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Top 3 E-Commerce Trends That Will Drive Sales in 2019

When it comes to e-commerce, it seems like one day you are in and the next you are out. With online shopping now more accessible than ever, customers steadily are becoming harder to please, and they are considering it a given that their rising expectations be met every time.

Just having an online version of a physical store isn’t enough anymore, as consumers don’t want to grab and go — they want their shopping to be an experience in and of itself: interactive, immersive and enjoyable.

So it’s to be expected that trends in e-commerce will continue to shift, fueled by consumers’ desires and tastes. Following is a list of trends that will change the way e-commerce operates in 2019:

1. Interactive Product Visualization

Most would agree that when it comes to online shopping, illuminating visualization is the best way for merchants and marketers to present their products to consumers, so they can study every detail and make an informed purchase decision without regretting it afterward.

In addition, one of the obstacles between consideration and purchase is consumers’ uncertainty about product authenticity, especially when it comes to the luxury segment. Since customers can’t physically touch the item they’re considering, their hesitation can be overcome only by presenting them with high-quality images of products displayed in as many views as possible.

Consequently, the seamless zoom feature has become very popular lately, as it allows customers to zoom in on certain details to get a better feel for the product without actually touching it.

Still, even after implementing zoom and making sure that photos are of high enough quality to withstand being magnified, and do not take too long to download (that can result in a drop-off rate of 39 percent), a retailer can take it a step further.

To enhance the online shopping experience, merchants also can consider using demo videos to show products in action. According to Fifty-two percent of participants in a recent poll said that watching product videos makes them more confident about their online purchase decisions.

3D imaging is another option, and it is often the best choice from a visual perspective. American Greetings, a creator and manufacturer of social expression products and e-greetings, looked at every visualization option and, in addition to high-quality photos, now also presents site visitors with 3D images.

Considering that reenacting the in-store experience for greeting cards online is almost impossible with the current visualization tools available, 3D product imaging has solved a major problem for American Greetings. Glitter, foil, embossing, and other attachments are quite common with greeting cards, and it can be difficult to appreciate these features with traditional 2D photography.

It’s only recently that current 3D technologies have advanced enough to be able to process product features that not so long ago were considered out of reach: black, shiny, and glossy objects such as silks, leathers and jewelry items, as well as anything transparent, unusually shaped or textured. Depicting all of that is now possible without obstacles.

Increased customer engagement is not the only benefit of 3D product imaging, as it also boosts metrics that are far more tangible, with conversion rate being a prime example.

With 3D product imaging, TSUM, one of the largest luxury goods department stores in Eastern Europe, managed to increase its conversion rate by almost 40 percent for products in the shoes and bags categories.

TSUM is the first company to have digitized more than 40,000 products in 3D. This case study proves that it is possible to digitize large numbers of stock keeping units (SKUs) in a reasonable time frame with the right tools.

To sum up, with a combination of 3D view, seamless zoom and limitless configuration options, online shopping is bound to transform into a futuristic experience and exceed the highest of customer expectations in 2019.

2. Artificial Intelligence Solutions

As of now, there’s little to no doubt that the future of e-commerce lies with artificial intelligence. From personalized 3D avatars and virtual fashion advisors for increased interactivity, to AI-gathered never-seen-before data for boosting sales, AI is at the helm of an e-commerce revolution.

In order to avoid confusion, let’s separate more hands-on use cases for AI in e-commerce (virtual style assistants and immersive try-it-on sessions) from those related to data (product management and marketing insight gathering).

Remember the character Cher from the movie Clueless? She had her computerized ultimate virtual wardrobe assistant armed with yellow checkered outfits. Seeing the program instilled pangs of envy into the hearts of many teenage viewers of the film.

With the help of AI, though, such an experience is closer than ever. The Echo Look, Amazon’s pilot of a “fashion assistant,” recently was introduced in the U.S. to a limited audience.

The program analyzes the user’s outfit through a combination of algorithms and human stylist insight and passes on its fashion judgement.

Net-a-Porter, an e-store offering designer fashion, is experimenting with technology that scans user data for planned trips and events, and then offers ad hoc style options.

Virtual fashion assistants still have a long way to go, but what was considered fiction just a few years ago now is becoming very real.

As business decision making becomes steadily more data-driven, demand for measurable metrics is higher than ever. Conversion rate, website traffic and customer engagement levels are important guides for marketers in all industries, yet some don’t even realize they have need of previously nonexistent data that is now available.

AI analytics tools of 2019 will be able to track the way potential customers interact with product imagery embedded into retailers’ websites, whether 2D or 3D images, and present the most telling metrics on a heat map. Apart from dwell time, the tool will highlight points of customer interest and the best angles for thumbnail product positioning.

