Jun 06 2017
future of ecommerce 5 years

Future of Ecommerce: How Technology Will Change in 5 Years

In the past 5 years, a great deal of new technology has emerged, but how much of that will truly be adopted by the industry through 2022? Many brands are resistant to change, especially when it could impact revenue, conversions, or otherwise alienate customers; however, some signs indicate what will likely normalize over the next 5 years. And sorry wishful thinkers, physical retail will still play a vital role.

For an industry to adopt new technology, does the consumer or the organizations make the biggest push? Typically, it’s a bit of both, and we can use consumer sales data to show what the most in-demand emerging tech is now and how it can be applied to enhancing the ecommerce and retail experience. Perhaps one of the biggest changes in ecommerce will be data’s increasingly vital role. Consumers are regularly offering up more personal information that, in turn, businesses will be able to use for advertising, marketing, and ultimately delivering a better experience from awareness to conversion.

Enhanced Retail Experiences

Virtual reality may eventually play a role in the reduction of physical retail stores, but over the next 5 years, we will most likely see refinement of this technology. Sure, the big guys are starting to close stores left and right, but at the same time, companies like Amazon are starting to develop small, experience-driven retail stores in top markets. Similarly, when Tesla first hit the market, they launched with showrooms rather than typical dealerships, thus creating a stress-free environment to try before you buy, without any of the sales tactics that negatively affect the buyer’s journey.

While showrooms likely won’t be the norm, an enhanced retail experience will be. The two most likely candidates for this are beacons and augmented reality. Retailers have been utilizing both technologies for years, and the applications each are practically limitless. For beacons, the simple tech embraces the mobile-first reality that we live in while enhancing the retail experience. For example, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a consumer driving up or walking into a CVS that also happens to have the CVS app will gain an enhanced experience. As they enter the geographic fence, the app will prompt then with alerts with everything from discounts to expedited prescription pick-up information. Other brands, like Macy’s and Major League Baseball, outfitted their physical spaces with beacon tech to further enhance the experience their consumers.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is an entirely different monster. Google tried to make it happen with the beta release of Google Glass, but we all know how that turned out. Others have more successfully adapted similar technology with a less invasive approach. For instance, gaming and AR have been an interesting combination. From the Nintendo 3D using its own version that brings card games to life to iPhone and Android apps that produce similar results, augmented reality is only just scratching the surface of possibilities. Combine AR with beacon tech, and soon enough, you’ll be holding up your phone and looking at personalized billboards.

How about ecommerce though, how can and will the industry implement AR? Simple! Some brands are already doing it, and it’s as easy as using an app to help consumers visualize how products will show up in their home or on them. Another example of this can be seen in Rebecca Minkoff’s magic mirror that enhances the in-store shopping experience.

Mobile Everything

If you still think consumers will be doing most of their online buying through desktop computers, you’re in for a rough ride. Not only is the majority of web traffic now coming from mobile devices, it’s only a matter of time before consumers convert more strongly on mobile devices. Sure, we know, the omnichannel life, and people use multiple devices; however, this is bound to change as brands stop looking at shiny features and focus on removing all barriers to mobile conversion. Just look at Amazon’s mobile-shopping experience: It’s simple, you can buy in one click if you want, and you can even just press a single button to make a purchase.

Beyond shopping, Google made mobile the sole focus of their search results indexing, meaning brands won’t be focusing as much on desktop in the coming years. Mark my words, in 10 years, desktop experiences will be akin to ensuring your site and experience are functional for Internet Explorer users today. In 5 years? We’ll be at the height of the transition to mobile everything.

Touch-Based Experiences

Mobile first and now mobile only… the logical progression is that most online shopping experiences will become touch-based. We’re currently experiencing a rise in 360 experiences, and these will continue to become more prevalent. In the future, brands will have to further adopt touch-based experiences as they begin to evolve to mimic our interaction with physical items. We manipulate them, move them, feel them, and interact with items with most of our senses. While we can’t quite yet do that through simple 3D interactions, it’s a more fluid feeling than looking at flat images.

What happens after the full mobile explosion? Well, if virtual and augmented reality do become mainstream, touch will have a completely new meaning as haptic devices, such as gloves and clothing, will let consumers virtually feel an object without it ever being there.

Voice Assistants

Alexa, order me a pizza. What all started with Siri has since evolved to become more useful. While AI and voice assistants are nowhere near where futuristic movies predicted, we’ll soon witness dramatic improvements to this technology. New devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home may not be quickly adopted, regardless of the prices making them more accessible, voice assistants will begin to make their way into most internet connected devices.

Out of milk? Soon you can press a button on your fridge and tell it to add it to your cart or list. The technology is already here and available, but it’s now up to consumers if they feel that it’s beneficial and worth integrating into their lives. The really exciting component to this is that, in 10 years, this kind of technology will become so embedded that the push for intelligent AI will drastically accelerate.

Automated Vehicles, But Not in the US

Sorry Americans, delivery drones and automated package delivery are not in the five-year plan. On the flip side, both China and Japan are ahead of the game, with drone deliveries already in the works or being tested. In fact, June 2017 marks Japan’s goal for setting plans to have drones, automated trucks, and better AI up and running by 2020. The plans also include free education systems that would appeal to lower-income citizens who can then tackle these growing industries. This is particularly important as Japan has a dwindling workforce, so much so that their largest traditional parcel shipper, Yamato Holdings Co, has had to reduce services while increasing rates.

China’s version of Amazon, JD.com, is currently delivering goods by drone. Additionally, the company was recently approved to begin delivering products with a ship weight of up to 2000 pounds in one part of the country.

Junk Tech

Any time new technology comes out, there is typically a landgrab for which hardware format will best utilize it. From 8-track tapes to laserdiscs, there’s a lot of junk tech that simply never becomes mainstream. While it remains to be seen if the first wave of standalone voice assistant hardware will survive in the long run, the market continues to see more one-off tech and wearables that could play a future role in the shopping experience. At this year’s Consumer Electronic Show, there were a few pieces of tech, such as the GeniCan, that allow consumers to put a scanner device on trashcans so that as an item is depleted, it is then added to a shopping list. As beacon tech, IoT, and automation normalize, it’ll take some time for the market to decide which tech is junk and what should be incorporated into daily life.

Not 3D Printers, Yet

Everyone wishes they could simply download some specs and have a 3D printer manufacture something right in their living room. As cool as that would be, it simply isn’t feasible. For consumers, most want high-quality products that have been vetted and tested. One of the primary benefits of 3D printing is the ability to rapidly prototype new products, add-ons, and resources for building. The keyword here is prototype, in that regardless of the improvements in 3D-printed material, these are simply designed for the steps that come before mass production. Though neat, the feasibility of 3D printing hitting your living room or local printing center to produce finalized products isn’t in our near-term future. However, you can totally 3D print a pizza, but you’ll still have to bake it.

The Year 2022

Over the next 5 years we likely won’t see any drastic changes to ecommerce or how we buy goods in general; however, we’ll see early adopters begin to experiment with what consumers will use in the next 10-20 years. Next stop, the year 2027!

Elliot Volkman

Digital Marketing Manager

Elliot is Blue Acorn's Digital Marketing Manager. He hold a master's degree in communication from Gonzaga, and has several awards for journalism and digital marketing. In his spare time he is a long-distance runner and triathlete.

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