The Future of Ecommerce Will Focus on Creating Experiences

A look into what worked and what hasn't worked in online retail, along with what's on the horizon.

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By Jack Lowinger

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Today, ecommerce drives nearly all retail growth in the U.S., so it comes as no surprise that retailers are developing more immediate and interactive online experiences to retain and grow their customer base.

With an enormous increase in both shopping on mobile devices and online purchasing traffic, retailers are in a much larger and more competitive landscape to sell their products. To stay on top of minds, social integration has become a major focus for retailers looking to reach consumers in real time.

Related: 5 Strategies for Turning Ecommerce Browsers Into Buyers

With retailers testing a host of strategies and new platforms to increase their online presence and sales, there are tactics -- both successful and not -- that we can see emerging in 2015 and beyond.

What works: Personalization and appealing to the consumer

While ecommerce platforms can present consumers with a wide variety of offerings (online-only coupons, exclusive items, express shipping), there is a significant lack of focus on building personalized relationships with shoppers and providing the interactive experience that comes with in-store shopping.

As highlighted by research from Nielsen and Forrester, many consumers expect to have the same personal experience shopping online as they do shopping in-store, and they expect the same convenience and speed of shopping in-store as they do shopping online.

Companies such as BaubleBar and TrunkClub have succeeded in making the shopping experience more personal, more social and more fun by focusing on building customer relationships. At BaubleBar, customers have access to stylists via video chat while TrunkClub's business model centers on employees building and maintain ongoing client relationships, catering to every individual differently.

What works: Product-discovery sites and recommendation engines

To answer the problems of competition in the now-diluted space, successful retailers have begun to incorporate a "guided discovery" process that targets specific items for a consumer based on user suggestions that help narrow down the purchase decision. Many retailers are seeing greater success by creating this custom guidance for each customer, helping shoppers spend less time browsing and more time locating exactly what they need.

Birchbox, for example, has built its platform entirely on discovery, delivering beauty and grooming products directly to the consumer tailored around personalized preferences.

What works: Emotion-driven shopping experiences

Retailers that go beyond selling a product and tell a story to establish a firm brand identity and to build a one-to-one relationship with their customers are more likely to thrive. The ability for users to share their dream shopping lists with friends on Wanelo, for example, is just one way of creating a more personalized, online community.

Related: In Ecommerce Push, Tumblr Adds 'Buy,' 'Browse' Buttons

These wish lists are an extremely simple way for users to see what friends and family are shopping for, allowing them to save the products they find and share them with others to get exactly what they want, or know exactly what others are looking for.

What doesn't work: Relying on social networks

There is a difference between encouraging impulse buys and allowing consumers to connect with an active and targeted community centered on common interests and needs. While the major social players such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are teaming up with retailers in hopes to create a more seamless shopping experience, incorporating existing social networks into a shopping platform does not necessarily make the platform inherently "social."

In the case for social shopping, combining social media with retail (offering a one-click buy button or allowing users to use #hashtag when tweeting brands) does not always result in a true social-shopping experience. For instance, companies that only push promotional content and fail to engage followers on their social platforms void the space from being an actual social community in the end.

What doesn't work: Lack of collaboration

Globally, the number of users purchasing products through group buying and local deal sites increased from 30 percent at the close of 2011 to 44 percent by the end of 2013. However, retailers are struggling to successfully appeal to group shoppers online. When we say group shopping, we define this as purchasing items for everyone in a group with everyone in the group involved in the process.

Shopping as part of a group as opposed to shopping for oneself is even more difficult to determine how to secure the best deal -- each person in the group may be looking at the same item but at different price points and quantities from different retailers.

For example, an office manager purchasing supplies for an office is often tasked with taking requests for all employees and, currently, many retailers are struggling with coming up with a clear solution that focuses on collaboration and these groups' specific needs.

Predictions for future success

Looking at social shopping down the road, as group buying continues to mature, we can expect to see more retailers shift focus towards those in charge of group orders, observing their online purchase habits and catering shopping carts accordingly. Better recommendation engines and sharable, curated shopping lists where users collaborate with others will also trend upwards.

Overall, better social integration for managing a more seamless group checkout process will encourage greater collaboration while shopping online.

Jack Lowinger

Founder and CEO of Cartonomy

Jack Lowinger is founder and CEO of Cartonomy.

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