With the insights gathered by AI, e-commerce merchants will be able to improve product visualization, choose winning color combinations, and put bestsellers at the forefront of their offerings. For instance, say that 70 percent of a product page visitors spent the lion’s share of dwell time examining the clasp on a certain jewelry item or zoomed in to see the stitching of a particular dress. To an aggressive marketing team, this type of data could prove invaluable.

Information like this is completely new to the market, and according to Smart Data Collective, the way retailers track their inventory and consumer interest soon will be revolutionized with the help of AI. Keeping in mind ever growing consumer expectations, “soon” is actually now.

3. Renaissance of Physical Stores

It is true that when it comes to the future of e-commerce the only direction that retailers want to go is forward, and brick-and-mortar stores seem to be a thing of the past.

Yet for some consumers, nothing e-commerce has to offer can quite measure up to the physical in-store experience. In fact, leading global retailers like Amazon and Alibaba now are experimenting with the newly revived power of hands-on shopping.

In fact, Amazon recently opened a new retail store in New York offering a range of products that have a four stars in their customer reviews. The items selected are bestsellers and directly reflect what customers are buying.

“Amazon 4-Star” turns traditional shopping on its head by replicating the virtual within the physical instead of vice versa. Copying the structure of the Amazon website, the store has products organized by headings already known to online shoppers such as “Trending Around NYC,” “Frequently Bought Together” and “Amazon Exclusives.”

Alibaba Group also seems to believe in the renaissance of physical stores, as it recently debuted its first FashionAI concept boutique in Hong Kong.

The store displays a selection of Guess apparel with the help of a “smart mirror” that displays product information on a special screen while shoppers are examining the items. The smart mirror points to where the garments in question can be found, while also diplomatically admitting that it doesn’t know who’s the fairest of them all. It’s definitely a very smart mirror.

Another way to bring the digital shopping experience inside physical stores is digital signage.

While digital kiosks aren’t unknown to brick-and-mortar retail, digital signage, in 2019, will be able to offer additional interactivity, increased engagement, and a seamless omnichannel experience, as any product visualization available to websites also can be used for digital installations.

Interactive kiosks feature a variety of products offered by the store, and — depending on the digital signage software provider — introduce different ways of storytelling. Some show branded films, while others focus on 3D product imaging. Both are interactive, yet — as always — it’s up to the customers to decide which approach works better.

Besides offering improved product visualization, digital signage next year will allow customers to browse goods that are not available in stores, get a purchase code, and order home delivery. Just about any relevant shopping scenario will be possible.

As both SMB and enterprise retail largely have been going digital, brick-and-mortar stores might have been expected to take a backseat. However, the retail market rarely reacts the way it’s expected to, and the recent renaissance of in-store shopping confirms that.

The Bottom Line

Improved product visualization, AI for both in-depth analytics and boosting engagement levels, and revival of the physical store are the e-commerce trends to keep up with in 2019.

These trends, when combined, form a solid foundation for a holistic business strategy meant to boost sales and pave the way for brand innovations and a futuristic, yet satisfying, customer experience.

Kosta Popov is the founder and CEO of
Cappasity, which provides an easy and scalable platform for creation, embedding and analysis of 3D and AR/VR content. Kosta is an expert in 3D technologies, SaaS solutions, and mobile applications. He was named one of the top innovators of 2016 by Intel Software.

How to Avoid 10 Mobile E-Commerce Conversion Killers

Just five years ago, mobile e-commerce was a minor part of the e-commerce landscape.

Today, most online searches are carried out from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and 40 percent of all e-commerce is carried out from smartphones.

This has forever changed the e-commerce industry.

Why Mobile E-Commerce Is Important for Businesses

The smartphone is the most important lead channel. Smartphones are an extended part of our brains and social life. We
check our phones approximately 80 times a day, and they have become an integrated part of both our online and offline shopping experience.

You probably recognize this: A product you consider buying comes to mind, and you instantly grab your smartphone to google it. So do most other customers, with the statistics speaking for themselves: A staggering 76 percent of all Americans rely on their smartphone to find a local store to carry out purchases, which has made the smartphone the most important lead channel to retail stores. Furthermore, 30 percent use their smartphone to compare prices when shopping in store, based on Deloitte’s Omni-Channel Consumer Survey.

The smartphone’s importance is not limited to attracting local shoppers to your retail store. It has become a major part of the online shopping experience, with 73 percent of all customers using their smartphone to research an item before buying it, and 70 percent using it to check prices, according to Nielsen.

Needless to say, the smartphone in just a few years has become a game changer in both the online and offline industry.

