Guest Post By Rodney Laws, Editor at Ecommerce Platforms, where you can compare the best online store builders. Read more on ecommerce marketing below.
Is Ecommerce Marketing Set To Change Forever? (5 Trends Defining 2022 And Beyond)
Ever since online retail became mainstream, ecommerce marketing has inspired a combination of creative excitement and pressure-driven anxiety. Much like the industry itself, it tempts you with rich rewards but requires you to outperform a glut of competent competitors to earn them. This drives rapid-fire experimentation that can provide proof-of-concept for new technologies in ecommerce marketing.
Much of this experimentation doesn’t lead anywhere — but when it does, it spawns new trends that have the potential to radically change ecommerce standards. Throw in the influence of global events (most notably the COVID-19 pandemic) and you have all the ingredients needed to fundamentally shift the skills, tools and tactics required to successfully sell online.
Smart sellers understand this. They do what they can to glean insight from what’s happening now and use it to anticipate what might happen tomorrow — and that’s what we’re going to do in this post. More specifically, we’re going to identify and consider five major trends in ecommerce marketing, then see what conclusions we can reach about the future of this high-value field.
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The Increasing Demand for Sustainability
In recent years, it’s become hugely common for a given consumer to not only expect sustainability from the brands they support but also outright demand it. This stems from various factors: these include inevitable generational shift, the rich informational accessibility provided by today’s internet, and ever-growing cause to be concerned about environmental disaster.
The IBM Institute for Business Value (in association with the National Retail Federation) conducted a study into the buying habits of 2020 customers, consulting 18,980 consumers spanning 28 countries. This study came away with some notable stats, including these two:
57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.
71% of those surveyed who indicated that traceability is very important are willing to pay a premium for brands that provide it.
Now, it’s admittedly difficult to read too much into these findings because there’s often a difference between what someone says they’ll do and what they’ll actually do. Wanting to be seen as morally responsible, some respondents may have bent the truth.
Even so, it’s clear that these stats are meaningful, and it isn’t hard to find evidence that big retailers agree. Wanting to avoid social media criticism is a compelling motivator, yes, but huge brands (such as Pepsi) aren’t investing heavily in sustainability efforts purely to dodge some mocking hashtags. They’re doing so because it impacts their sales figures.
Ecommerce marketing in 2022 must take this into account. Any product descriptions or brand announcements that come across as enabling or even encouraging wastefulness will be seen as highly distasteful. Accordingly, campaigns built to emphasize adherence to environmental best practices will have the most impact overall.
The hybridization of online and offline tactics
In the last decade, a dramatic rise in technical literacy coupled with the establishment of low-cost sales platforms (like the free WooCommerce extension for the free WordPress CMS) got rid of lagging excuses for not selling online — and the resulting growth prompted the swift diminishment of the old marketing methods that dominated offline retail for so long. Take banner ads, for instance: as sales moved to the web and hyper-convenient marketplaces such as Amazon took hold, the perceived value of banner ads dropped dramatically.
Today though, we’re seeing a resurgence of old offline tactics. They’re not being used instead of digital marketing methods, however: they’re being used in addition to them. This approach — combining online and offline selling and marketing in an effort to emphasize their respective strengths and avoid their respective weaknesses — is known by a simple term: hybrid retail.
Though they’ve understandably suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may well have noticed the increased frequency of brands using pop-up shops in recent years. A pop-up shop — which involves temporarily selling products in person using cloud-synched tech — brings a lot to the table without being costly, and serves as a great example of effective hybrid retail.
You get to focus your marketing efforts online, using various channels to drive interest in your upcoming shop, then take advantage of cloud tech to easily process payments. You can even process cash payments if you take a cash drawer. At the same time, you can benefit from the promotional possibilities of personal interaction: you can physically showcase your products, for instance, and use tonal clues.
More than anything else, what gave rise to hybrid retail was the widespread implementation of click-and-collect systems. Sometimes consumers want to order things online but collect them (or even pay for them) in person at their leisure — often because they hate missing deliveries, but sometimes because they want to inspect the products before they proceed.
The takeaway here is that sticking to an exclusively-online approach to your marketing might leave substantial holes in your campaign. Whenever you can use digital materials to promote real-world events or vice-versa, make it a priority. Covering all your bases will magnify the impact of each of your individual tactics. As Greg Petro put it for Forbes, pop-up shops serve as “extension[s] of their brands” — and brand extension will always serve you well.
