In the distant past, e-commerce was simply an alternative for physical retail. It was more convenient in that it allowed customers to search for products without needing to head out to the stores, but it still had numerous disadvantages. For instance, it took longer for customers to receive their purchases, there tended to be much less information about products compared to holding the object in your hands, and there was a hassle around providing payment information.
E-commerce has evolved considerably over the years. Now, few disadvantages remain, whereas the opportunities have grown exponentially. This has changed how people buy online and what retailers they purchase from as well as what sellers need to do to encourage customers to choose them over the competition.
The Rise of Social Commerce
Among other things, most people use the internet for two particularly popular activities: shopping and social media. Since social commerce combines these two things, it should come as no surprise that it’s on the rise.
The main drivers for the increase of social commerce revolve around changes in user preferences and behavior online. These include:
- Using social media to discover brands and products.
- Searching for what’s trending in their social circles.
- The increase in influencers, along with more chances to purchase directly from influencers.
- Purchases during live streams.
- The desire to own limited-edition virtual products, like NFTs.
These trends have many advantages for businesses. For instance, they lead to opportunities for building brand awareness and credibility, receiving impulse buys, and collecting more data about customers. To achieve all these, e-commerce retailers need to do the following:
- Enable purchases on social media platforms. This is possible on several platforms, including Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Pinterest, among others.
- Partner with influencers. Find an influencer who will appeal to your target audience to promote your brand among more people.
- Set up chatbots. There’s a possibility consumers will run into problems when trying to make a purchase or they’ll want additional information before they buy. Creating a chatbot that answers your frequently-asked questions will help sales go through smoothly.
- Use WeChat mini-programs. If you’re selling in China, sell through a WeChat mini-program rather than investing in your own app. This can be ideal if you have a limited budget but want to put your products in front of more eyes.
Augmented Reality Shopping Experiences
Consumers have long been promised more virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). It may still feel like we’re in the early days of these technologies — in fact, AR is already beginning to enter our lives without us even noticing. One place this is true is in shopping experiences. This is exactly what consumers want: one survey found that shopping was the number one choice for immersive digital experiences.
One of the most popular uses of AR in e-commerce is for trying out products as if they are physically present. Virtual try-ons allow users to test a product like a piece of clothing, makeup, an accessory, or a hair color on themselves, whereas virtual showrooms enable customers to place items in their home. To achieve good results with this technology, you’ll need to keep your designs relatively simple. If you’re selling on Amazon, take advantage of Amazon Sumerian — it’s usable even if you have limited 3D modeling knowledge.
Another place where AR is present is social media — this combines the trends of AR and social commerce. Social media filters allow users to feature a company’s products or branding in content like their Stories. Businesses can use Meta Spark for Instagram and Facebook and SnapAR Lens Studio for Snapchat.
The most challenging thing about incorporating AR into your strategy will be creating graphics for the AR environment. If no one on your in-house team has these skills, contract a graphic design virtual assistant.
Personalization and AI in E-Commerce
The crowded marketplace is giving some consumers choice fatigue. It also means customers are often able to find similar products in several places, which can mean retailers lose out on both first-time sales and repeat sales. One solution retailers are using to tackle this problem is personalization powered by AI.
By personalizing experiences, users see products they are likely to find appealing. The products they see are based on their browsing history, past purchases, demographics, and other data. This prevents users needing to scroll through pages of products just to find something they’re interested in purchasing.
AI is necessary for personalization because it allows retailers to utilize a huge amount of data — far more than it would be possible for a human to sort through. Retailers can use this data for a number of applications:
- Presenting users with content on the homepage according to whether they’re new visitors or they’ve visited the e-commerce site before. For instance, since the company has no data for new visitors, it can show them top-selling products. In contrast, returning visitors will see products they’ve shown an interest in before, including items they’ve left in the cart.
- Natural language processing to figure out the intent of a user’s search. This means customers don’t need to use exact keywords for the search engine to present relevant results.
- Giving the user relevant information about a product to encourage a sale.
- Offering further suggestions about what the customer may like to consider purchasing based on the contents of the shopping cart or previous purchases.
There was once a time when consumers were willing to fill out long forms just to purchase a product. Those days are now far behind us — today, customers want to spend a minimal amount of time on the checkout process and may abandon a cart if they feel like it’s too much effort. To improve experiences, retailers are experimenting with innovative new payment options like digital wallets.
When consumers purchase a product on their mobile device, the fastest way for them to pay is by using a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, or Samsung Wallet. All of these use payment information that is already saved to the user’s device to pay for the purchase instantly.
However, there are also other innovative ways retailers can allow customers to pay, including:
- QR code payments. These are already popular in Asia.