On top of this, 40 percent of all global e-commerce today comes from directly from mobile e-commerce, which furthermore underlines why mobile e-commerce is important for all businesses to attract, convert and retain customers.

Keeping that in mind, how do businesses prepare themselves for this new mobile e-commerce paradigm?

First, they should know an essential fact: Customer conversion rates on smartphones are approximately 50 percent lower than the equivalent desktop customer conversion rates. This means that 50 percent fewer visitors end up buying a product.

In an analysis based on 100,000 visitors, Monetate identified the following average Customer Conversion Rates: A desktop has a 3.5 percent customer conversion rate, while a smartphone has a 1.4 percent customer conversion rate.

These numbers very clearly illustrate that most online shops have a largely untapped business potential in terms of truly optimizing their e-commerce stores for smartphones.

The Top 10 Mobile E-Commerce Conversion Killers

To realize their full mobile e-commerce potential, businesses should avoid these top 10 mobile e-commerce conversion killers:

1. Not Mobile Ready

If an e-commerce store is not mobile ready, it not only will provide a poor or close-to-no shopping experience, but also will not be indexed in search engines such as Google.

This is due to the fact that Google is rolling out Google Mobile First Index as we speak. First it crawls your smartphone e-commerce store to decide how to rank your smartphone, tablet and desktop store in Google search results. This has forever changed online search and e-commerce.

To make sure your e-commerce store is mobile ready, start by running a test at this site.

2. Not Optimized for Smartphone DNA

The most common way to make sure that an e-commerce store is mobile ready is to implement a “responsive design,” which in simple terms ensures that a website’s content adjusts to the screen sizes of smartphones, tablets and desktops, accordingly.

Responsive design, however, does not fully comply with the DNA of the smartphone interface. You therefore must adapt features — such as navigation, search, filters, the shopping cart, and especially checkout — to the smartphone interface to maximize your mobile e-commerce customer conversion rate.

3. Too slow – Speed Matters

Speed always has been an essential part of the online shopping experience. If a site is too slow, customers lose patience and go astray. On the smartphone, however, this fact is even more predominant — 53 percent of all customers abandon mobile websites that take longer than three seconds to load.

It is therefore essential that businesses do everything they can to optimize the way their website content, images and code are structured and programmed. To fully master quick load time, businesses can implement AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) which ensures that customers experience very quick and close-to-instant page loads when entering a Mobile website.

To avoid losing customers due to slow page loads, test the speed of your mobile e-commerce store and then correct the errors identified in the test report.

4. Complicated Navigation

Poor navigation is the Achilles heel of many mobile e-commerce stores. The main reason for this is that the navigation has not been adapted specifically to the small smartphone interface and navigation patterns. Since approximately 30 percent of all customers in smartphone e-commerce stores do not find what they are looking for, a smooth and simple navigation is especially important.

When you design a navigation, there are five fundamental principles you can keep in mind, where your customers must get answers to all the following questions without having to think:

  • Where is my navigation?
  • Where am I?
  • Where can I go?
  • Where did I come from?
  • How do I get back to where I came from?

As simple as this may sound, it may be very difficult to design. To cut corners, I recommend that you seek inspiration from the navigation design at Zalando.

5. Poor Search

Due to these smartphone-specific navigation problems, more customers search mobile e-commerce stores than desktop stores. Since mobile e-commerce customers quickly lose their orientation and patience on the small smartphone screen, the search feature really is the mobile e-commerce epicenter. If the search engine does not work well, the mobile customer conversion rate will suffer dramatically.

Customers not only expect you help them find the products they are looking for when pressing the “search” button, but also expect that you suggest matching products or product categories as they type along. is a champion at mastering mobile e-commerce search. If a customer for instance writes “furni” in the search field, Amazon suggests “furniture pads,” “furniture sliders,” etc., based on the customer’s search input.

On top of that, about 10-15 percent of all searches carried out at Mobile e-commerce stores are based on misspelled searches. It is therefore crucial that you help customers correct typos when they enter their search words or when they get a search result.

If a customer carries out a misspelled search for “battari,” Amazon then inserts a link to “did you mean: battery” at the top of the search results. A customer who clicks on that link gets the correct battery search result.

These two intelligent search features undoubtedly are a central key to Amazon’s massive online success. You therefore can feel safe in checking out Amazon’s mobile e-commerce store for high-end search engine inspiration. It is best-in-class.

6. Poor Filters

Approximately 30 percent of all customers give up locating products at mobile e-commerce stores, even though they are in stock. Imagine the same scenario in the retail industry — that would be terrifying. The main reason customers cannot figure out how to locate products has to do with poor filters in search results and product lists.

