Drawing team EMAKERS

A lot of new web shops started in 2016. But only a fraction of these web shops, however, is successful. In 2017, we hope that the tens of thousands thirteen in a dozen online shops, that provide the average Internet user basically nothing, nada, will come to a definitive end.

Is your company only offering a glorified business card or brochure online? Fear not: we believe that you are definitely not too late to start your e-commerce activities. After all, customers have rarely been that unfaithful to their existing supplier as today.

You do need to shift gear, however, and make the right choices. We therefore present you the three most important developments for 2017 in the areas of online marketing, sales and service.

MOBILE FIRST WILL DRIVE A MASS REDESIGN OF EXISTING SITES

In 2016, the rise of mobile Internet reached the point that Google decided to sanction web sites that were insufficiently adapted for mobile phones - and give those that were adapted a better ranking. Despite an obvious limitation in screen size, the smartphone knocked the computer from the throne for private use.

In your site statistics you will find which percentage of your web site visitors are using a mobile device. For most industries, the norm lays already above 50 percent. When your site statistics show less than 25 percent of the visits using a mobile device, then your web site is possibly not well adapted for mobile use.

Is your web site mobile friendly? Do the Google-test!

The evolution of web sites went from desktop to mobile responsive. A mobile responsive website was designed for the desktop, but also accessible on a mobile device. Then mobile first entered the arena, an era in which designers first looked at how a site should be displayed on a mobile phone and from there on designed a desktop version.

For 2017, we will increasingly see certain design elements to become a ‘standard’. We can refer to these as common user interface design patterns.

Some examples:

  • The burger menu (three horizontal lines) on the top left of the header will appear everywhere
  • The same header will increasingly display a cart and a search icon, the latter hidden behind a magnifying glass
  • More often a larger picture is situated below the header as a spotlight position, usually with the ability to swipe the picture to the left or right
  • Overview pages (such as home pages, landing pages and category pages) will increasingly be displayed in a structure of tiles (or sometimes referred to as cards); it is relatively easy to determine a priority per tile, and how it should be displayed on various screen sizes
  • The way of sharing pages through social media or the way an e-mail address is asked for a newsletter subscription will also become more uniform, for example by a kind of floating horizontal bar at the bottom of the screen; on content pages this bar contains the logos of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram; on category pages the bar is equipped with a single field requesting the visitor’s email address; the bar might additionally contain a cross to remove or ‘close’ the bar.

Although it is difficult nowadays to find a mobile phone without a touch screen, most of us share the same negative experiences click on them. Fingers always seem to be too thick, resulting in unwanted surprise visits to pages that were not intended to visit. This explains largely the success of the above-mentioned tiles with much larger clickable areas.

In 2017, a lot of clicking will be replaced by scrolling (vertical, to read) and swiping (horizontally, to change between articles). It will be OK again to write a long read (like this) and will be not done to divide those into multiple pages.

Scrolling will change to endless scrolling. What used to be a dynamic (database driven) web page, is now seen as a static page. Technologies like JavaScript and Ajax make dynamic views possible. When one will type a new letter in the search engine of a site, the new standard will be to display potential results instantly (within a few milliseconds); these dynamic views will also only start loading parts of the page when one is approaching these parts by scrolling down. Before, 10 products were loaded - now that might be 100 or 200.

A GOOD CONVERSATION WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

To understand where automation will hit first, it is important to divide work in tasks: interaction with other people / things, data collection, decision-making, the execution of simple digital tasks, the execution of simple physical tasks, the execution of complex digital tasks and the execution of complex physical tasks.

Interaction with other people or things has simplified strongly in recent years, for instance through the availability of APIs and an improved design that fits the user’s experience (UX) . Technological developments make it also possible to collect more data: from other databases indirectly and / or directly from various types of sensors. Live. Obviously, common task are more interesting to automate. And simple tasks are easier to automate than complex tasks.

Today’s much hyped fear of many people - to become replaced by robots - has actually already been around for years. For repetitive (simple) tasks the robot already replaced factory workers during the industrial revolution and during the information age ATMs and ticket machines have massively replaced people working behind a counter. Digital robots are not new either: there already exist thousands of digital robots performing, for example, simple if this, then that functions or automatically crawling (searching through) web pages to index competitive prices or other information.

However, a set of new robots have risen that are used for more complex tasks. Artificial intelligence (abbreviated as AI) brings a whole new family of mathematical algorithms to the table that is designed to train the robot and improve itself based on interactions. Interaction with people as well as with other robots. Previously this was not possible, simply because of a lack of computing power. Today’s smartphone however is more powerful than a desktop computer five years ago. Because everything is connected to the Internet, calculations can also easily be executed there where they are executed best.

Hey Siri

Robots can also play an important role in the primary sales and service functions of a company. In 2017, we believe that big steps will be made in the field of so-called chatbots. Chatbots are in fact virtual assistants that go into an automated dialog. In addition to artificial intelligence, this is made possible by technological advances in the field of converting written and spoken language into computer commands (natural language processing, or NLP).

Chatbots will first be used for sales and service of standard products. Here, the customer often has a very specific problem that he wants to be solved. These questions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are common and are easy to answer, other questions are difficult to answer and come less frequently (or are made for a first time). Some answers need to be supported with visual instructions, and for other answers words are enough.

Types of incoming questions

If your company receives about 100 questions per week, an investment in a chatbot will probably make sense. If your company currently offers live chat with an employee, then a chatbot is probably a logical choice as well. When your company employs at least two employees in a customer service and / or sales support function, then you should at least seriously consider live chat and chat bots.

