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A couple of weeks ago, I attended the eMarketer’s webinar “Key Trends in e-commerce” and thought I would share with you the developments and insights that caught my attention.

It’s worth noting that most of the trends covered in this webinar are based off US-centric data. However, with the US being one of the leading countries in all things e-commerce-related, it’s safe to say those changes will soon be happening on our Aussie doorstep – if they are not already in some shape or form.

Below are the three trends that grabbed me:

#1. The adoption of beacons and visual search by retailers to bridge the online and offline worlds.

#2. Mobile sales may be small in volume and dollar value (at country level and worldwide). Yet mobile browsing is a key driver of sales across channels.

#3. Etailers are working hard to bring a human touch online and offline.

Happy reading! And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on new and emerging e-commerce trends to watch over the next few months.

#1. The adoption of beacons and visual search by retailers to bridge the online and offline worlds.

Beacons make it possible to deliver personalised mobile communications at the right time and at the right place to the right person. And amongst the many use cases, beacon-triggered mobile messaging may be used as a way of driving sales off and online (think: e-coupons etc). For those of you who are keen to find out more about how they work, their benefits and other key considerations, you can check out my post on the key need-to-knows of beacon marketing.

Compared to beacons, I would argue visual search is still in its infancy, with a much lower take-up amongst marketers worldwide at this point in time. Its future is nonetheless equally promising. Luxury fashion retailer Neiman Marcus is amongst the very few who have started using the technology as a way of generating more sales, with the recent launch of the Snap.Find.Shop feature on its shopping app.

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#2. Mobile sales may be small in volume and dollar value (at country level and worldwide). Yet mobile browsing is a key driver of sales across channels.

Research has shown that tablets and smartphones are often the preferred devices for searching and browsing product information, exploring options, with the actual buying typically taking place on a desktop or in-store. Sales made through mobile devices remain comparatively small as a result.

However, for this very reason and as eMarketer points out, one should not underestimate the influence of mobile browsing. Our mobile consumption habits and ultimately their very impact on sales make it critical for marketers to have a mobile presence, commerce-enabled or not.

Sadly, there are still too many Australian brands out there (large and small) whose web presence is not mobile-optimised and/or who have no mobile apps either – making the discovery of their products and services through mobile difficult, if not impossible. These brands are missing out and no doubt losing sales to competitors who think mobile first.

#3. Etailers are working hard to bring a human touch online and offline.

Online, this human touch may take the form of an online personal assistant or a video chat with a stylist to help with your online shopping as it happens.

Offline, pop-up shops are one of the ways established online retailers such as Amazon or Zappos are experimenting with a physical store environment. This allows them to connect with a category of customers whom they would otherwise not reach i.e. those consumers who prefer the warmth of real-life interactions with sales assistants made of flesh to virtual ones, as well as those who like to experience and touch products before buying them.

For more on these and other key trends, you can view a recording of eMarketer’s webinar “Key Trends in e-commerce” here. Alternatively, for the time-poor amongst us, here is (spoiler alert!) their wrap-up slide:

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Finally – there is one other trend worth considering, not covered in the webinar as such, yet one to watch in my view.

This trend is best exemplified by Burberry or Hointer.com as they both seek to bring the convenience of the online shopping experience in-store, each to a different extent however.

Burberry’s London flagship store was the first of its kind when it launched in 2012, and remains one of the best examples of store of the future to this day. Simply, no expense is spared to recreate a fully-immersive online shopping experience in-store, through a blend of interactive multi-media content and state-of-the-art store design.

A lot more recent, the Hointer.com shopping experience goes the extra mile in my opinion, achieving a closer “virtual store in a physical world” experience. It uniquely uses mobile technology as the key enabler of its in-store shopping experience end to end, transforming the role of sales assistants as we know it in the process.

Now, some of you may argue that Hointer.com is taking it a step too far, that it’s way too cold and mechanic and that it will never catch on. Well, it may be the way you think now as it is a never-seen-before experience after all, bound to take us out of our comfort zone initially. But who’s to say that it won’t be one day the only way to shop in-store? I guess time will tell.

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4 years from now mobile video consumption will become mainstream Cisco tells us.

The multinational predicts that two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.

In other words, consuming video content on your smartphone or tablet will become as mundane as watching TV or sending a SMS.

Come to think about it, 2017 is not that far off.  This made me consider my own current mobile usage behaviour:

How often do I watch videos on my phone or tablet these days? Twice a week on average I would say and mostly YouTube videos.

And do I watch more video content on these devices now than I did a year ago? Absolutely – and upgrading from a multimedia phone to a smartphone certainly helped.

By extension, it also made me wonder how close Cisco’s forecast was to becoming a reality for my fellow Australians. Well, according to the latest research, 2017 is a lot closer than one might think:

According to eMarketer, 64% of the 25-34 year-olds in Australia are already watching video on their mobile phones and tablets, followed by 61% of the 35-49 year-olds and 36% of the 18-24 year-olds.

For these age groups, mobile phone is the most popular platform for viewing video content (87%), with tablet a close second (74%).

Additionally, 53% of Aussie smartphone users admit to viewing mobile video several times a week with 18% of those once a day (honourable yet worth noting that there is still room for growth as Americans remain ahead of the pack with 31% of them watching mobile video at least once a day) – Source: Nielsen’s The Mobile Consumer: a global snapshot, Feb.2013.

Combine all of this with a smartphone penetration of 73% in the 15 to 65 age group predicted to reach a whopping 93% in 2018, a tablet penetration forecast to increase to a no less impressive 80% from 49% (source: Frost and Sullivan’s Australian Mobile Device Usage Trends study), ever increasing mobile data allowances, faster networks, bigger and higher res screens, content quality on the rise, suddenly it is easy to see how quickly Cisco’s forecast will come to realize Down Under.

And naturally, with more of us consuming mobile video content by the day, marketers the world over are taking notice and starting to invest serious ad dollars on video ads as a new and effective way of reaching and engaging their audiences. Video is indeed one of the fastest growing digital ad formats, with its stickiness and engagement rate alleged to be superior to other digital formats.

Some parts of the world are embracing the video format more quickly than others however – with the US leading the charge yet again and Australia far behind in comparison.

Whilst the mobile advertising market in Australia is the fastest growing component of the digital sector (its $ value grew by 190% YOY in FY13), it is still only 5% of the total search and display spend – well behind the US and UK who report mobile as being 10% and 9% of spend respectively (source: IAB’s Mobile Trends Report, September 2013).

The first time I reported on the gap between Australian advertisers’ uptake of mobile and their audience’s mobile consumption was in January 2013.

9 months on the issue remains.

Here is to Australian marketers getting serious about all things mobile before 2017 – if not before the end of the year.

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