The first filter trick is to display an obvious “Filter” button on all product list pages, since many customers press this to narrow down the number of matching products. After a customer has pressed this button, you should then offer the option of more filters, such as size and brand on a separate page or in a dimmed layer on top of the page.

Many mobile e-commerce companies wrongly open filters inside the product filter page, which clutters the page and makes is difficult to use. After selecting one or more filters, a customer should be able to press a “View items” button to return to the product list page in order to browse the products available.

This may sound simple; however, it can be difficult to design in a user-friendly manor. To save a lot of time and money, you can look at the filters at Asos — they are close to perfect.

7. Not Able to Save for Later

Approximately 71 percent of abandoned shopping carts, according to Forrester, are due to three main reasons:

  • The delivery costs are too high
  • Customers are not ready to buy
  • Customers compare prices at multiple sites

Not many shop owners are aware that customers leave their e-commerce store simply because they are not ready to buy. Amazon, however, has a very clever way of solving this issue — it displays “Save for later” buttons next to each item in the shopping cart.

If a customer is not ready to buy the Levi’s jeans in his shopping cart, he can just save them for later and then return to buy them whenever he is ready. This is a brilliant solution, especially since Amazon displays products saved for later below the shopping cart. Customers are exposed to the products every single time they add a product to the shopping cart.

Knowing which products, a customer has saved for later and thus considered buying is a gold mine for personalized emails and other marketing purposes. Very clever indeed.

8. No Guest Checkout Option

If you force customers to register to shop at your mobile e-commerce store, 30-50 percent will leave it at the login page, according to Jakob Nielsen. Tthis is one of the worst conversion killers of all. This login problem is quite easy to solve, however, simply by offering the customer a “guest checkout” option that does not require that customers create a password to complete a checkout.

Debenhams has solved this issue by allowing the customer to “continue as a guest” (with no registration required) when entering its checkout flow. After they have completed the checkout process, customers can decide if they would like to register to get membership deals, etc. This is a very good way to maximize the mobile e-commerce customer conversion rate, based on a simple solution.

9. Complicated Checkout

Approximately 50 percent of all customers who enter checkout do not complete it, according to Boston Consulting Group, mainly since many mobile e-commerce stores ask for too many personal details and due to poor usability. Bearing that in mind, this is where you can improve your customer conversion rate the most.

To design a smooth checkout, the first trick is to create a checkout funnel, where you remove the store’s main navigation and instead insert an obvious 1, 2, and 3 checkout step-indicator. At this point, customers would appreciate a quick and hassle-free checkout, rather than being required to navigate to your mobile e-commerce store. Since you would like to close the deal, you and the customer have a shared interest and goal.

Next, you should make it very easy to select and understand time of delivery and delivery costs, based on a “fat-finger-proof interface,” especially optimized for smartphones. When delivery has been selected, it is very important that the customer can enter personal details as quickly as possible.

It takes a lot of time to enter name, address, etc. on a smartphone, so you should remove all unnecessary input fields and help customers look up addresses, based on phone number and postal code, if possible. Since you may lose 20-25 percent of all customers based on a complex personal data page during checkout, this can help you make a lot of money.

Finally, you must make sure that customers can pay by selecting a preferred means of payment, and that they can verify their orders — to make sure everything is OK — before pressing that crucial “pay” button.

10. Not User-Tested

It is obvious that many mobile e-commerce stores have not been user-tested. This is a shame, since it is the fastest and most efficient way to locate about 85 percent of all usability errors.

What is a user test? A user test first and foremost has the secret superpower of including real customers in the design and optimization process. A user test is also called a “think-aloud test” because the users in the test talk aloud about how they perceive the user interface: what they like, why they get stuck, etc.

Most user tests are based on five representative customers who help you locate approximately 85 percent of all errors within the given tasks. This makes a user test the most powerful conversion optimization tool out there. It does not take a lot of time to test, and it is based on real customers interacting with your e-commerce store, based on real-life shopping scenarios.

When you carry out a user test, normally you locate 30-50 usability errors, of which four to five are conversion killers that cause you to lose customers — customers who most likely never will return.

By solving the usability errors located in the user test, you ensure that your mobile e-commerce store is better than most of your competitors, which certainly will improve your mobile customer conversion rate and revenue.

If you are a “Do-It-Yourself” person, you can even learn how to carry out user tests yourself by reading Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Benjamin Gundgaard is a European e-commerce expert, keynote speaker and founder of
CustomerSense, an independent, high-end e-commerce consultancy that helps companies build and optimize their e-commerce Web stores. Gundgaard is also the author of
Smartphone E-commerce. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

4 Ways SMBs Can Compete With Amazon on Cyber Monday

E-commerce companies compete with Amazon for shoppers year-round, but especially around the holidays when Q4 earnings are made. More than 75 percent of U.S. consumers shop on Amazon despite endless e-commerce options.

