The world of eCommerce is still growing at an alarming rate and has a very bright future. Unfortunately, the industry also tends to be dominated by a select few players, leaving little room for others. Amazon, for instance, holds a significant portion of the online shopping and retail market share. They won’t be letting go anytime soon. They’ll likely be scooping up more.
It’s tough to compete as it is, but when you consider a force such as Amazon — with thousands, if not millions, of products in their arsenal — the outlook can certainly be daunting.
So, how can you gain a leg up on your competition? What can you do to make your mark and stand up to the bigger players, at least enough to find success?
The answer lies with modern trends and innovative strategies — the next up-and-coming idea that will volley you to the top of the leaderboards.
1. You Need Faster Shipping, Full Stop
There is no question: Amazon is the undisputed champion of shipping and eCommerce delivery. They offer excellent prices and benefits, incredibly fast movement times and have an excellent logistics strategy allowing them to track many goods not just accurately, but in real time. Heck, Amazon has their own shipping team, complete with delivery drones and the like.
OK, OK, so hearing all that might make you feel a little inadequate regarding what you can offer, especially if you’re a small or medium-sized business. However, it’s crucial to realize the point is not to compete directly with Amazon, nor is it to try and outdo them. Spoiler alert: You won’t ever be able to.
Instead, you should focus on improving your fulfillment and shipping processes as much as possible. The key is to boost shipping times, so products get to your customers faster. But you should also be concerned with the logistics, tracking and resulting data collection of said practices.
You won’t be the only one stepping up your game in this department, so do what you can to improve on all fronts. And when you think you’ve streamlined your shipping process enough, keep going.
2. Tap Into Automation, AI and Machine Learning
One of the ways you can keep up with some of the big names in the business is by fully automating many of your repetitive and simple tasks with the help of AI and machine learning. Smaller companies especially have a tough time keeping pace with their growing human labor needs. So, why do it at all? Why not just employ smart automation systems and technologies to handle the faster shipping and fulfillment requirements?
Walmart, Amazon, Target and many others can only do what they do because of automation. It also aligns directly with some of the newer solutions in the industry, such as mobile, IoT and online shopping.
Isn’t it time you scooped up a slice of the pie?
3. Mobile and IoT-Friendly Checkout
Mobile checkout and payment systems are exploding right now, as you might expect. Similarly, IoT is also seeing a rise in shopping and order usage. Some now rely on voice assistants, built into IoT and mobile devices, to place orders across popular storefronts online, such as saying aloud, “Google, I need more paper towels.”
You can take full advantage of this by being one of the few to embrace and honor such technologies. Alongside that are mobile payment systems such as Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and similar services.
All these technologies serve as an additional option for customers during the point of sale. The concept is straightforward in the end: It’s all about providing more convenience and personalization for your customers. The more ways they have to pay for your goods and services, the better.
4. Cross-Platform and Multi-Channel Experiences
Eighty-two percent of consumers use a mobile device to research local businesses, and 18 percent of local searches lead to a sale within the next 24 hours. This practice is called ROPO, which stands for “research online, purchase offline.” It’s a modern, cross-platform solution.
At any given time, you can research a product online via a store or retailer’s website. You can purchase it online or in a store when ready — such as when a deal or discount is live. Finally, you can choose to either pick it up in the store, have it shipped to your home or even have it shipped to a local store or access point when an item is not in stock near you. Such is the beauty of modern technology.
But cross-platform and multi-channel experiences don’t just stop there. There are dozens of ways you can allow customers to move between platforms and channels seamlessly without taking away from the overall experience.
Say I add a store’s product to my cart in a web browser, for instance. A mobile app for the store might then send me a notification on my phone, letting me know I forgot the product in my cart and then offer me an exclusive promotion or deal to encourage the purchase.
People enjoy and expect these kinds of experiences. Make sure you’re giving it to them.
5. Getting Into the App Game
More and more stores are actively developing and offering mobile apps to their customers. There’s Amazon, of course, but Walmart, Target, Best Buy and many others are now offering proprietary apps.
