In 2016, eMarketer and Forrester predict U.S. eCommerce companies will sell between $355 and $393 billion worth of product. Their estimates also suggest American eCommerce revenues will reach upwards to $500 billion by 2018. For brands to stay relevant and get a slice of the pie, it will be important that they update their existing business, marketing and merchandising strategies to adapt to the needs of the modern day consumer. Changes in buying behaviors and technology have significantly affected how people shop; companies that embrace rather than resist those changes will find themselves easily currying favor with customers.
Below, we’ve listed four emerging trends that we expect will influence brand-customer relationships in 2016 alongside tips that can help stores turn change into opportunity.
Consumable, easy-to-replenish goods create predictable sales
Between 2010 and 2012, subscription-based fashion brand BeachMint raised $75 million from bullish investors who fell in love with the idea of delivering customers a specially curated package each month for a flat fee. Since other retailers jump through hoops to reel existing customers back for repeat purchases, BeachMint’s business model was highly attractive. It promised that shoppers would happily pay the same fee each month to get new and exciting goodies sent straight to their door. But over the next two years, BeachMint struggled to stay afloat, eventually forming a partnership with Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine in a desperate last ditch effort. ShoeDazzle, another once-darling startup, faced a similar fate in 2013. The company, founded by the infamous Kim Kardashian, raised $66 million but was soon forced to sell its assets to competitor JustFab for a fraction of its peak valuation. It seemed the subscription-based business model for eCommerce brands simply wasn’t working. If fame and money weren’t enough to create financially viable ventures, what hope did other companies have?
Despite those failures, Dollar Shave Club and Naturebox have thrived. In 2015, the two companies raised $75 million and $30 million, respectively, from top investors after they each claimed to have cracked the code on the perfect eCommerce subscription model. And as a result of their success, we can expect to see many new brands emulating the way they do business.
Of course, for more established brands, there is a simpler way to apply subscription sales without reinventing your business model. Amazon, for example, promotes its “Subscribe and Save” option. With it, customers may opt-into receiving monthly deliveries of their favorite products with discounts up to 15% off their entire order. For many shoppers, this is a no-brainer — convenience and savings with the click of a button. For brands, this is the perfect way to earn predictable revenue and dramatically increase customer lifetime value.
How brands can capitalize on the trend: Stores everywhere can apply product subscriptions to their business at small scale. First, businesses should identify products customers regularly order. Then, they can offer shoppers the option to subscribe to a monthly delivery of those products, which should arrive just before a customer’s supply runs out.
Brands thoughtfully produce and promote content
For years, content marketing was the IT thing to do. Unfortunately, many misunderstood what it meant to execute a high-impact content marketing strategy. Several brands blindly produced blog posts, images and videos without giving much thought as to how they might promote their branded stories. Plenty of businesses, consequently, dumped millions into projects that never reached the right audience. This year, as marketers become better educated about the importance of distributing and promoting their content, we will see many already-published pieces of content resurface and attract the attention they deserve.
This year, Kyle Geib, marketing and social media specialist at Threadless, is determined to not only create compelling content but deliver it to interested consumers. “For us, we’re going to spend 2016 focusing on content creation,” says Geib. “The hopes is to drive people to Threadless through fun, compelling content that reinforces the Threadless brand. This includes more video creation, relevant articles/interviews in our blog, and strengthening the visuals of the Threadless brand. With artists, community members, and customers from all around the globe, we have so many opportunities to discover interesting and varied stories about art and culture. Portions of the marketing budget will be used not only for content creation, but also for paid placement to get that content in front of the right audience.”
How brands can capitalize on the trend: So, while eCommerce companies must aim to produce interesting, inspirational or relatable stories, they will need to find ways to get that thoughtfully created content in front of potential customers. In the absence of an advertising budget set exclusively to promote content, stores can also add visual content — images and video — to their product pages.
Offline shops boost online sales
There is something special about being able to touch, feel and use a product before you buy it. Although detailed product descriptions, customer reviews, high-res images, and product videos are effective ways of feeding customers enough information to make a purchasing decision, some brands know that their products sell better in-person.
Since 2013, eCommerce superstars Bonobos and Warby Parker, digital-first retailers, have gone offline to expand their businesses. In just a couple of years, the two have managed to open up dozens of permanent brick-and-mortar locations proving that eCommerce products sell well both online and offline.
The advantages of opening a storefront aren’t all obvious though. While foot traffic in busy areas can drive new sales, one visit to your store or showroom can be just enough to push hesitant online buyers to complete a purchase. Furthermore, customers can opt to order products online and pick them up or return them in-store. And each time clients stop by your shop, they get exposed to more of your merchandise which they may buy during their visit.
How brands can capitalize on the trend: To mitigate risk, many eCommerce-first brands are opening up pop-up shops with short-term leases. Locations are often chosen wherever brands find a high concentration of existing customers. And after a number of successful pop-up shops, brands then develop the confidence to launch permanent locations. An easy way to get started is by turning to Storefront, a marketplace for event spaces, which has helped over 20,000 brands host temporary stores customers have flocked to.
Producing an almost tangible reality
When shoppers can’t be bothered to move from their bed or couch, virtual reality applications replicate the in-store shopping experience right in their homes.
To remove the inevitable guesswork that comes with shopping for cosmetics, L’Oreal introduced its Makeup Genius app with four incredible features:
- “Instantly apply makeup onto your own reflection in real-time.”
- “Makeup follows your face as you move and make expressions.”
- “Choose from an endless array of products and expertly-curated makeup looks.”
- “Try before you buy anytime, anywhere.”
Instead of having to imagine how a certain lipstick color might look on their face, customers can apply it — along with hundreds of other products — using the Makeup Genuis app. Best of all? No cleanup necessary. Amazingly, in less than two years, the app has been downloaded more than 14 million times. Corey Epstein, co-founder and creative director of DSTLD, predicts virtual reality-enabled online multimedia shopping experiences will be huge in 2016. As technology evolves, so will consumer demand for innovative apps that make shopping online as good, if not better, than shopping in-person.
For home goods stores, Jeremy Podliska, vice president of marketing at Hayneedle, believes, “Augmented reality and other design tools and services will likely expand and could be meaningful for online home furnishing companies. Conceptually, these new technologies and services would allow customers to visualize products in their homes. Rather than being at a disadvantage with brick-and-mortar, where you can touch and feel the product, we could provide an experience that is potentially better. [At Hayneedle, we are] always looking for ways to alleviate hurdles and friction points with online purchasing of high consideration items.”
How brands can capitalize on the trend: TBD. Because most virtual reality technologies are still in the early stages of development, it is hard to assume what common and cost-effective use cases will be for a majority of brands and their customers. Today, Oculus Rift begins taking pre-orders but it is too soon to tell what may come of Facebook’s latest toy and how it may influence eCommerce in 2016.