Let me spare you the clichés and reiteration of trends like “year of mobile” or “the importance of a fluid multichannel experience”. We’ve heard it before! This should be considered best practice rather than upcoming trends. Instead let’s take a look at how consumer behaviour and technology is changing to push retail forward.

Online Retail Trend 1: Agile Merchandising

  • Desktop queries in the retail and general merchandise category declined by -7%, while Mobile queries grew by  31% and Tablet searches declined by -3% YoY in Q4 2015 1
  • 65% of consumers have cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer service experience
  • Pinterest now has more than 60 million shopable posts featuring “Buy buttons”3
Image source: “Marey – birds” by Étienne-Jules Marey. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

As the average consumer becomes more demanding and switches freely between devices, this pushes retailers to offer an increasingly agile and easy experience.  We all know this, but how can you translate that knowledge into digital experience?

My funnel, your experience

Many brands are still trying to push consumers down the funnel, but the modern consumer wants to shop on their own terms. To make it easy for consumers to purchase at the point when they choose rather than where you think they should be in the funnel, add shopping cart functionality across as many online experiences as you can.

Offering consumers the ability to streamline purchasing from Apps isn’t throwing the old traditional funnel out the window, it’s just like making a fast track pass available to those who want to cut right to the end of the line.

  • Twitter is taking advantage of this consumer trend by adding “Buy buttons”
  • Facebook is testing a new “Shopping” tab enabling brands to advertise and sell to consumers direct (and without even having to leave Facebook)
  • Facebook is also testing the addition of “Buy buttons” to consumers news feeds, all meaning a customer can make a purchase without even leaving Facebook

Especially considering the amount of time consumers are spending on mobile, with some research suggesting that consumers spend 51mins browsing on mobile devices (and 3 hours 5 mins browsing in App)4. Offering consumers a shortcut to purchase from your brand via these social mobile-focused platforms, will provide some good opportunities.

Average time on mobile
Image source: eMarketer October 2015

Additionally, looking at an offline customer journey and adding digital elements such as image recognition apps can streamline the customer journey from viewing a product in some print media, directly to purchasing said product online.

Online Retail Trend 2: Experiential Retail

  • 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content appears that has nothing to do with their interests5
  • 59% of customers believe that online shopping experiences are unique and more personalised than shopping in physical stores6
  • “Experiential purchases are more associated with identity, connection, and social behaviour”7
Experiences v material
Image source: The Atlantic

What does good content mean to the consumer now? Good content doesn’t interrupt the consumer experience, it enhances it, right? Great content actually goes a step further when consumers participate in the creation of a brand’s content, taking a flat mediated one way communication into a lived experience that is a two way conversation between brand and consumer.

Sophie Turton from eConsultancy puts it brilliantly:

“Instead of creating content, retailers should be creating opportunities for content creation – instagrammable moments, inspiring experiences.”8

Creating offline retail experiences

Offline this retail trend has manifested by taking a lead from the Arts and injecting immersive drama that has seen great success for brands like Secret Cinema, into retail experiences. Emerging technologies provide exciting opportunities for brands to engage consumers in an interactive and new way that they are excited to be a part of and share.

Looking at the example of NetPark, an art project which is the result of a collaboration between Metal and Brighton University to put digital at the heart of an interactive art display in what’s been dubbed the “the world’s first digital art park”.  The beauty of this example is that by forcing visitors to interact with the display through digital technologies like augmented reality, they become a part of the experience.

Creating an experience offline and in person will always be easier for brands,  as brands shrewdly bring digital technology in-store to assist customers in their decision to buy, like the Neiman Marcus memory mirror which allows customers to compare outfits side by side with a 360 degree image.

Creating online retail experiences

With that being said, don’t discount the many great opportunities there are online to make the consumer part of your content.

