2023 was a year of accelerated change for ecommerce companies. More than any time since the advent of the mass-market smartphone, technology has leaped forward in ways that will directly impact how ecommerce businesses operate and grow.
For that reason, it’s more important than ever to have a clear plan for leveraging developing trends in digital commerce and online shopping. As commercially available generative AI becomes more ubiquitous, mobile commerce and social commerce continue to blur the lines of what it means to shop online, and consumers expect greater personalization than ever before. 2024 is shaping up to significantly impact how online stores operate. These trends are shaping the ecommerce industry at an incredible rate.
The Blending of Mobile and Social Commerce
More than two-thirds of web traffic comes from mobile devices, and 75% of consumers would rather shop on their mobile device than on a desktop. Gone are the days of digital skepticism from consumers about buying through a phone. Mobile commerce feels more tangible and secure than ever, thanks to facial recognition, fingerprint technology, and secure standards across all major devices.
In tandem with a more complete shift to mobile purchasing, social commerce is growing exponentially. From the early days of Instagram shopping, we’ve now reached a point at which nearly 50% of social media users would use a social media app to buy a product. Instagram shops, combined with Meta advertising tools, make it easier than ever to reach huge swaths of consumers based on their activity and behavior on a mobile device.
But it’s not just Instagram driving the mobile and social commerce boom. TikTok has emerged as a major player in ecommerce thanks to the launch of TikTok Shop in late 2023. Because it is a new platform and shop owners are still learning how best to optimize their efforts for TikTok, 2024 will be a developing year for the platform. But with more than 1 billion monthly active users globally and the comfort of younger generations purchasing through social media platforms, TikTok is primed to grow rapidly in the new year.
Enhanced Search Options
Traditional search has long been a hindrance to a streamlined shopping experience. The larger your catalog, the more work is needed to ensure consumers can filter and search for what they need. Creating a structured database is increasingly powering new ways for consumers to search for products, including through voice and image searches.
Voice assistants are nothing new, but they’ve reached a point of saturation that users are fully comfortable asking Alexa, Siri, or Google to find something for them when in a hurry. With 40% of users having searched for product data and 24% saying they have bought with a voice assistant, these tools are now a crucial part of your multi-channel efforts.
Search results are starting to skew to reflect the desire for voice-friendly results. More than ever, it’s important that your site be optimized for a non-visual experience, including appropriate alt-tags for all images, detailed, keyword-rich product descriptions, and accurate categorization and tagging of all products. At a higher level, voice search integration directly with your store can allow users to buy products from your website or storefront on a third-party marketplace more seamlessly.
Major platforms like eBay have long since implemented image search functionality to help consumers find products more seamlessly. Whether a customer is trying to replace a long-loved sweater, search for a hat they find in a local thrift store online, or get ideas for gifts, image search is becoming a more robust tool that many ecommerce brands will implement on their websites.
VR and AR Shopping
Virtual reality has become commercially available in an affordable package in recent years, but its appeal remains relatively niche. Growth rates have been modest among online shoppers, with adoption expected to pass 100 million for the first time in the next 2-3 years. That said, in 2023, Sony, Meta, and Apple all announced or released new hardware, and the applications of these tools continue to expand.
From games and exercise apps to more robust augmented reality (AR) applications, headsets, glasses, and goggles are becoming more powerful, while AR applications within phones are becoming more commonplace, especially for ecommerce brands.
At its most basic level, AR can be implemented within applications developed by third-party marketplaces such as Amazon or Walmart. Ikea’s AR tools allow consumers to easily drop any object from their catalog into a home to see how it would look. It’s not perfect, but the technology is making it easier to engage with purchases, especially large ones that take up space or that impact the look and feel of a home, in a virtual setting. Whether through a fully immersive experience with a headset or an AR-empowered app, ecommerce brands need to consider how they can provide this kind of customer experience for their customers.
Despite ongoing inflation, rising prices, and the cost of greener production and shipping processes, consumers continue to demand greater sustainability from businesses. In a recent survey, 82% of consumers indicated they would pay more for a product with sustainable packaging, and the market as a whole is expected to grow by 8% CAGR over the next five years.
Consumers want convenience above all else, but increasingly, they are aware of the impact that convenience might have on the environment. Shipping materials, emissions from delivery trucks, and the long-term impact of single-use packaging are all concerns that companies are looking to address.
By carrying products that are less reliant on plastic, adjusting shipping practices to align with sustainability expectations, and communicating your dedication to more sustainable business practices, you can better engage with an eco-conscious consumer base in 2024.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are more than just a trend. It is a fundamental shift in the technological landscape of the Internet. Ecommerce brands are primed to benefit from this shift in a number of ways, from reducing the time it takes to complete simple tasks to providing better and more immediate customer service and optimizing the user experience on your website.
In the past, it took hours of manual labor and costly design resources to create the imagery and add the tags and structured data to your catalog database that would ensure optimal performance in search engines and ads. AI is allowing brands to streamline things like creating alternate, holiday-themed, or context-specific imagery for their products. It is also allowing brands to automatically tag their products based on existing products in their database. At a basic level, AI allows brands to streamline operations, reduce overhead, improve their ecommerce stores, and provide better prices and experiences to their customers.
In 2024, AI will continue to evolve, and be more accessible to small ecommerce brands for things like predictive analytics around when and how people will buy products from them. This includes things like better ad performance, website optimization, sales page optimizations, and more. AI goes beyond automation and personal assistance and is becoming an underlying resource for improved performance across the board.
Personalization is a must, but consumer expectations have evolved since the sharp increase in ecommerce activity in 2020 and 2021. With so many more people now comfortable buying online, there is an underlying expectation that recommendations, suggestions, and shopping experiences in general will be catered to the specific needs of users.
Salesforce recently reported that 80% of consumers consider their experience shopping to be as important as the products they buy, and 65% expect a personalized shopping experience. To effectively personalize, brands need powerful predictive tools and AI solutions, and to power those tools, they need ample data. Thankfully, the platforms that enable that kind of data collection are becoming more prevalent and less expensive for smaller brands.
Looking Ahead to 2024 and Beyond
Ecommerce is a part of the economic fabric of the world, and in 2024, we’ll continue to see technology enable greater personalization, improved search experiences, and faster access to the products consumers need. As you prepare for the year ahead, consider the role that technology can play in optimizing your business. The tools necessary to make those experiences a reality are becoming more accessible than ever before. Incorporating some of these top ecommerce trends into your business plan will help you stay competitive.