Where’s the Puck Going? – Ecommerce Success in 2017

My responsibilities at Creatuity both for our own success and that of our clients drives me to spend a substantial amount of my time thinking about what it will take to be successful in ecommerce in the next 6, 12 and 18 months. Many times when I think about this, I’m reminded of the oft-quoted line from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky – when asked why he was such an outstanding player, Gretzky answered: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. I see so many people skating to where the puck has been – reading benchmark reports and planning out their commerce initiatives for the year based on what was successful for other merchants in the previous year. There’s definitely some value to be had there – if you aren’t at least keeping up with what your competitors did last year, you’re probably not going to set yourself up for success. However, the most successful ecommerce businesses are those that are asking themselves where ecommerce is going, and how can they be the first to get there? As Amazon slowly but surely captures more and more of the total ecommerce business in the US, stretching out over more verticals each quarter, competing on price, availability or delivery speed simply doesn’t work. You absolutely must be innovating and fighting to stay ahead of the competition. So, with the stakes out of the way, let’s dive in to the critical ways your ecommerce business can differentiate itself in 2017. First of all – I’m hopeful that 2017 is the year that we drop the ‘e’ in ‘ecommerce’. Back in 2006, ecommerce sales made up 3% of all retail transactions in the US. Recent reports from the US Census Bureau show that ecommerce is now pushing 10% of all retail transactions in the US. Couple this with the fact that Macy’s is shuttering a number of stores, The Limited recently announced it’s shutting down all 250 of their physical stores to become a pure ecommerce business. Combined with the fact that the iPhone is now 10 years old (just think – in 8 more years, there will be members of retail’s most coveted 18 to 34 demographic who have no experience with a world before smartphones) – the days of traditional brick and mortar retail are ending. So, let’s stop calling what we do ‘ecommence’. It’s commerce, plain and simple, and that’s how we need to think of it and what we should call it. Looking at the trends of the past few years, combined with the fact that computing power is continuing to increase at incredible rates tells me that we’re going to see ecommerce businesses of every size deploy data-driven marketing automation and personalization in 2017. Specifically – it’s now feasible to follow each individual visitor to your site and tailor your site and marketing campaigns to their specific needs. Whether it’s via tools like DotMailer, Mautic, or home-grown solutions, ecommerce sites that win in 2017 will be delighting their customers by providing an experience tailored to the exact needs of that customer in that specific visit. We’re at most a few years away from Amazon Web Services offering machine learning as a cloud service. In the meantime, open source machine learning libraries mean that any ecommerce site can deploy machine learning in a number of ways. Some are using it to predict trends in inventory to enable smarter reordering, others are making it a critical part of their personalization & marketing automation efforts. The most innovative businesses, though, are looking for ways to incorporate machine learning throughout their enterprise, often in unexpected ways. There are great opportunities for machine learning in areas such as optimizing Google Shopping ads, repricing products on channels like Amazon and Walmart, and even simple things like determining the best time to send email campaigns. Finally, 2017 will be the end of cookie-cutter ecommerce. For many years if was possible to launch a basic ecommerce site and provide lower prices or unique products and win a substantial amount of business. Given the growth of Amazon and other large ecommerce businesses, that’s no longer the case. You must provide a unique experience for your customers. Off the shelf themes on one-size-fits all ecommerce platforms are going to continue to struggle in 2017. If you aren’t incorporating some sort of deep customization into your ecommerce experience, you will fall behind the competitors that are doing so in 2017. So, those are three of the big areas I’m focusing on in 2017 – deeper, data-driven personalization/marketing automation, machine learning & moving away from cookie-cutter ecommerce sites. Where do you think the puck is going in 2017?

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