Amazon commands more than 49.1 percent of all online sales and has more than 300 million active consumer accounts, making it a competitor that can’t be ignored.

With e-commerce gaining traction as a shopping option during the holidays, small businesses and brands need to adapt to compete and thrive alongside Amazon.

Whether you intend to fight or align with Amazon, it is crucial to consider it in your digital plans.

Increasingly, Amazon is not just a selling platform but rather an advertising opportunity. Consumers make purchase decisions based on research conducted there, making Amazon ad space highly valuable.

Competing with Amazon is inevitable. As the largest e-commerce retailer in the U.S., Amazon garnered 1.8 billion in average monthly traffic, based on a recent study. Ignoring this giant is not only a poor strategy but hardly is feasible anymore.

E-commerce companies stand to gain from a better understanding Amazon’s position relative to their brands. There are ways to leverage Amazon or strategically compete for market share.

Following are four ways e-commerce companies can compete with Amazon this holiday season:

1. Understand Why People Shop on Amazon

Eighty percent of U.S. and UK shoppers recently surveyed reported they check prices and reviews on Amazon first before shopping elsewhere.

This shows the extent of Amazon’s reach in e-commerce. Consumers are drawn to the online marketplace for the breadth of products, free and fast shipping, Prime membership perks and convenience.

Amazon Prime memberships come with benefits for members, such as free two-day shipping, access to Prime video streaming, Amazon rewards credit cards, and more. Amazon Prime members pay for their membership, which creates a further onus to buy from the site rather than look elsewhere.

2. Find Your Own ‘Prime’

You are what Amazon is not. Identify your unique and compelling offering or experience, and amplify it. Understanding your business’ key differentiators from Amazon is crucial to establishing a loyal customer base that will choose you over Amazon.

For instance, if your brand has an active and devoted social media following, make use of this community. Leverage ads and marketing to compel your devotees to shop with you over the holidays. Keep in mind that 64 percent of Cyber Monday Facebook ad conversions came on a mobile device in 2017, meaning that your website should be optimized for mobile shopping too.

Other ways to find your own “Prime” include shipping offerings, pricing, customer service and more. Shipping is one of the first things consumers think of when it comes to Amazon. Is there any way to offer discounted shipping for holiday sales to increase your competitiveness with Amazon?

For companies with high shipping costs that cannot be adjusted due to logistics issues, this raises questions about how and whether this can change. Shipping expectations overall gradually have changed from two weeks to five-to-seven days, to now two days as the ideal for e-commerce.

For companies that can not keep us with this due to third-party logistics (3PL) situations, understanding this trend will open up an awareness of the need to make changes — or at least communicate value beyond quick shipping to their end consumers.

Assess competitive pricing by searching Amazon for your competitors to ensure you have a full picture of the price comparisons your shoppers will be making — and adjust accordingly. Strive to make the purchase journey as seamless as possible, offering multiple payment options and welcoming negative feedback to improve.

Leverage a physical store, if possible, to create an omnichannel experience that keeps customers engaged. Provide excellent customer service through loyalty programs and exclusive offerings that make loyal shoppers feel valued.

3. Don’t Put All Your Eggs Into One Basket

Amazon should be viewed as a competitor and also as a useful channel. E-commerce businesses should assess the opportunity of selling and advertising on Amazon as a way to meet their customers where they are and gain valuable insights.

Amazon is a fit for a wide spread of companies, and businesses should evaluate their fit regularly. The top five categories of goods sold on Amazon include clothing, shoes and jewelry; home and kitchen; books; electronics; and sports and outdoor.

If an e-commerce company fits into these categories it is a clear fit. Even for those that don’t, there’s still a chance for success because of the 500-plus million products sold and searched for on the site.

A few key characterics that companies should consider when evaluating their fit within Amazon:

  • You’re a consumer packaged goods or e-commerce company;
  • You’re looking for growth opportunities outside of traditional channels;
  • Your company has a higher profit margin;
  • You have a good handle on distribution agreements — or you are the manufacturer or private label brand of your own products.

Taking these characteristics into account should move companies to consider whether competitors are selling on Amazon, how the third-party platform can grow brand awareness, and how different Amazon programs may allow businesses not yet at full maturation to achieve increased visibility.

4. Avoid Pitfalls and Reap Benefits

Companies that consider shifting their approach to include Amazon need to consider a number of potential pitfalls in order to see the full benefit of the change. Cannibalization, competition and lack of brand loyalty are potential pitfalls that could thwart an Amazon strategy.

