The future of e-commerce will present consumers with convenient and data-driven ways to buy products. Shopping experiences will take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and a host of other technologies to make sure consumers are presented with unique and personalized shopping experiences.
I spoke with Jimmy Rodriguez, Chief Operating Officer at shopping cart software provider 3dcart to discuss the most pressing issues impacting e-commerce today. Rodriguez explained what brands need to do to ensure their website is not only performing well, but that it's optimized for the future of digital commerce.
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PCMag (PCM): What role do you envision AI playing on the back end of e-commerce site optimization and data gathering? I'm not necessarily referring to what consumers see when they go to an e-commerce site, but rather, how can site builders and brands optimize the site?
Jimmy Rodriguez (JR): AI will be key for e-commerce platforms looking to achieve shopping experience personalization while working around the challenges of online privacy. Most personalization in e-commerce is customer-centric, using cookie-based tracking of the actions performed by on the site by each visitor. With AI, e-commerce platforms will be able to analyze large amounts of data from purchasing behaviors to predict possible outcomes and create actionable triggers to be presented to online shoppers.
The idea of a self-optimizing e-commerce site will replace the current A/B testing practices, where visitors are no longer exposed to a common shopping experience but instead [are exposed] to a website that shifts by responding to customers' impulses.
There are no limits to the capabilities that AI brings to e-commerce, from new ways of retargeting, contextual customer service via chatbots, dynamic promotions displayed based on abandoned cart recovery data, to customer-specific search results and conversion-driven checkout experiences.
PCM: What are the biggest mistakes you see brands making when they build their own e-commerce sites?
JR: The most common mistake is underestimating the work involved and the features needed to run a successful operation. For many startups and even established companies, launching an e-commerce site is perceived as a simple task. And, while it's possible to launch by just adding Buy buttons to a WordPress blog or Wix website, the end result is far from a fully functional e-commerce site.
A complete e-commerce site should offer most of the functionality shoppers expect to find on the large retail sites like Amazon. And while most of these features might not seem necessary at first when the goal is to push a site live so visitors can start placing orders, it becomes very evident after this that important elements to market and run an online business might have been overlooked.
Before building an e-commerce site, it's important to have a business plan. Set specific goals for the site in terms of where it should be within one year, followed by milestones in terms of visitors and sales. Then, consider what will be needed as part of the e-commerce platform to be able to handle the traffic, drive conversions, and process orders at the different stages of the business.
PCM: Along a similar line, can you talk about what brands should be doing to better their search engine optimization (SEO) results? What mistakes are they making?
JR: Not thinking of SEO until the site has launched is the number one problem that new online businesses experience. In most cases, [it's] due to lack of knowledge or awareness of the importance of SEO for the success of their online store. SEO should be the main priority for every business when they decide to develop their online presence. Choose an e-commerce platform that understands SEO, was developed around SEO best practices, and performs constant updates to adapt to algorithm changes from the main search engines.
Optimizing techniques are very complex and, while business owners can learn the basic concepts around SEO, it would be a bit mistake to try to take on themselves the optimization of a website while also trying to run their business. This is one of the main reasons why using an SEO-friendly e-commerce solution is more important than any other aspect of their website, and could define the success or failure of their online store.
PCM: One-touch and one-click checkouts are the crown jewels of e-commerce, especially for consumers who want to get things done quickly. Are there any pitfalls businesses should be concerned about when enabling these options?
JR: Without a doubt, one-click checkout experiences can help most online stores increase their conversions. Implementing a one-touch solution usually requires the e-commerce platform to support the different digital wallets. From Paypal's One Touch and Visa Checkout to Apple Pay and Android Pay, these solutions can streamline the checkout process for any online store. And while no store should offer all the digital wallets available, choosing the one that best fits your target customers will considerably increase conversion rates, especially in mobile devices.
At the same time, the one-click solution shouldn't take over the standard checkout process of your online store, since this is only a true one-click experience for an existing user that has used the solution before. A new shopper will still have to go through an enrollment or registration process which, depending on the solution offered, could add friction to the checkout process and negatively impact your conversion rate.
PCM: With the launch of the Apple iPhone X AR is becoming mainstream. How are vendors (such as 3dcart) and brands preparing for this? How soon will we all be "trying on" hats from our phone?
JR: Apple's ARKit framework already allows developers to create their own AR apps by taking advantage of the new iPhone and iPad hardware. But AR in devices is still new and, while it'll take time before these become more popularly used among online shoppers, 3dcart and many other e-commerce solutions are already exploring the potential capabilities that AR brings to online stores. The idea of being able to bring elements from the digital world to create a real-world experience is very exciting.
Right now, one of the main concepts being explored is taking products from an e-commerce site to "virtual life" and allow online shoppers to experience how a piece of furniture, for example, would look in their bedroom. The thought is that, if great images and videos can help online shoppers appreciate the qualities of these products, with AR we can take product visualization to the next level, and allow them to experience the product in the consumer environment.
Just like with AR and VR, there are many newer technologies [being] considered to help us bring game-changing technology to the world of e-commerce. And while there is still a lot to figure out, this will be shaping the future of our industry.