E-commerce Trends: What to Look Out for in 2016

Beacons are likely to be the next big thing to revolutionise your online and offline shopping experience.

By Matthieu Vermeulen, DHL eCommerce


E-commerce is an industry that has experienced phenomenal growth rates over the past decade. Just look at players such as Amazon, Alibaba, Flipkart and Zalora and you know what I mean. E-commerce is also cannibalising retail. Articles in the press about retailers and shopping mall owners complaining about dwindling sales are a common sight. So e-commerce will come out blazing, right? Well, not so fast. There are a few things around the corner that you would want to look out for in 2016.


1. Data


The No. 1 handicap for any retailer compared to e-commerce is the lack of data. Most retailers simply don’t know who is in their stores, how often they have been there, what they’re looking at, and where they spent most of the time. This is about to change with the arrival of beacons. These sensors are able to track and identify phones by ‘sniffing’ constantly for GPS, bluetooth and Wifi signals. Unless your mobile phone is in Airplane Mode, these devices will be able to identify each phone. Each phone is also unique, and since mobile phones are personal devices, they’re invariable carried by the same person, ie the owner. Beacons, these days often enhanced with video cameras that can recognise faces, can determine exactly how many times you have been in a store, where you have walked, and where you have dwelled. This is still ‘anonymous’ because beacons cannot read your personal data. But as soon as you sign up for an app initiated by the retailer, this changes.


Once a retailer has insights into your so called ‘mobile body language’, he can start optimising his retail offering. If you sign up for his retail app, he can all of a sudden know when you’re approaching the store. Or he can allow you to place an order for coffee, and the coffee is only made when the system senses that you are approaching the store.


2. Omni-channel


The use of beacons to track physical presence of consumer, or rather their mobile phones, creates a host of opportunities to align online and offline experiences. It is perfectly thinkable that a consumer begins to discover a product online and gets suggestions to try, see and feel the product in a physical store. If a retailer works with beacons, he can know if this journey is actually undertaken by the (potential) customer and, using automated marketing responses, he can improve the chances of improving the customer’s in-store experience and, with that, the chance of converting the visit to a sell.


3. Online payments for offline purchases


Another trend that will be more visible in 2016 is the possibility of walking into a store, paying online via their e commerce site, receiving a payment confirmation, and then taking the product from the store directly with you. Decathlon in Singapore has already experimented successfully with this concept.


4. Online going offline


Proof of the need for online e-commerce to be more present in an offline world was recently provided by Amazon. They have decided to open up a brick-and mortar bookstore in their hometown, Seattle. Apart from the fact that they acknowledge that some customers prefer physical books, they claim that what sets  them apart from other bookstores is the use of their massive amount of online data to optimise the collection and the in-store experience.


So what to expect


In short, 2016 is going to be the year when offline and online commerce start to benefit and leverage off each other. The driving factor for both will be the gathering of data that will be used to gain insights, with the ultimate goal of improving marketing and sales tactics. 2016 will therefore be an excellent and exciting year for both online and offline retail.


About the Author


Matthieu Vermeulen is Director of Marketing & E-commerce Solutions at DHL eCommerce. He focuses on helping DHL clients connecting in the best way to DHL’s digital services and improve their marketing activities. In previous positions, he gained extensive experience in the areas of publishing, marketing, branding and innovation. He is a graduate of the Trium Global EMBA programme and currently resides in Singapore.


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