When it comes to cannibalization, brands should consider that adding Amazon as a portal for access to their products could take away traffic from their own sites. To avoid this pitfall, brands need to consider ways to attract completely new buyers through Amazon.

Keep in mind that more than 53 percent of Amazon shoppers are between the ages 19 and 44, so perhaps tailoring your Amazon portal to reach a younger demographic would be an appropriate shift.

Competition comes into play if Amazon has created a branded product that competes with yours. Consider how to make your product stand out by considering if it is higher quality, or has features or offerings that the generic Amazon version does not. Leverage those differentiators beyond price.

Lastly, brand loyalty is nearly nonexistent when it comes to Amazon shopping. Price and suitability are more likely to outweigh a specific brand for shoppers on the site. Keep in mind that this audience may be more budget-conscious than your typical customer, and make adjustments accordingly.

Amazon as a selling channel can offer instant value for a brand by providing a wider audience for possible sales conversions, in addition to insights that can’t be gained otherwise. Amazon provides sellers information about customer satisfaction based on factors such as order defect rates, late shipping rates, and rates of customer dissatisfaction with communication.

In addition, insights can be gained about product category, search and more, which can be useful for your own website. The important thing is not to rule out Amazon as a possible channel for sales, insights or advertising.

Its reach and ubiquity already is unmatched, and Amazon continues to grow. Understanding why consumers shop with Amazon, how to leverage your own “Prime,” and not ruling out ways to leverage Amazon as an asset will contribute to success in playing on the competitive field it dominates this holiday shopping season.

Ultimately, holiday shopping days are just points in time that bring the need for this kind of engagement with Amazon to the forefront. E-commerce brands stand to gain when they more broadly consider their business relationships with Amazon.

Marissa Allen is head of retail and e-commerce at

The Trouble With CRM Data

This story was originally published on Aug. 4, 2018, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

The ability to collect massive amounts of data represented a huge leap forward in customer service and communication when customer relationship management first hit the market as a marketing, sales and data management tool.

However, CRMs weren’t a holy grail. Data management is one thing. Using data to understand what customers really need (not just what you think they do) and how to engage them is another thing entirely.

CRMs were not built to be nimble. Times change, customer expectations change, and the technology needs to change with it.

Currently, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence promise the potential to revolutionize CRMs in truly meaningful ways, but rather than be hyperbolic about that potential, it’s important to be pragmatic — and that’s not the same as being negative.

Sure, applying artificial intelligence to CRMs can make personalization more efficient and effective, but it will truly work only if the solution’s most inherent characteristic is recognition that customer needs have been driving the AI revolution.

In their present state, CRMs haven’t excelled at the uncanny ability to shine a light on information that should be prioritized (based on an organization’s top line goals), versus that which may not be relevant in specific applications. They should.

Moreover, I’d go as far as to say that CRMs essentially are broken, due to several misunderstandings or misapplications of fundamental principles that apply to marketing, sales, customer service relationships — and the data management itself.

1. Siloed data is STILL an issue. The truth of the matter is that CRMs are greedy when it comes to collecting data, but not when it comes to sharing it. This is not a new problem, and yet it persists almost universally across all industries — and not just in organizational functions, like sales.

Siloed data creates walls that prevent anyone from truly seeing a complete image of processes, opportunities for efficiency, and getting an idea of the customer experience from start to finish.

It’s almost incomprehensible to even understand the true value of complete data sets since the data that generally is encountered almost always is found in its fractured form. It’s impossible to optimize a sales funnel, for example, when you don’t really know where or why prospects fall off the path to conversion.

2. More content is NOT better. CRMs have put forth the notion that generating more content is not only beneficial, but also imperative for any organization. This is not true. Creating content for the sake of creating content has been the status quo for so long that most people accept this as something that needs to be done, without asking deeper questions.

In actuality, creating content and creating useful content are two fundamentally different actions. People want higher-quality content because they want to learn how to solve persistent problems that impede progress. Generic messages don’t do that.

After years of being conned by clickbait and fluff that offers no value at all, individuals have become more discerning about how and where they choose to consume content. People have become more tolerant of longer-form content pieces — so long as they provide substance. The yearning is for actual insights or for practical, useful data.

3. Not everyone uses technology the same way. It’s easy to make assumptions about how data might be used, but the reality is that there potentially could be an infinite number of uses or needs for data that CRMs never could have predicted.

The possibilities of technology are limitless, but on a case-by-case basis, the actual needs often are very specific. The assumption that everyone has the same technological literacy to be able to use a CRM for a specific need overlooks the huge segment of the market that does not meet this threshold.