- Buy now, pay later options. This is useful for increasing your sales volume of high-value products.
- eCash. Retailers who also have physical stores can use this method. It allows customers to purchase online and then come into the store to pay. It can be useful if you’re targeting customers who prefer cash transactions.
It’s important to remember that not all consumers have a digital wallet or are willing to try a modern payment method. Retailers need to give consumers choices that include traditional as well as innovative options to avoid losing customers.
E-Commerce Security and Fraud Prevention
The growth of e-commerce unfortunately means the sector is becoming a bigger target for fraud. Retailers need to be aware of current threats to identify possible fraud and to take action to protect themselves and their customers.
Types of E-Commerce Fraud
Fraud comes in many forms, but there are a few in particular that e-commerce businesses need to be aware of.
1. Transaction Fraud
Also called credit card and card-not-present (CNP) fraud, transaction fraud occurs when someone uses a stolen credit card to make purchases on an e-commerce site. The retailer in this situation must issue a chargeback to the legitimate cardholder. In the case of a single case of transaction fraud, the retailer simply loses a sale. However, if many chargebacks occur on the site, the card network may put the retailer into a high fraud category, which will result in higher processing fees.
2. Friendly Fraud
Cases where customers request fraudulent refunds fall under the category of friendly fraud, also called first-party fraud. Often, customers decide to commit fraud from the outset — they purchase a product with the intent of claiming it never arrived and then request a chargeback. In some cases, fraud is opportunistic, such as if the buyer regrets purchasing the product and makes up a phony reason for requesting a refund. Lastly, friendly fraud can be unintentional, such as when customers forget they made a purchase or do not recognize the charge on their credit card.
3. Bonus Abuse
Another way customers can commit fraud is through bonus abuse. This can occur if you offer coupons, bonuses for referrals, or other incentives. A user may create multiple accounts to gain more bonuses or to use the same coupon code several times to purchase your products at a discount.
4. Return Fraud
Some criminals take advantage of return policies to make a profit. There are several ways to commit return fraud.
One is to falsify a receipt to return a product purchased elsewhere for a lower price.
Alternatively, criminals may purchase items they already own but have in poor condition. They then request a return, shipping back the broken item rather than the one they recently purchased. A similar tactic is to remove components from an electrical item before returning it.
A final form of return fraud is wardrobing. This is where a fraudster purchases an item of clothing, wears it for a short amount of time, and then returns it used. Whereas this has always been a problem for physical retailers, it is becoming a much greater issue for e-commerce stores, as sellers are unable to check items before they receive the return.
5. Account Takeovers
Customer accounts that hold credit for the e-commerce store are attractive targets for criminals. In an account takeover, a criminal steals a customer’s account to gain access to this credit and to mine the account for personal information to use in other crimes. If this happens to your customers, they’ll likely blame you for having insufficient security measures in place.
What Security Measures Can E-Commerce Retailers Take?
Preventing fraud is crucial for avoiding losses and for maintaining a good reputation with your customers. The good news is there are several basic tactics retailers can implement.
1. Multi-Factor Authentication
With multi-factor authentication, users need to prove their identity in two or more ways before they can access their accounts. Typically, one of these will be a password, whereas the other could be a PIN, a security question, confirmation through an authentication app, or biometric data. In addition to requiring customers to enable multi-factor authentication to access their accounts, make it a requirement for everyone on your team to ensure you keep your e-commerce site secure.
2. Secure Payment Gateways
It’s critical to process online payments securely to prevent a third party from gaining access to sensitive information. A secure payment gateway will encrypt financial details like credit card numbers.
3. SSL Certificates
It’s not enough to just use secure payment gateways — your website also needs an SSL certificate. This ensures sensitive data transmitted between users’ browsers and your website is encrypted. It prevents unauthorized access to login credentials, financial information, and personal data. Having an SSL certificate gives customers reassurance that it is safe to purchase from your e-commerce store. It’s also a ranking factor for SEO, meaning it will improve your visibility in search results.
4. Artificial Intelligence Fraud Detection
There are multiple ways to use AI to identify suspicious behaviors that could indicate potential fraud. For instance, AI can use a risk score based on things like transaction history, device information, typing speed, and mouse movements. The algorithm will flag unusual activity, alerting you to investigate further. Machine learning models use historical data to become better at detecting fraud over time.
5. Velocity Checks
One category of behavior to monitor is the speed of actions on your website. You can do this by implementing velocity checks. These will flag suspiciously fast or frequent transactions or logins that could suggest an attempted account takeover. It’s possible to monitor unusual behavior coming from a particular device, IP address, account, or credit card.