The rise of support and service chatbots
Inbound marketing can get short shrift because it isn’t as primal or engaging as outbound marketing, but it’s no less important. Purchasing decisions aren’t generally made lightly these days. Shoppers like to do their research before they buy: they consider social proof, examine alternatives, look for better offers, and tick various other boxes leading up to conversion. Driven by personalized email marketing, an inbound marketing campaign can be highly effective.
Before ecommerce, leads stemming from inbound marketing were fielded by customer support staff working in retail stores or call centres. This placed hard limitations on how many people could be assisted at any given time, but there was a major mitigating factor: shoppers were generally willing to wait for assistance. They had no good alternatives, after all.
Now consider today’s standards. Not only are online stores expected to be operational on a 24/7 basis, taking orders even during the early hours of the morning, but they’re also expected to be extremely responsive to queries. When will this product be back in stock? How should I process this return? Can you recommend an accessory to go with this particular device?
Some of this information can be doled out through FAQ sections (which are very useful for SEO), but not all of it — and many people want to have their questions answered through interaction. This is why so many big companies have turned to chatbots to process the bulk of their queries. Modern chatbots are far more capable than their clunky predecessors: they can parse natural language, draw information from various sources, and serve vital roles.
Drift surveyed over 1000 consumers for its 2019 State of Conversational Marketing, and found that the core reasons for preferring to avoid chatbots had all decreased in commonality from the equivalent 2018 study. Down from 43%, just 38% of respondents said they preferred to interact with people. Down from 30%, just 24% said they worried about chatbots making mistakes. Even more notably, the respondents saying they preferred to fill out forms dropped from 26% to 14%.
Will we see a similar shift as 2022 continues? Well, since 34% of respondents cited frustration with getting answers to simple questions (the greatest portion for any frustrating element), there’s clearly a major place for ecommerce chatbots — and while the COVID-19 lockdown produced industry-wide turmoil, chatbots were left out of furloughs and firings.
What we can glean from this is that the trend towards automated support systems is only likely to strengthen in the coming years as the flaws are ironed out and the drawbacks are better understood. Soon it will be so fast, easy and effective to deploy chatbots that there will be no practical justification for doing otherwise — and sellers who wish to be competitive will need to commit to making the most of them.
The broad adoption of paid social advertising
It’s hardly accurate to say that Google Ads and other simplistic PPC systems are obsolete. Though Amazon has stolen some of its thunder when it comes to product searches specifically, Google is as dominant as ever in the general search world, and the development of rich mobile views has allowed it to get away with steadily encroaching upon organic results with ads.
Those ads still produce clicks, and are generated through a straightforward and intuitive system. But they’re fundamentally limited. At most, you can opt to add some callout extensions to a Google Ad. You can’t include an image, a video, or an audio clip. You can’t customize the font. This makes it hard to get usefully creative. What separates the hit ads from the flops is often budgeting and the logical selection of well-researched keywords.
Meanwhile, the social media world offers options that provide far better opportunities. Facebook Ads is more comprehensive in every possible way. The targeting is vastly more precise and sophisticated. The creative options, while not boundless, are extensive. And the PPC choices available through other social platforms (Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) are also superior.
This pays off in your results. Agency Analytics calculated the average CPA (cost per action) per industry for both Google Ads and Facebook Ads, then averaged those out. The results? $75.51 for Google display ads, $48.96 for Google search ads, and just $18.68 for Facebook Ads. While Google Ads can still provide ROI, the functional disparity between the platforms is quite stark.
What’s more, we can consider influencer marketing here. Much of social media advertising now skirts the still-restricted PPC systems and pays influential users to promote products or services (frequently with affiliate links to provide them with commission and assist with tracking). Whether it’s through Twitter or even a video streaming platform such as YouTube or Twitch, sponsoring influencers has become a natural action for ambitious startups.
Does this mean that you need to lean heavily on paid social media advertising to promote your next product? Not exactly — but it means that you’ll be making things harder for yourself if you don’t move in that direction. Email marketing should still provide the core of your strategy (remaining as effective as ever in a changing digital landscape), but don’t leap directly to a generic and hands-off PPC campaign. There’s so much more you can do.
Wrap up on eCommerce marketing
Ecommerce marketing is set to change forever, and that has meaning in two key ways. Firstly, the trends we opened with (the demand for sustainability and the focus on narratives) have continued in 2021 after being solidified in the crucible of 2020, and they won’t go anywhere even in the unlikely event that COVID-19 can be practically forgotten by the end of the year.
Secondly, ecommerce marketing will always change. Not a year — not a month — will pass without some notable shift occurring: the release of a new template style, the announcement of a new software tool, or the rise of a new social media platform, to name just a few options. Setting for the status quo will never be a smart approach — so stay on your toes.