In order to truly understand what data is useful for the creation of personalized and useful content, CRMs have to have a better method for incorporating customer feedback and understanding their own processes.

Understanding how processes unfold, and seeing the connection between all of the operational elements and the corresponding data, is the only way to reassure users that they have implemented the technology in the way that they need to in order to meet their goals.

4. Listening, not talking, is the most important step in understanding data needs. “Successful people ask a lot more questions during sales calls than do their less successful colleagues,” said Neil Rackham, adding, “these less successful people tend to do most of the talking.”

You could say that successful people have been implementing and using personalization for a lot longer than it has been a buzzword. It’s not hard to understand why. Personalization is one of the best, if not the best methods of persuasion.

By asking questions, effective salespeople can position themselves and their products in the best way possible. This means that the truly beneficial exercise in customer communication is listening to your audience; this allows you to have a dialogue with them, as opposed to simply speaking at them because you think you know what they want and need.

Without a doubt, this can be a truly challenging exercise. Nobody wants to spend the time listening to another person’s challenges or goals, especially when most people already are struggling and stressing over their own. However, the ability to listen will help with the creation of substantive content that provides value to the target audience, thus increasing effectiveness.

When innovative technologies such as AI are applied to CRMs and their data sets, the potential for personalization in ways that lead to effective dialogues with current and prospective clients truly can be amazing.

Our team at Wrench.AI aren’t the only ones showing what’s possible. Companies like mParticle, RichRelevance, Crimson Hexagon and Tractica also have been assisting their customers to make better, data-based decisions.

By approaching AI integration through a lens that specifically addresses the end users’ needs and challenges, it is possible to overcome the barriers to using CRMs effectively.

The key to doing this well lies in the ability to develop a listening mechanism that genuinely hears what customers want and need.

CRMs must begin to look at holistic customer experiences with complete data sets, and be willing to incorporate better feedback mechanisms to meet customer needs. Simply stated, CRMs need to pay attention to their customers in order to remain effective.

Dan Baird is cofounder of Wrench.AI, a startup that has built AI tools for marketing, sales and customer service operations.

5 Tech Advances That Can Deepen Customer Engagement

Customers are crucial to a successful business. They can be one-off customers or repeat buyers. Ideally, a business wants a mix of both. Problems arise when marketing tactics fail to attract either type, which is why customer engagement is so critical in today’s hypercompetitive e-commerce environment.

It should be no surprise that customers prefer companies that treat them as valued individuals. It is also no secret that engaged customers talk, shop and spend more. So, how do e-commerce brands stand out and tell customers that they (and not just their wallets) matter?

The answers:

  • With personalized user experiences (UX) that capture attention and make shopping convenient.
  • With a seamless flow of content, data and functionality across channels.
  • With quality service that customers respond to with sales.
  • With the integration of new technology that deepens relationships, boosts retention rates and increases revenues.

Consider the real-life, in-store experiences that influence customer behavior. People touch objects, try them on, and test them out. They discuss products with friends and other customers. They wander around the aisles, get answers from friendly staff members, and make returns or exchanges.

The goal for e-commerce brands is to blend brick-and-mortar immediacy with the convenience of digital shopping. It is time to leverage technology to transcend the transactional, and deepen customer engagement. The following five e-commerce technologies can help build sales strategy to win the interest, business and loyalty of online customers.

1. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Technology

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are rising stars in e-commerce. The two technologies encourage deeper customer engagement by transforming in-store/in-person shopping activities into rewarding digital experiences.

For example, virtual try-on tools allow online customers to see how they look “wearing” a product rather than relying on mere photography. Customers can take a selfie, select the product they want to try, and the application “applies” it to their face or body.

Many virtual try-on tools also allow users to share on social media for feedback from friends and family. While fashion and beauty brands are rushing to integrate virtual try-on tools into their UX, AR and VR also have plenty to offer in other industries.

Furniture brand IKEA pioneered an AR technology called “home view” that allows users to place virtual furniture around their home with a smartphone camera. The virtual tours also provide similar value. When integrated with virtual try-on and sales functions, the technology allows users to explore and shop in a virtual store the same way they would at a brick-and-mortar location.

AR and VR technologies remove the barriers of digital platforms and allow for meaningful product interactions. They also decrease some of the uncertainty involved in buying a product without experiencing it first-hand. AR and VR offer customers convenient and personalized access to products and services regardless of time, location or device.

2. Conversational Commerce

Conversational commerce technology interacts with customers using clear, natural language. It replicates the one-on-one feel of a dedicated salesperson, and helps customers make the right purchase through personalized recommendations and support.

Brands can deliver outstanding service to customers through conversational commerce applications like chatbots, messaging apps, voice assistance, and other natural language interactions. Social media is conversational commerce, too.