Does your company have a full automatic phone menu (IVR), then you already think in the right direction. However, the proposed chat partner has no menu, but actually responds to (open) questions. In the long term, your bots will respond faster and more accurately than your helpdesk. They will also do this 24/7, without the need to pay them for overtime.

On the short term, those companies that are able to find the right balance between automated answers and answers by employees will be successful in the field of chatbots. Everyone has dissatisfying memories of automated phone menus and chatbots are still computers. They have no empathy and will still interpret many questions wrong. With each incoming request you need to make the right judgment whether it will be best automated or answered by a human. When you made the wrong choice, you should be aware that your customer service representative will have a harder time to keep your customer satisfied.

Bots and support employees working together

PAY PER PERFORMANCE

More than once, the attention span of a human being has been compared to that of a goldfish. As funny as this may sound, the facts are serious. Because of a tsunami of digital media since 2000, the average attention span of humans has shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds, shorter than that of a goldfish. You read that right: the average attention span. A similar study among young adults will possibly shorten that attention span even further. Those young adults think and act differently compared to previous generations. You might still complain about a website’s speed, they will simply not bother. For each product there is an alternative.

In 2017 web shops will be much more evaluated on their performance. And by performance we mean the full set of processes involved in your web shop operations: the discover / search process, checkout, delivery, all customer service related issues and returns. The magic word here is convenience. Your competitor is just a click away. When your customer is not experiencing convenience (according to his and not your standards), than only price or the uniqueness of your product will make him come back.

Example page with poor performing product images

Convenience can clearly be translated to speed and accessibility. A slow site already became less acceptable, but will be punished definitively by the masses in 2017. And when it will not be your customer punishing you for it, the Google algorithms will give you a worse ranking in its search engine. Thus, the hosting of your website matters, and you better have it under control. When your site’s technical infrastructure is, for instance, based on a shared hosting: be informed in advance about its performance. Similar punishments are true for sites that are not displayed well on a mobile phone.

Convenience also means that your product should be available on your customer’s terms. In 2017, customers will intentionally avoid merchants that do not support the payment or delivery opportunities of their preference.

Gone is the era that you got away with offering Visa and Mastercard only. Customers in The Netherlands prefer to pay with iDeal and customers in Belgium with Bancontact. Gone is the era that your web visitor could not finalize his payment via a mobile phone. In 2017, such orders should be possible without problems.

Whether you deliver next or same day does not really matter as long as you do not know what is your customer’s preference. Experienced online buyers will increasingly make or not make a purchase based on the available delivery options. They will even abandon their cart when you are not providing their carrier of choice. Customers expect to be in control themselves regarding the location (home, office, anywhere else or on a pick-up point) and the time of delivery. Naturally, there are products and moments where speed is also determining whether the purchase is made or not (such as widely available consumer goods, fresh products or products ordered too late for a holiday or birthday) - but there are also many situations where this does not really matter (e.g. subscriptions, exclusive or even made to order products).

In 2017, customers will start choosing to place or not place an order on the basis of previous experiences with the carriers offered. If they have previously experienced the delivery period as a black box (for example due to a lack of track and trace or inaccessible customer support) they will now choose another carrier if they have that option. A similar situation trends continues from 2016, when customers started to choose their suppliers based on the return policy offered.

In the service area the speed at which you pick up a problem and come forward with a solution has always been the most important differentiator. When customers have a problem they expect to be taken seriously.

Your customer database of the future will consist of so-called digital natives. These digital natives expect you to be always available. Not only through your own channels, but also through Facebook's Messenger, Apple's Siri, Amazon Echo or Google Assistant. They ask their question where they want, accompanied with your company name and a hashtag. Of course you should offer your own channel for customer service, but expect additional complexity because your customers will be more likely to turn to you through social media and different chat functions.

When you are running a shop or a service organisation, expect all your offline customers to also turn to you through the online media available. A complete picture of your customer, a so-called omni channel approach, is therefore a necessity.

For producers that means that you will be dealing with customers that have your product without you knowing it. They see your brand or company name on the product or packaging and will approach you directly with product questions, manuals or spare parts.

Until recently, you could leave an employee of your organization (part-time) to treat the mailbox that receives questions and comments.. In 2017, for your service employee this sideshow will change into a main task and you will need to upgrade your service standards. Producers specifically have a good opportunity here to build a relationship with the end customer themselves. Where in consumer electronics it was a habit for years to ask the customer to register a product online for warranty purposes, the games manufacturer or producer of sofas can do the same from now on.. Keep in mind what value you can offer the customer (e.g. extra game options or maintenance tips) and make service a selling point.

Finally, you should certainly also count in the subject 'security' as an important performance issue for 2017. Research shows that specifically small and medium-sized enterprises are designated as potential victims of cybercrime. Spurred by European regulations and public campaigns, in 2017 consumers will be more alert to the privacy policies of the built-in security offered by the Internet entrepreneur. In 2017 most of the final customers won’t immediately take this into consideration when they purchase, but you can expect that more web shops will have to report that they are a victim of cyber crime.

To make sure that you perform well, you should periodically check the "health" of your e-commerce activities. Configure some indicators in your site metrics that can instantly provide an automated notification of large fluctuations or when certain values reach a minimum threshold. For example, around the conversion rates of your shopping basket. Check your key performance indicators once a week / month / quarter (depending on the size of your company and the importance of your e-commerce activity) and allow a full external audit at least once a year (and preferably every six months).

In short, in 2017 performance is about convenience. You realize customer convenience through proper organization of your offer. Magic words are speed, choice and safety. Not you, but the user will ultimately determine whether your activities are actually easy in use. Invest continuously in the improvement of the user experience (UI).