  • A simple way that brands like Clarks have used existing platforms to showcase user-generated content is by asking influential bloggers as well as advocates to submit photos or videos to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or directly to the Clarks website of how they style Clarks products and include the hashtag #Shoesie and #Clarks.
  • Starbucks launched a White Cup Contest asking customers to submit pictures of their doodles on Starbucks cups and the winning entry was made the new limited edition cup template. The competition received approximately 4,000 entries in a three week period.
  • When Doritos launched a fun and humorous campaign around their roulette bag with a spicy chip mixed in, they encouraged consumers to play roulette with their friends and post reaction pictures using the hashtag #BURNSELFIE

These examples are all using visual elements to interact with their brand, which are really shareable and make easily digested content. Encouraging consumers to make photographic or video content with your brand will help build relationships with customers and widen your brand reach.

Online Retail Trend 3: Creating eCommerce destinations and communities

Creating communities
  • 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products – making these recommendations the information source ranked highest for trustworthiness.9
  • 68% trust online opinions from other consumers, which places online opinions as the third most trusted source of product information.9
  • Forbes conducted research to see how consumers engage with different industries including retail, travel, entertainment and financial business via social media networks. They found 81% of respondents indicated posts from their friends and family directly influence their purchase decisions.10

The power of communities is no secret to marketers, thanks to the inherent human desire for belonging and feeling understood, communities serve a valuable purpose for our species! Brands have long been infiltrating these communities with the desire to grow loyalty and brand reach through word of mouth recommendations.

What if instead of brands wedging themselves into communities, they created a hub of community for consumers with shared values that led them to be interested in the brand? For brands this means doing more than “just selling” on their website.  Again this is a trend which looks at how brands can build relationships with consumers through sharing experiences and culture. The aim is to create a brand that is a destination for communities of consumers who are engaged with your values, beyond even your products.

Offline, some brands have translated this trend into providing other services in-store which appeal to their target consumer. Urban Outfitters have offered salon services, bike repair and Instagram photo printing in store- everything their young hipster audience might want!

eCommerce brands have a chance to offer experiences outside of their products to consumers at a fraction of the cost.

  • One very simple way to do this is by displaying magazine-type editorial content on the homepage providing aspirational, lifestyle content for your audience.  Portraying your products as part of a “lifestyle” like Net-A-Porter does with their homepage or magazine PORTER gives consumers a destination for high-end fashion lifestyle inspiration, rather than just a place to purchase products.
  • Nike looks to provide their fitness audience with value by creating a motivational images board on Pinterest giving female athletes visual motivation through inspirational quotes.
Nike on Pinterest
Image source: Nike Motivation board on Pinterest
  • Partnering up with another brand that shares your audience can be a great way to offer more value to your consumers.  BMW launched a car sharing programme called DriveNow in conjunction with car rental group Sixt appealing to their “young male technophile” customers. In 2015 this app has over 500,000 customers and makes over half a million trips every  month.11

Thanks for reading

I hope you enjoyed reading about the latest in eCommerce and online retail trends, follow my contributions to the ThoughtShift blog to read more about consumer and industry trends. Or get ThoughtShift blogs delivered straight to you for the latest digital marketing industry happenings.


  1. Google trend reports, Q4 2015 Retail and General Merchandise
  2. http://fortune.com/2015/10/05/pinterest-buy-button-expansion/
  3. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Growth-of-Time-Spent-on-Mobile-Devices-Slows/1013072
  4. http://janrain.com/about/newsroom/press-releases/online-consumers-fed-up-with-irrelevant-content-on-favorite-websites-according-to-janrain-study/
  5. http://www.thedrum.com/news/2014/09/30/amazon-leads-way-personalisation-say-82-consumers
  6. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/buy-experiences/381132/
  7. http://www.nesta.org.uk/2016-predictions/retail-starts-perform
  8. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2013/under-the-influence-consumer-trust-in-advertising.html
  9. http://www.forbes.com/sites/marketshare/2012/05/07/are-brands-wielding-more-influence-in-social-media-than-we-thought/#58b2028f7748
  10. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/10/12/20-more-bmw-i3s-hit-london-drivenow-fleet/

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