As an example, chatbots are a form of artificial intelligence (more about AI soon) that connect with visitors based on event triggers and direct questions. The technology can function via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, so that users can communicate the way they want to.

When a visitor lands on a website, the chatbot will connect and offer help. The user can ask for recommendations, answers and troubleshoot issues without having to browse through the website. After a purchase, the chatbot also can provide shipping updates, assist with returns, and collect customer surveys. Because a chatbot is not limited to the number of customers it can assist, the technology can provide excellent service at scale.

“App fatigue” is another reason to implement conversational commerce. People simply get tired of tapping, scrolling and typing. They do not want to read endless product descriptions or browse pages for answers. They just want to ask and receive an answer. This is where voice assistance technology and other conversational commerce tools, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, can turn an otherwise reluctant customer into a buyer.

Good conversation naturally deepens engagement with others, and it can drive them further down the conversion funnel. It is important for businesses to find ways to introduce conversation into UX. The conversions will follow.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Sales-focused AI provides real-time personalization of a customer’s shopping experience. It can help businesses deliver more engaging UX by treating customers as individuals rather than parts of a general segment or demographic. Ever since Amazon’s intelligent product recommendations, this feature has become a staple across the e-commerce industry.

AI helps businesses understand customers and market more effectively by gathering, sorting and analyzing behavioral data (e.g. user actions on a website or app, what they are interested in/searching for, etc.). Through intelligent algorithms, websites and apps can dynamically populate the user interface with targeted content to encourage greater interaction.

Simply put, AI helps businesses better understand customers and satisfy expectations. AI can also contribute to better UX by streamlining back-end functions, such as inventory management, instant customer service, and automated CRM (customer relationship management) systems.

Through the increase of operational efficiency on the business side, businesses can devote more time to nurturing customer relationships. When a brand offers an interaction that is natural and personal, a customer is more likely to be engaged and respond to its call-to-action.

4. The Internet of Things

In the Internet of Things (IoT), customer engagement is no longer restricted to a screen or store. This means that upsell opportunities are not restricted, either. Through the IoT, brands can maintain positive engagement, provide added convenience, and capitalize on new sales opportunities at any time and almost anywhere.

The IoT is the interconnection of technology that is embedded in everyday objects (think cars, kitchen appliances, suitcases, etc.) and enables the objects to send and receive data.

IoT items for disposable products also can allow for convenient, subscription-based sales related to product components. For example, the latest coffee makers have been updated to function in the IoT, meaning that the product not only makes coffee, but also alerts users when supplies are low — and can even reorder supplies automatically.

Devices like Amazon’s Echo products and Google Home offer new levels of control over the home environment and can act as hubs between other connected devices. The products also leverage the conversational commerce technology.

Brands interested in increased customer engagement also need to be looking into the IoT. While building smart e-commerce capabilities into products may be a big change/expensive, the cost of not getting involved in the IoT is greater.

5. API-Based E-Commerce

Running through and behind the aforementioned technologies are APIs, or application programming interfaces. These interfaces connect software, hardware, business platforms, third parties and customers to enable the seamless sharing of data. Due to API-based e-commerce, customers have complete freedom to continue their shopping journey whenever and wherever they want to.

For example, a customer might make a purchase online, consult with customer service via social media, and then exchange the product in-store — all without hassle, because an API has shared the customer’s information across all channels.

Thanks to APIs, businesses can engage intelligently with customers anywhere: from brick-and-mortar stores, online websites and social media, to digital apps and smart devices, wearables, vehicles, and much more. This saves customers hassle, and results in a more engaging shopping experience.

Interconnectivity leads to more engagement. Brand interactions can happen anywhere and at any time, and APIs can make them a seamless extension of the actual shopping experience.

Start Your Customer Engagement Strategy

New technology is driving deeper customer engagement every day by eliminating barriers to interaction and shopping. The customer experience is taking on new dimensions. Now, websites and apps show people exactly what they want (or help them find it), and then various technologies maintain and deepen that connection. The experience extends beyond the immediate interaction and becomes available at any time.

Separately, the technologies discussed here are valuable. Together, they support the kind of omnichannel e-commerce experience that nurtures long-term relationships with customers and drives significant increases in revenue.

In the competitive and ever-changing world of e-commerce, integrated technology across time, devices and locations is what drives (and capitalizes on) customer engagement. If businesses make it easy and convenient for people to do business, the conversions will follow.

Amit Bhaiya is the cofounder and CEO of
DotcomWeavers, which develops websites, custom software and mobile applications for B2B and B2C e-commerce businesses worldwide. The New Jersey-based company also provides e-commerce content marketing services.