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Our monthly take on business and e-commerce trends

Business · 9 min read

Trend Reports: March

As the world edges its way towards 2019's quarter-way mark, we review March's major e-commerce trends. From the rise of micro-influencers and genderless AI assistants, to the power of parody in advertising and sustainability in supply chains, here's what you need to know going forwards to April.

Micro-influencer marketing

While you can barely scroll for two minutes on social media without seeing a #sponsored or #gifted post, 2019 is witnessing the rise of a new type of brand spokesperson – the micro-influencer. Boasting a modest 30,000 or fewer followers, these accounts are said to deliver 60% higher engagement ratings than the more prolific influencers with larger audiences.

International brands are already seeing their potential, with #SephoraSquad claiming to ignore follower counts when recruiting for their beauty influencer program. Instead they value “unique, unfiltered, sorry-not-sorry storytellers” when promoting their products to global audiences.

However, the cosmetics company recently served as a warning of the potential damages that come with influencer marketing. This month they publicly pulled their sponsorship of Olivia Jade, a teen social media influencer and YouTube star, following the college admissions scandal involving her mother, Lori Loughlin. Smaller influencers, therefore, come with a reduced risk on your brand’s overall image – after all, a regular small-town student blogging from their dorm room likely won’t be exposed by any major news outlets anytime soon.

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Consumers are also said to trust these micro-influencers more readily, now becoming well-aware of the significant pay-offs a well-established account receives for sponsored posts. This was seen in the Influencer Marketing 2020 Report, as 36% of millennials said that content produced by mid-tier and micro-influencers was more transparent and authentic than those with larger followings. This is often due to the style of the content being more relatable in comparison to the editorial-worthy photos of more notable users.

Furthermore, 61% of millennials surveyed said that one of the most common ways a digital influencer has impacted them was through introducing independent brands, and with the influencer market expected to hit between US$5-10bn by 2020, it’s worth partnering with those who may appear to provide a more transparent opinion. You shouldn’t necessarily expect an immediate sales boost though – Sarah Evans, Head of Digital at Bottle PR, said that “For most clients, influencer marketing is now more about awareness and consideration and reaching particular audiences.”

four girls holding cameras

Take a look at your current online following and see if there are any potential partners there with well-built social media profiles. Interact with them and encourage user-generated content by reposting the best images as well. Even if it doesn’t lead to an official partnership, moves like this can help build your brand’s credibility online. Once you do have an influencer or two on board, focus on Instagram over anything else – in March it was announced that the photo-sharing platform has now overtaken YouTube as the most influential social content site, largely thanks to brands moving towards more honest partnership disclosure.

And if you’re still unsure, Linqia, the performance-based influencer marketing company, also launched a new Intelligence Suite this month, enabling you to assess a marketer’s return on investment as well as advert effectiveness. We looked into how the world of influencers works.

Comedy for consumers

Even when brands aren’t getting involved with influencers, they’re still becoming increasingly engaged in current online trends – often through comedic or satirical adverts. Halo Top, the low-calorie ice cream company and digitally-native vertical brand, marked their first foray into traditional advertising this month through an advert appealing to their millennial customer base.

Their 'Ice Cream for Adults' campaign makes light of romantic relationships, with an ice cream van driver giving cynical life lessons to a young girl and boy. Providing the company with a personality that seems more knowable than the polished, perfected images other ice cream brands put out, it’s a trend that McDonald’s have also participated in previously. They revamped their 2017 'Madness' campaign this month with a new 'back to basics' advert, contrasting a hipster coffee connoisseur with the everyman enjoying their standard cup.

When brands aren't being self-deprecating, they're parodying others instead, with tech companies in particular being targeted recently. For example, UK-based bakery Greggs imitated Apple’s iPhone specification commercials when launching their vegan sausage roll in January, while March saw a slew of brands following suit in the wake of Samsung’s foldable phone launch. Domino’s debuted 'The Fold Hold' featuring two slices of pizza and a “built-in anti-spill mechanism,” and Singapore Tourism Board’s SG$1 ice cream sandwich satirically starred a slice of bread wrapped around the frozen treat.

macdonalds coffee cup

Terrence Voon, Director of Digital and Content at Singapore Tourism Board, noted that for companies to capitalize on current social media trends “we need to be agile and creative.” This involves creating content “at speed” through having a dedicated team that can “mine the latest trends and conversations for real-time insights.”

However, if you're looking to adopt this approach, you need to make sure you’re engaging in the right trends online, and investing only in those that your audience will recognize and find entertaining. This can involve talking with them directly on social media, following them and the other brands they’re already interested in across industries and generally making sure you’re tapped into current interest stories as they emerge.

New ways to pay

With brands using personality to cement their presence online, consumers are now buying more and more on the go. With that comes the rise of more portable payment options, resulting in 63.5% of all e-commerce sales around the world coming from mobile last year and 73% by 2021. However, that forecast figure may need revising after March saw Instagram announce the launch of their Checkout feature, allowing users to buy products directly from a brand’s post, without leaving the app.

This has helped position mobile at the center of global discussions on the topic with Italians witnessing a 650% surge in mobile payments in 2018, while China now reports one billion people using mobile wallets. As part of the more general trend away from cash, the Japanese Industry Ministry has joined up with Payments Japan Association to announce The Cashless Week event, coinciding with Japan's Golden Week holiday. Held from 27 April to 6 May, the campaign aims to incentivize cashless payments nationwide through offering reward points and coupons.

