Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales broke records and Singles’ Day – the biggest online shopping day of the year in China – took off like a rocket, becoming the biggest online sale on the planet. And it’s not over yet. Green Monday on December 11 used to be the last day people could order gifts and have them delivered before Christmas Day. Nowadays it’s yet another excuse for an online bargain frenzy. Last year saw sales of some US$1.6bn. Then there’s Free Shipping Day on December 15 where merchants guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve with no shipping costs. As one of the main reasons for cart abandonment, waving shipping fees is a great incentive for shoppers to buy.
It’s not all over in December either. In January e-tailers get a second bite of the cherry as consumers send back returns, start redeeming gift vouchers or visit actual stores to return unwanted Christmas gifts. All in all, it’s a great opportunity for more sales whether in store or online. What can e-tailers learn from this year-end bonanza of online consumption? And how can they make their products stand out from the crown when consumers are being bombarded with bargains every which way they turn? Several important online trends are emerging that e-tailers should be taking on board:
More and more people made their cyber sale purchases on their mobile phones this year. Of the nearly 1.5 billion payments processed through AliPay this Singles’ Day, 90% were conducted via mobile. A report from Research and Markets showed global m-commerce will account for more than 50% of all online retail sales by 2021. E-tailers who aren’t optimizing their sites for mobile are going to lose out.
It’s all very well telling them a sale is coming – what consumers really want to know is what they’re going to get on the day. Singles’ Day pre-orders generated a billion dollars’ worth of sales in the first two minutes – reaching US$10bn in just over an hour. Alibaba set up pre-Singles’ Day 'See Now Buy Now' fashion shows, used interactive apps to download coupons, raffle tickets and gift certificates to create heightened interest before the sales began. E-tailers that start ‘bigging-up’ their bargains early will have shoppers waiting to push the buy button on the day.
AI was out in force on Singles’ Day this year with the FashionAI advisor, an in store touchscreen, giving people clothing and style suggestions as they tried on outfits. Chatbots are also becoming more and more popular. They can answer consumer questions fast and efficiently, greatly improving a shopper’s online shopping experience. Voice search is also growing with the increasing use of ‘assistants’ such as Siri or the Amazon Echo, and e-tailers need to make sure their stores are ready for voice recognition technologies.
Alibaba boss Jack Ma christened the integration of online-offline logistics and data across a single value chain 'New Retail' in the run up to Singles’ Day. In the West its more commonly known as omnichannel. What’s important is that it’s everywhere and customers like it. Shoppers are distinguishing less and less between online and offline, and that’s what omnichannel is all about. But it can be a nightmare for e-tailers to put in action, especially SME’s. Getting the combination of people, process and technology right is tricky. Outsourcing aspects of it, especially fulfillment, is one solution.
There’s still a way to go before these technologies really hit the mainstream, but companies like Alibaba are leading the way. On Singles’ Day Chinese consumers who visited specific locations could play an AR game similar to Pokémon Go and earn shopping coupons. It also introduced VR and AR technology like product displays, magic mirrors, cloud shelves, and cashier-less purchasing. It’s early days but e-tailers should be on the lookout for opportunities to make use of VR and AR to boost their customers’ shopping experience.
A report by ValueWalk showed that companies that have embraced social media are now generating roughly US$2.4m every minute through e-commerce. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter together are helping generate more than US$40k in revenue every 60 seconds. By 2018, an estimated 2.5 billion people will be social media users. It’s almost too easy not to take advantage of. All you need to do is create good, regular copy and use the easy-to-use tools to promote your products. So, get posting! There’s a whole year to go until the next cyber sales get started. Time enough to take on board the learnings from 2017 and make 2018 the sale of the century for your online brand.