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Published November 21st 2018

Woke Consumers and Uber-Targeting: Ecommerce Trends for 2019

As we head into another year that promises big changes and the continued development of exciting technologies, the Brandwatch team reveals their predictions around ecommerce trends for 2019.

13% of all retail purchases are happening online according to this year’s big analysis from Mary Meeker.

Insert cliché statement about ecommerce being a big deal in modern life here.

(Editor’s note: that’s not a placeholder ^)

We’re back with our ecommerce trends list, this time for 2019. Having reviewed last year’s list I noticed that a bunch of items seem to have come true, or at least developed.

For example, smart home devices like the Amazon Echo have seen a huge boost in popularity when it comes to buying stuff without having to lift a finger. Meanwhile, mapping and optimizing customer journeys has become a key focus for businesses of all kinds.

This year, we’ve updated our outlook to address some of the key issues we’ve noticed emerging or continuing in 2018 that we predict will grow further.

Ecommerce trends for 2019

1. Anything, anywhere

You might have heard of the historically glitzy department store in London named Harrods, established in 1849. While it’s as much of a tourist attraction now as it is an incredibly glamorous place to shop, it’s got a reputation as a place where you can buy pretty much anything. The most famous example is probably Christian the lion who was purchased at Harrods in 1970 and went on to live as a pet in Chelsea for six months.

Why am I talking about this museum of traditional consumerism? Because when I was thinking about e-commerce trends I thought about the store’s slogan, “Omnia Omnibus Ubique”, which translates to “All Things for All People, Everywhere”. The problem is, when you compare the traditional Harrods experience to that of modern day online shopping, or the fact that ‘hypermarket’ and department store chains have existed across the world for many years, its motto seems pretty overstated.

Now, you really can buy anything online (especially if you frequent the dark web). And you can buy it from anywhere at any time. My point is that this almost seamless movement of goods around the world, logistics wise, is only growing slicker. As one journalist wrote for the BBC in their piece entitled ‘The Man Who Delivers to Monks’:

“Even the world’s tallest mountain range can’t prevent global e-commerce from reaching its doorsteps.”

“Omnia Omnibus Ubique” is very much becoming the norm. Perhaps Harrods was further ahead of the time than anyone ever imagined.

2. Excellent product-related content

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the popularity of “how to” content, which seems hotter than ever. When people search for “how to” do something, they’re looking for a specific, easy to follow solution to the problem they’ve got. It’s an amazing opportunity for branded content. In our recent study of “how to” content we explored how best to meet the need of someone searching for a specific question (what situation they’re in) as well as the best way to deliver the content – often hands-free video is a great solution.

If you can get your product front and center as the solution to their problem, or use this kind of content to help people make best use of your product, you’re on to a winner.

Related to product content is reviews. This is almost the flip side, since the content is owned by the commenter and their opinions as opposed to your branded ones. We’re continuously told that consumers are more likely to trust their peers than to take onboard branded messaging, so ensuring that your review ship is in shape is really important.

We’ve spoken a lot about the darker side of reviews this year, but retailers hoping for commercial success ought to encourage the best kind of reviews without slipping into the dark arts of paying for positive comments.

3. Personalization and targeting

Technology has moved to a place where creating uber-targeted messages that are personalized to a subtle (or not so subtle, pretty creepy) degree is pretty easy to do with the right tools and budget.

That said, there is a whole lot of terrible targeting going on. Many advertisers seem to think going straight for the hardsell and not taking the time to persuade and entertain the consumer is the best way to go about it, but that could have the opposite of the intended effect.

We recently spoke with Immediate Future founder Katy Howell about poor marketing when it comes to personalization as well as the ‘sledgehammer to crush a walnut’ approach that advertisers take to selling.

Going about personalization in a smart way that isn’t too general but equally doesn’t scare people, and does all this at the right time, is by no means easy. But those who do this well will find a lot of success as these methods become more sophisticated.

4. Buying direct from social channels

We talk a lot about making shopping experiences seamless, but it’s currently not as easy as we’d all like it to be.

One new update is one of the many small steps being taken to make it easier for people to see something, like it and buy it in a couple of seconds.

Brent Locks, general manager of ShopStyle, discussed the company’s new ‘Youtube Looks’ feature in Adweek, using the language of ease and speed:

“Especially on your phone, you’re not tapping and going to the description to shop as you’re viewing it…With this, you can just tap one thing and land at that video shop page on ShopStyle that they fully control and be able to shop all the products there.”

As these iterations become more common, the amount of time between us spotting something we like on social and making an order could continue to shrink.

5. Convenience, packaging and the woke shopper

This year has seen a huge amount of interest in plastic waste, with a lot of that awareness driven in a kind of unlikely way from the BBC’s Blue Planet.

As shoppers continue to become more aware of supply chains, damaging packaging materials and where things eventually end up, it could be that we’re entering a new era of “woke” consumers.

That said, whether CSR efforts are likely to increase sales in 2019 is hard to tell, especially when you note how much people value convenience and how social media can encourage a throw-away attitude. Will the awareness of damage that can be done by plastic packaging, poor working conditions and pollution from deliveries lead to changes in behavior?

Here’s a trend to watch: One survey from Barclaycard found that around 9% of shoppers are guilty of buying clothes just to take pictures for social, using hashtags like #ootd (“outfit of the day”). The clothes are either then discarded or returned. Returns might be a miracle for someone with little time looking to try on a number of outfits before picking the perfect one for a party and sending the rest back, but they come at significant environmental cost.

On the flipside of this discarding attitude are fashion trends that promote re-use. As pointed out by Hanna Kozlowska in Qz, fashion icons of the day seem to be championing this too:

“There’s fashion icon Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose every outfit sells out in seconds, but who frequently wears the same outfit twice (as did former US first lady Michelle Obama, another trendsetter).”

6. The continued degradation of bricks and mortar retail spaces

This seems so cliché, which is why it’s last. That said, it continues to warrant a mention in e-commerce trends articles. As you may have noticed, whether it be through pictures of dilapidated malls or boarded up windows on the high street, bricks and mortar retail spaces are suffering at the hands of convenient online experiences that offer more choice and less stressful trips in the rain.

Remaining ‘big box’ retailers are working hard to cut costs, with some successfully pushing something called ‘dark store theory’. As Laura Bliss writes in CityLab:

“With one property tax appeal after another, they are compelling small-town assessors and high-court judges to accept the novel argument that their bustling big boxes should be valued like vacant “dark” stores—i.e., the near-worthless properties now peppering America’s shopping plazas.”

This might seem like one way to help large businesses, which employ and provide important goods to local people, although corporations paying less tax isn’t often a popular idea when it means local services will have to be cut.

It seems to me that retail should take a leaf from the food and beverage book and try to create experiences that attract online audiences at their physical locations, either with picture opportunities, simple incentives or full-on branded experiences.

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