This idea is worth exploring if you have a solid group of loyal and regular customers. But it’s also vital to note if you’re going to create and provide an app, do it right. Don’t merely copy and paste your website into an app. Instead, build the mobile app from the ground up, taking into account many convenient solutions and opportunities you can provide your customers.
Maybe you incorporate a unique shipping tool that allows customers to track the movement of their goods from your warehouse to their doorstep, or perhaps you could offer a mobile payment and pickup plan, so customers can walk into a local store, flash a barcode or unique code and walk out with their goods, quickly? The sky’s the limit.
The point, however, is to provide a unique and exciting experience to your mobile users through any of the apps you offer.
6. Incorporate Personalization
Thanks to emerging technologies like big data, 3D printing, more advanced customer analytics and even AI, it’s now possible to augment the product development process so customers get exactly what they want. In layman’s terms, it’s possible to allow customers to personalize or fine-tune their goods before they ever come off the assembly line.
Imagine shopping for a new pair of running shoes online. In the past, it’s been nearly impossible to find a pair that offers precisely what you want. Only now, you can go on a particular shoe dealer’s site to order and choose from a variety of styles and options, essentially building your ideal, custom shoes. Then, they arrive on your doorstep exactly as you specified, just a short while later. The colors and design, the components, the precise fit — it’s all there.
This scenario describes a relatively new form of product development and manufacturing that offers the customer complete control. It’s exciting and astonishing to think about, but it also reveals how powerful the idea of customization can be.
Maybe you can’t follow the same concept, allowing for development customization options. But you can certainly incorporate the technique elsewhere. Allowing customers to choose from several product colors, for example, is an easy, standard form of personalization.
7. Lean Into Your Brand
Personality: It’s what all small to medium-sized businesses have that many more prominent organizations tend to forget. Amazon hasn’t, though, and that’s why they are such a powerful force. Amazon Prime branding is front and center on all product and shipping packages. It plays a vital role in the company’s promotions and sales. It’s virtually inescapable.
Amazon doubles down on what makes them so memorable — their personality. You can do the same by leaning into your brand. Source some custom packaging of your own. Come up with some quirky, yet attractive, traditions — maybe you throw some candy in with every purchase?
Galen Leather offers handcrafted goods from Turkey, of all places. The unique products are exceptional on their own, but to sweeten the deal, the company also includes gifts from the area.
Ultimately, when you do this, you’re building lasting and memorable moments for your customers — which not only encourages them to return, but also to share with people around them. It becomes this free, unspoken form of advertising that works to boost the reputation of your company.
8. Augmented and Virtual Reality (VR)
Believe it or not, augmented and VR experiences are seeing some excellent use cases in the industry right now, but they also serve as an innovative, yet creative way to showcase brand elements.
IKEA’s Place app for mobile allows you to project the company’s furniture within your home, apartment or anywhere else to see what they look like. You can see if a particular piece of furniture matches your style or decor. You can also use it to check if the furniture fits within a small area. It’s a unique and incredibly useful way to showcase their products.
The Magnolia Market app from Chip and Joanna Gaines does the same thing.
Admittedly, you don’t have to do exactly what these brands have done. It’s probably better to branch out and come up with a unique solution. But you can see from these examples how useful and engaging augmented and VR platforms can be.
Venture Outside the Box
You may have realized by this point that many of the bleeding-edge and up-and-coming trends have to do with bucking the norm. From AI and machine learning to augmented reality experiences, and further still to unique customer personalization options, the future of eCommerce is sure to be anything but boring.
It also means the best way to remain competitive is to adopt these strategies as soon as you can, but in fresh and engaging ways. Unless, of course, you’re thinking about ways to provide faster shipping, which has been a mainstay in the industry for some time. But even then, it’s something you cannot afford to overlook.
Follow the tips discussed here — even one — and you’ll find your business on the winning side of the market.