The future of e-commerce looks promising for small businesses. Let’s take a closer look at how independent merchants can continue to sell more and stand out in competition with big-box retailers who also have moved online.
Consumers are adopting new technologies quicker than ever. According to a recent study by Pew Internet Research, nearly half of all Americans now own a smartphone. That’s a 28.5 percent increase versus 2011 – and the market still has great potential for growth. A recent study from comScore also found that 86 million Americans are using their smartphones to shop online.
The major shortcoming with online shopping to date has been the instant gratification that comes with in-store shopping and the ease with which consumers can get their hands on products in real time. As new technologies such as Near Field Communications emerge, that advantage for traditional retailing may shift.
NFC is a smartphone technology that allows for easy communication and data transfer over short distances. By connecting NFC-enabled devices to a credit or debit card, paying for goods or services is simpler and faster than ever before. Imagine simply waving your phone over a product to purchase it online.
That kind of transaction has the chance to be a real game-changer in the e-commerce space. By 2022, brick and mortar retail spaces will be little more than showrooms. Instead of loading up a cart with goods to purchase in store, consumers will try on or sample the products in store, quickly scan and purchase the items they desire, and have them delivered to their homes within 24 hours. The shopping mall as we know it today will be much different 10 years from now.
Does this mean brick and mortar stores are dead or dying? No. They’re simply evolving as consumers find new technologies that simplify their lives. The challenge for businesses going forward, large or small, is adapting to this change in consumer behavior or even predicting it.
So where should small business be focusing their efforts so they’re not tripped up by the next disruptive technology?
Invest in mobile: Consumers can now shop anywhere at any time, whether from their PC, smartphone or tablet. IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark survey recently showed that online shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday was up over 14 percent versus 2011, with 24 percent of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site. On Cyber Monday alone, purchases made from mobile devices accounted for 13 percent of all online purchases. International Data Corp. has predicted that by 2015 mobile web usage will actually outpace PC web use. With the smartphone and tablet markets continuing to grow, it is safe to say that in order to be competitive in the online retail space, an app or a mobile website is a must-have. At the very least, make sure an existing website is optimized for mobile.
Video content: The impact of social media in business is indisputable at this point. For consumer-facing companies, especially online retailers, an active social media presence is essential to maintaining a core consumer base and quickly marketing your store. Small online retailers need to take efforts a step further and start leveraging the power of online videos to sell more. In the past, text updates and photos were sufficient to drive traffic to your online store, but video offers unique opportunities. The opportunity to develop video content (which includes little cost outside of time and some basic video editing software) is too big to ignore.
Social advertising: Many small businesses are still trying to understand how best to deliver content to their customers via their social media channels while also reaching new prospects. Advertising on social channels like Facebook and Twitter can be that bridge to a new frontier. While there is some debate about the overall value of social advertising, it is hard to argue that it offers some of the best targeting available to business owners; especially when the amount of time U.S. consumers spend on social media sites on a daily basis is taken into consideration.
Digital couponing: It was only a matter of time before large stacks of coupons got replaced with something digital and eco-friendly. A recent report presented by comScore found that digital coupons were seen as the number one method of savings for consumers. The same report also showed that 35 percent of respondents found that digital coupons “helped with new ideas,” essentially the discovery of something they didn’t know they even wanted to purchase. Over one-third of those surveyed indicated that they actually prefer receiving coupons online versus any other format.
So what does the future of e-commerce look like for small businesses? Smarter, faster and more promising.