The retail & e-commerce landscape is shifting dramatically. Review the current state of retail and you will see the ‘retail apocalypse‘ impacting an incredible amount of household brands, with stores closing with increased frequency. Decisions are being made to shutter less profitable brick-and-mortar locations, while others brands are ditching brick-and-mortar all together. As a result, retailers are doubling-down on their e-commerce efforts at a rapid pace.
Current retail trends show that 51% of Americans prefer online shopping, with ecommerce growing 23% year-over-year. Ecommerce is expected to change at an even faster rate as brands embrace the power of voice search and omni-platform/omni-device options. Voice assistants are already being used to make purchases by 40% of millennials, with that number expected to exceed 50% by 2020. This transformation of the digital retail landscape will only continue to grow as more consumers integrate digital devices into their shopping habits.
With this real-time retail disruption happening, it was time to poll the industry and eight ecommerce luminaries share their thoughts on the future of e-commerce in 2018 and beyond. Here are the anticipated retail trends, offline and online, to be aware of.
Trend #1: Entrepreneurial E-Commerce Breakout
Ecommerce will be more important than ever in 2018. Luckily, it’s also incredibly easy to get started. Expect to see an influx of e-comm entrepreneurs ready to get their digital feet wet.
“It’s never been easier to launch your own online store, find a product to sell, or start an advertising campaign. In the near-future we’ll see even more aspiring entrepreneurs breaking through into the world of ecommerce, who may not have had the means to do so previously.” — Tomas Slimas – Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Oberlo
Trend #2: Smarter, Faster, Blockchain-Enabled AI
As AI-powered chatbots become even smarter, expect the rise of artificial intelligence chatbot interfaces to continue. Combined with opportunities like blockchain technology, the power of chatbot messaging to fuel the future of retail is nothing short of astounding — the timing is ripe, too.
“In 2018 we’ll see more companies investing in chatbot services to automate part of their customer service process. The market for chatbots and automated customer service is growing; a Business Insider survey reported that 80% businesses expect to have chatbot automation implemented to some extent by 2020. A LivePerson survey of 5,000 consumers showed that 67% had used a chatbot for customer support in the last 12 months.” — James Gurd – Owner, DigitalJuggler
Trend #3: The Customer Journey Will Get Smarter
From virtual personal shoppers to personal recommendation technology powered by AI software, the future of retail is will indeed be more personalized.
“During the coming year, it’s likely consumers will increasingly choose to shop with brands that demonstrate customer centricity across all facets of their business, from personalized, customer-aware marketing to shopper-friendly shipping and return policies.” Jimmy Duvall – Chief Product Officer, BigCommerce
Trend #4: An Even Bigger Year for Amazon
We’ve only begun to see Amazon’s impact on the retail landscape. They’re transforming the way brands like Walmart compete and acquire customers; this trend will continue as Jeff Bezos and gang double-down on opportunities like voice-activated shopping and the international expansion of their Prime offerings.
“I’d say the trend that’ll have the biggest impact on ecommerce in 2018 will again be Amazon. Their growth is continuing to advance at an incredible rate, and they’re changing the ways in which independent merchants have to sell, think and operate online” — Andrew Youderian – Founder, eCommerceFuel eCommerceFuel
Trend #5: Continued Emergence of Opportunity
Technology will continue to transform the digital landscape. Look for technological advances in everything from sensors to augmented reality (AR) that influence how consumers shop and interact with brands.
“I think the ‘ nobody is 100% offline anymore’ is the critical part. That and tech is getting more user-friendly & the users are getting more tech-savvy, which means there’s a whole new area between ‘ traditional ecommerce’ and ‘ traditional offline retail’ opening up — it will be an exciting space that rewards bold new entrants.” – Visakan Veerasamy – Content strategist, CandyBar
Trend #6: Going Beyond Recommended Products
The sentiments of Jimmy Duvall, above, are mutually felt within the industry and ecommerce is poised to see truly individualized recommendations ( the way they were intended to be).
“In 2018, ecommerce will see much better 1:1 personalization. It’s going beyond just ‘recommended products’ based on everyone else’s buying habits, and instead, giving catered recommendations based on your individual preferences.” — William Harris – Ecommerce Expert – Elumynt
Trend #7: More Subscription Box Models
We’ll see more brands adopt a subscription mentality with part of their product inventory. This trend will continue to grow as retailers realize they must compete with subscription offerings if they hope to adapt and survive.
