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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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I have just read about Coca Cola’s recent Twitter fail at the Super Bowl (and campaign website fail also). A question comes to mind: could the brand have anticipated *and* avoided the issues experienced as it quickly reached its (increased) tweet publishing limit on the social network?

In my view, yes. On two grounds.

First, given the sheer size of the audience targeted on the day of the event, I feel it was ill-advised to use Twitter as a communication tool to thank *individual* users who were voting in its game. The risk of reaching the allowed hourly and daily limits was very real. An eventuality that became all the more real when voters on D Day were redirected to vote via Twitter… when the campaign site crashed under the heavy traffic.

What was the size of the audience I hear you ask?

Enormous. On the day of the incident only, as the ad aired at the start of the game, over 108 million Super Bowl TV viewers (vs 100 million estimated) tuned in and were able to vote for their favourite team through the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.
Add to this the fans of the brand as content was seeded across all its social channels leading up to the game and during the game to get the voting and engagement going: nearly 60 millions Facebook fans, 0.5M+ Twitter followers plus YouTube viewers on top and without counting Tumblr and Instagram.

Not surprisingly, the levels of participation were no less impressive:

On its website, Coca Cola boasts “over 11 million fan engagements” and continues on with “Over one million fans visited CokeChase.com to vote for the characters they liked best. More impressively, those visitors stayed on the site, each participating in an average of eight “sabotages” against opposing factions. While the company anticipated fewer than one million total sabotages, nearly 7.3 million were performed”.

So, did Coca Cola simply become a victim of its own success having underestimated user engagement levels?

Yes but not just.

Regardless of audience sizes, I don’t feel it was necessary to thank voters participating via Twitter. In fact, it would have been ok not to thank them on Twitter in my opinion.

As a frequent user of social media networks, Twitter doesn’t strike me as being the right forum to do this i.e. I would expect a brand to thank me personally for my participation on Facebook but not on Twitter, where this kind of 1:1 interactions are pretty scarce in my own experience.
I feel Twitter is used at its best mainly as a source of up-to-the minute news bites – and when I retweet any of the tweets I receive from the brands, bloggers, etc I follow, I don’t expect them to thank me in return. I guess that’s how I have been conditioned.

As for Twitter’s response and policy on campaigns of that scale – I was relieved to read that Twitter expects advertisers to know better: “For Twitter, the issue boils down to protecting user experience and making sure that people and brands are tweeting in a judicious way”.
Judicious = sensible and Coca Cola was nothing but sensible on this one occasion.

I was equally pleased to find out that it is not Twitter’s intention to create special accounts with super high daily publishing limits. This would equal to a form of spamming in my world and as a Twitter fan, I would be devastated if it ever were to turn into Facebook any time soon, where the level of “advertising spam” is driving away users.

Finally, this one marketing glitch on Coca Cola’s part doesn’t take away the brilliance they have otherwise demonstrated in the planning and execution of their Mirage campaign – this truly was a marketing coup on many grounds and a fine example of how Social TV works – more on this later!

For now, check out the ad that kicked off this one-of-a-kind TV-and-social-media game if you haven’t seen it yet:

In a further effort to differentiate from its online rivals (Wal-Mart, Amazon, BestBuy) and combat showrooming by having products that can’t be bought elsewhere online, Target has just made 6 new brands exclusive to its online store. This move follows another bold decision by the retailer only earlier this month to offer its customers a year-round online price match. This only shows Target’s ongoing committment to tapping into the ever increasing online shopping uptake as well as its determination to protect its customer base from other online retailers and keep its customers coming back for more as much as possible.
Australian retailers may want to take a page from this retailer’s approach but also other US retailers (check out Walmart’s response to showrooming) on how to grow online sales.

Personally I am a huge fan of both Walmart and Target’s agile approach in the online shopping space – given their size, their ability to quikcly respond to and embrace consumer behaviour changes is to be commended.

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