And while credit cards may still seem like the obvious alternative here, there are various options chipping away at the stake they hold globally in addition to mobile. For example, in Australia, consumers under the age of 30 hold the lion’s share of 'buy now, pay later' accounts, including Afterpay and zipMoney, while being responsible for just 10% of credit cards.

hand holding a mobile phone

Cryptocurrency is on the rise too, with Facebook tipped to be developing their own version that will work within the WhatsApp messaging service for transferring funds. And, as payment methods diversify, it’s important to offer as many relevant ones as possible for each region you sell to. 

Small businesses in Europe should also be aware of the Second Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which will become mandatory for all EU companies from September. A new legislation, it requires consumers to input another piece of information in addition to their written password for payment processing. By introducing another step, Suzie Miles, Senior Associate at Ashfords, explains how “This could be an added hurdle for customers, albeit a much needed one to reduce fraud.” The good news is, mobile payments already cover two-step authentication through their use of biometrics. This is just another reason to promote and support these portable wallets for your consumers, providing a seamless experience for all.

Sustainability is key

There’s no doubt about it – consumers everywhere are becoming more demanding of the brands they buy from. While in January we discussed how the vegan diet has crossed over into the mainstream, consumers are now extending their ethical concerns to every product they purchase, demanding to know exactly how its materials are sourced and the end result made. For sustainable fashion in particular, last year saw online searches jump by 66% according to Lyst. In response, The City of New York's Department of Sanitation launched their #WearNext campaign this month, guiding people to places where they can sell or recycle their old clothes.

Just like with veganism, such initiatives have become cool and worth bragging about – James Bond himself will even drive a fully electric car in his next movie for the first time.Greater transparency in your business’s supply chain is therefore key, but getting involved with sustainability initiatives that benefit the wider industry as well could prove a surprising boost to your bottom line.

Take Allbirds, the San Francisco-based footwear company. They recently launched their Treetopper shoe, made using eucalyptus fiber from sustainably grown trees, while their SweetFoam soles use sustainably sourced sugar cane as a key material. What makes them stand out from the increasingly crowded market is that they have made their SweetFoam technology freely available to other companies, hoping it will inspire an industry-wide shift in shoe production.  

pile of clothes on the floor

“If this is actually going to take hold and have an impact, it’s critical for this to scale beyond ourselves,” says Jad Finck, VP of Innovation & Sustainability at Allbirds. So, while it may seem to take away their competitive advantage, the reality is that such a bold move has warmed consumers to a brand that seemingly puts sustainability above sales – coming out on top in both respects.

Even if your business is not in a position to change its product right now, you should certainly be taking a look at your packaging and reducing how much plastic it requires. After all, this is the first thing consumers will see when buying your product in store – as well as opening it up at home. Excessive waste will quickly turn sustainable-minded shoppers off your brand, and with big names like Nestlé unveiling their first plastic-free packaging recently, the pressure is mounting to keep up. We've made steps here at DHL to go green, take a look at our progress to sustainability here.

Women in business

8 March marked International Women’s Day where we examined how e-commerce has created more opportunities for women to excel, but the month itself saw several significant events taking place with regards to gender. Yelp, the restaurants and shopping review app, launched a new feature that allows consumers to see if a business is women-owned, with the information listed alongside features such as 'gender-neutral restrooms' and 'accepts credit cards'. Miriam Warren, Yelp’s Vice President of Engagement, Diversity and Belonging, said that she hopes this move “drives more dollars directly to the bottom line for these female-owned businesses.”

Tech developers are now also getting involved with gender and sexuality issues, with Vice Media’s creative agency Virtue producing the first genderless voice to be used in AI products. Known simply as 'Q', by extending such inclusivity into the digital world, this new persona aims to move away from assigning specific genders to fit certain scenarios. For example, typically “a male voice is used in more authoritative roles, such as banking and insurance apps and a female voice in more service-oriented roles, such as Alexa and Siri,” states Q’s website.

woman in glasses smiling

While your SME's offerings may not be revolutionizing technology currently, all businesses can benefit from sharing their progressive views on the topic where relevant – whether that’s through social media posts or packaging copy. This is particularly true of Swedish, Icelandic and Norweigan businesses, with these countries found by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to be global leaders in gender parity – largely thanks to their vocal Generation Z.

Always remember to be particularly mindful of the pronouns you are using too. In Germany, for example, debate currently rages over attempts to gender-neutralize the German language, following the constitutional introduction of a third gender. However, for businesses selling to younger generations, it is important that you recognize how they're becoming more adept at using and responding to the non-exclusive 'they/them' terms. Similarly adopting these may be a safer bet to prevent causing any offense online. 

Looking forward

In April, focuses surrounding gender equality will likely continue – with Equal Pay Day taking place on 2 April – so this may be a good time to revise your own business practices and forefront your position to consumers. Meanwhile, for those in digital healthcare, The HealthTech Summit will take place in Pennsylvania next month, offering a look at the new and emerging technologies that promise to shake up the industry. As with any significant event, be sure to stay up to date on the latest innovations that may require your attention.

While it's not possible to truly know what is up ahead – especially with ongoing Brexit negotiations and their potential impact on all EU members – at DHL Express we've learned to continuously reassess the market and its challenges, in order to deliver the best possible service to our customers. Capable of shipping to over 220 countries and territories, get in touch with DHL Express today to discuss your business's evolving global options.

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