come up with beautiful, professional-looking one-of-a-kind wares.

The implementation of sophisticated tools for collaboration and social interaction allows for customers to feel that they are a part of the creation process, which means that they can get a product that they really want, not just one that they want.

Expect to see more social co-creation in 2016, especially in the apparel and accessory e-commerce sector.

Final thoughts

This is an exciting time to be in ecommerce, as businesses continue to innovate and get an edge on the competition.

Don't forget: Innovation isn't all about the capital you have to invest in new initiatives. Many times, spending can actually get in the way of innovating, because creativity is what makes all the difference.

New business processes don't necessarily require money, but they do require outside-the-box thinking. You have to be able to see possibilities where others might see none.

Get ready to generate new ideas, because we will be seeing fascinating and unusual changes in the ecommerce realm in 2016.

Related: The Top 5 Ecommerce Trends You Should Look Out For

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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