E-commerce sales in America hit an estimated $601.7 billion in 2019, up nearly 15 percent from 2018, according to the U.S Department of Commerce. As more people take their dollars online instead of to stores, it's getting tougher for e-commerce brands to stand out. Creating a personalized, frictionless web shopping experience is merely the bar to entry; to boost sales and gain customers' long-term loyalty, many retailers are turning to technology that elevates the experience beyond what was possible even a few years ago.
New York City-based research firm CB Insights recently dug into 14 of the biggest trends among e-commerce companies in 2020. Some of them are taking off now, thanks to broader tech developments, such as the rollout of the next-generation 5G wireless network and the faster, higher bandwidth it promises, says Laura Kennedy, the lead retail analyst who compiled the report.
Here are three trends from the report every online retailer needs to watch in 2020.
1. Counterfeit Detection A.I.
If you sell through marketplaces like Amazon or Alibaba, you likely are no stranger to counterfeit issues. It's a problem that plagues companies making sneakers, water hose attachments, baby car seats, and everything in between. Just this month, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a bill called the Shop Safe Act that would hold e-commerce marketplaces liable for selling counterfeit items on their websites. While mostly aimed at cracking down on items that pose a consumer safety threat (think counterfeit medical products like knockoff baby formula or over-the-counter drugs), it would also require companies to vet sellers that are repeat offenders.
According to Kennedy and CB Insight's report, issues like these have been the fuel behind companies putting more capital behind A.I. technology that weeds out counterfeits on their sites. Last month, Amazon announced its Project Zero, which includes counterfeit A.I. detection. Meanwhile, startups like Los Altos, California-based RedMarlin have developed tools to help smaller companies combat counterfeit products popping up across the web.
2. Visual Search
The technology that allows you to point your smartphone at, say, a blue sofa and then pull up images of similar blue sofas has been around for a few years. Last year, Amazon launched a Show and Tell feature: You can hold an item up to an Echo Show camera and it will identify what you're holding. What's new, the report notes, is that visual search is becoming more integrated as a buying tool and the point of purchase is moving closer to the consumer.
Pinterest Lens, the social media site's visual search tool, has been around since 2017, and the company told CB Insights it now sees 600 million searches per month with the tool. However, just last year, the company added shoppable pins to Lens, meaning when you hover over that blue sofa, now you can easily buy it with just a few taps of your fingers.
3. The Next Iteration of Voice Shopping
Ordering products via smart assistants and smart speakers is fast and easy--just ask the parents of the toddlers who ordered themselves toys from Amazon by asking Alexa when Mom and Dad weren't listening. But the future of voice shopping will go far beyond smart speakers. Amazon even has a patent for an augmented reality system that recognizes gestures and voice, in which customers could "wave their hand to bring up a virtual image of a product, and wave again to buy it." You'll likely see more integrations between AR and voice shopping like these across the industry, the report says.
Kennedy also notes that, similar to visual search, voice shopping is helping make e-commerce more accessible and increasing the number of potential buyers. Customers with disabilities are able to learn more about and ultimately buy things that they weren't able to physically search for previously.
No matter which trend you consider for your own company, Kennedy recommends keeping one key question in mind: "Is it going to increase conversion?" Trends may come and go, and jumping on the latest one may be tempting, but Kennedy notes that trends only work in one's favor if they align with your brand and actually help customers click the "buy" button.