Sustainable E-Commerce Practices
In the early days of e-commerce, customers were thrilled about the possibility to choose from countless products, compare prices across retailers, and receive products within days, straight to their doors. Whereas all these factors remain important for attracting customers, a growing concern among conscientious consumers is environmental impact. Many companies are addressing this problem through sustainable e-commerce.
With sustainable e-commerce, online retailers take steps to become environmentally responsible. Although this can increase costs for the business, it can still result in higher revenues. This is because the majority of consumers hold green values. In one global survey, 73% of respondents said they would definitely or probably change their behavior if it would lower the impact on the environment. By embracing sustainable e-commerce, businesses make this easy for customers. The good news for retailers is there are numerous ways to do this.
1. Update Your Brand Mission and Values
You’ll see greater returns from your sustainable e-commerce practices if customers are aware of your efforts. One of the best ways to communicate your commitment to the environment is to include it in your mission and values. However, simply updating the information on your “About Us” page isn’t enough — you need to infuse this message into the content throughout your website. Make sure you include the specifics of what you’re doing; otherwise, consumers may be suspicious that your values are just empty words.
2. Reduce Packaging
It will be clear to consumers that you’re committed to becoming a sustainable company if the products they receive from you come in only the necessary packaging. This could involve switching from boxes to bags. When boxes are necessary, you should choose the smallest size possible. You may also like to avoid including extras like promotional materials in your shipments. Finally, choose a packaging material that is biodegradable, recyclable, or recycled.
3. Minimize Your Energy Usage
Reduce your carbon footprint in your operations by finding ways to lower your energy usage. Simple changes like LED light bulbs and occupancy sensors for the lights in your office and warehouse can make a difference. To go a step further, switch to solar energy sources.
4. Take Steps to Reduce Returns
Changing your returns policy will do more than just help combat fraud — it can also lower your environmental footprint. For instance, you could reduce the number of days customers have to make a return to as low as 15 or ask customers to bring the item into your physical store (if you have one). When you frame the policy as a way to decrease your environmental impact, customers are more likely to be understanding.
Other things you can do to reduce your return rate involve increasing the likelihood that customers are satisfied with their purchases. To achieve this, you’ll need to ensure that your product descriptions are detailed, your photos clear, and any clothing has a precise sizing guide.
5. Sell Products That Promote a Sustainable Lifestyle
There’s no use in having sustainable operations and shipping practices if the products you sell tell another story. Start stocking products that allow customers to make changes to their lifestyles to become more eco-friendly. What you can sell will depend on your niche. Possible options may include personal care and cleaning products containing natural ingredients, items for the home like low-flow shower heads, energy-efficient appliances, and just about anything made from sustainable materials.
6. Use Carbon Offsets
Another strategy is to state that you’ll be using a percentage of every purchase to buy carbon offsets to balance the greenhouse gasses you emit through your operations. You may like to involve customers in these efforts by giving them the chance to pay for optional carbon offsets at the checkout.
7. Set Up a Resale Marketplace
Depending on the types of products you sell, you may be able to set up a resale marketplace. This involves purchasing back used items from customers and selling them on to other consumers who are either looking to save money or want a greener solution. The profit margin from your resale marketplace may be small, but it will be great for your image. Plus, it may encourage more sales from customers who are on the fence about purchasing a new item due to the cost.
The Impact of E-Commerce on Physical Retail
The evolution of e-commerce is affecting more than just online retailers — it’s also having a significant impact on brick-and-mortar businesses. In particular, customers’ expectations have changed: however they are making a purchase, they want the experience to be seamless and convenient.
Retailers that have both a physical store and offer e-commerce options need to link the two. For instance, customers who purchase online may want to be able to pick up or return a product in your brick-and-mortar store. Customers will also want to see similar features in the physical store as online, including AR to try products like cosmetics, AI to personalize their shopping experience, and payment options like digital wallets. In other words, your e-commerce and physical retail strategies need to be closely linked.
Many of the above changes to the e-commerce landscape are great news for online retailers because they pave the way for new tactics to attract more customers. However, these changes also create more work for retailers.
To stay on top of new trends in e-commerce, it helps to work with a professional. A great option is to hand off tasks you don’t have time for yourself to a virtual assistant for Amazon sellers. The virtual assistants from myVA360 are familiar with all the intricacies of selling online, including best practices to help you maximize sales. We’ll provide you with a dedicated VA who can take over tasks like managing your FBM orders, replying to comments, creating listings, and optimizing ad campaigns. This will leave you free to focus on your core business. Request a free trial to work with a VA for four hours before you sign up.