“I believe that the subscriptions segment of the eCommerce market is going to continue to grow rapidly in 2018. But beyond subscription boxes, many online retailers are finding a lot of success by adding subscription models onto their traditional eCommerce model.” — Danny Halarewich – LemonStand Founder & CEO, LemonStand
Trend #8: [Video] Content is Still King
2018 will definitely be a year where brands get smarter about measuring their ROI, but expect to see a larger allocation of content, especially video.
“My biggest prediction for eCommerce in 2018 is that more brands will use content to differentiate themselves. A big part of that content will be videos.” — Bill Widmer – Ecommerce Marketing Consultant, BillWidmer.com
This insight roundup gives you a great view on the shifting sands of the retail landscape. Both brands and customers should be well advised to take a long, hard look at the future of retail if they hope to compete in the increasingly crowded retail sector. The times are changing; nowhere is this more evident than in retail. 
eCommerce continued to drive the shopper narrative in 2017, from Amazon making a splash buying Whole Foods, to Cyber Monday and Singles Day breaking their own records for the biggest shopping days of the year.
The online landscape is changing by the month, often times giving online native brands a major advantage over established firms. This means manufactures need to stay up on the latest news at all times (we recommend our weekly Top 5 email). Every acquisition or innovation represents a new way to better position items, increase conversions, and grow brand equity. So what can we expect to happen in 2018? Here’s our best guess:
Amazon will continue to disrupt – but how?
Amazon never stops creating new solutions to ease barriers to buying online. Expect another specialty brick and mortar acquisition (such as Nordstrom’s to match Walmart’s move with Lord & Taylor) along with serious disruption in the delivery and security space (think Amazon Go). The acquisitoin of Blink may be just the beginning.
We expect more payment solutions to make buying on Amazon as accessible as possible to the masses; low income shoppers have remained loyal to Walmart so watch for Amazon to double down on the low income segment, seeking ways to make it easier to shop, buy/pay, and receive orders from Amazon. And this isn’t just a US play: Amazon has invested record amounts in India and across Europe. Watch for continued global expansion, particularly in India, South America, and Canada.
The biggest Amazon headlines of 2018, however, will be their entry into the Rx space (the most recent rumors are that they already have distribution licenses in 12 states). While Amazon has tried to downplay the move, rumors and speculation continue to swirl.
I also still think a USPS privatization / acquisition is a real possibility, though I’ve said that for three years now and it hasn’t happened yet! Interesting to see President Trump weighing in on the topic as well.
Click & Collect investment speeds up
Click & Collect has emerged as one of the leading ways that big box retailers are fighting back against Amazon, and it’s a huge opportunity. They will continue to innovate in the Click & Collect, in-store pick-up and return, and home delivery space.
Watch for more acquisitions in 2018, still largely focused on the pure play portfolio side. Expect Walmart to continue to invest in Europe and China to maintain their global leadership position.
Voice will continue to enamor retailers, while shoppers figure out how to make the best use of it
Adding a screen to voice driven devices is important but it only supports the spear-fishing type of shopping. Voice driven shopping lists are critical in grocery but the conversion from list to purchase without substitution continues to stymie retailers. Watch for innovation facilitating a better voice driven grocery shopping experience, and for Amazon to continue to expand Amazon Choice.
Brands will increase investment in Direct to Consumer capabilities
This will allow them to list as third parties on Marketplaces like Amazon, as they do already in China. Amazon profitability needs will continue to push more CPG products in particular to CRAP (Can’t Realize a Profit) status, forcing brands to cede these listings to third parties, or else become one themselves. Those that don’t start or expand this capability now will find themselves farther behind than expected in 2-3 years.
Alibaba continues to focus on Asia and battle JD
It is unlikely that Alibaba will make a big push into the US or European markets this year, but instead continue to ward off strong competition from rival JD. Continuing to strengthen cross-border and global marketplace sales will be an area of expected focus from Alibaba.
Retailer Content APIs
Web content is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Retailers will continue to experiment with, and expand, APIs for content management. This are already APIs available for Walmart, Target and Home Depot, with Amazon rumored to be on the way. Retailers must find ways to make content management more automated and hands-off, and thus increase online conversions on their platforms.
Mobile Mobile Mobile
This year, mobile grew its percentage of total online sales. This trend was amplified during Black Friday. Expect to see this trends continue unabated in 2018. Manufactures that have established themselves with strong online content will move to create mobile ready hero images, which allow logos and key product listings to be easily read on smaller screens. But keep an eye on Voice and AR/VR – combined, these have potential to be the next ‘mobile,’ replacing the device in our hands with a truly hands-free world.
Happy New Year to all, and wishing everyone a strong and prosperous 2018!