3 trends that will change online retail marketing in 2018

By: Saima Alibhai

You might find that technology, online retail, and marketing change at such speed that it seems impossible to know what’s coming next, what’s a vital development, and what’s just a flash in the pan.

The good news is there are some things you can more or less count on.

In this article, you’ll learn what those things are, and how to use them to set your business apart from the rest in 2018:

  • How technology is changing shopping behaviour
  • How artificial intelligence and technologies like browserless commerce will evolve
  • How to connect with customers through more sophisticated marketing automation

Technology is changing the way we shop

Retail is changing fast, and unsurprisingly, the key driver is our increasingly connected world. Disruptive technologies and the ever-growing role of mobile are inevitably changing how customers shop and interact with brands.

Mobile Commerce

Phones are omnipresent, and the opportunity for retailers to be in their customers' pockets at all times is very exciting. According to Total Retail 2017, 11% of shoppers are shopping weekly on mobiles compared to 16% on PC. 3% of respondents even use mobiles to shop on a daily basis.

But it’s not just mobile per se that is changing customer behaviour. Disruptive apps and services are also having a huge impact on consumer expectations and how they interact with brands. Because of companies like Uber and Deliveroo, people are used to the instant delivery of goods and services at the push of a button. In this customer-centric world, it’s more important than ever to know what the customer wants before they know it themselves.

Given that mobile devices are also increasingly used during trips to bricks-and-mortar stores, you need to consider the value they bring to the consumer. When a customer is standing in front of a product in your store, what can you offer that would compel them to buy even if the price comparison suggests a competitor? There are many ways to engage a shopper besides price. Convenience, customer service and help in the buying process are just a few.

Browserless Commerce

The advent of browserless retail, through voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Alexa Echo, will also mean a change in how consumers interact. Voice-activated assistance will no doubt continue to grow. That could result in less time to convert your customer, as they have other ways to access the web. Today, we buy on a screen. In a couple of years, Siri, Alexa and similar AI programmes might be doing most of the shopping for us.

So, what does this mean for your business?

If you sell anything that relies heavily on visual references, such as clothing, jewellery or furniture, you’ll be less impacted right away. Shoppers are not going to trust a voice assistant to find and order the best black wool coat in size 8 under £200 – not yet anyways.

But years ago, we didn’t think people would be browsing and buying from the small screen of their mobile phone, so don’t discount the future possibility of browserless shopping connecting to visuals. A spoken command could open a synced TV through a device like a Fire Stick or the Echo Show, and allow consumers to visually browse products initiated by speech. Their voice could control the navigation, allowing them to choose the product they want.

So even if this browserless future seems kind of out there, it’s important to think about this channel and how your brand or company can make it work. Shopping via voice may seem unnatural for most of us, but it won’t be for our children who are growing up with this technology.


Speaking of which:

There’s more new tech that will soon be normal.

Machine learning allows you to do more with your data

Accenture predicts that by 2035, the wholesale and retail industries will see a 59% share of profit increase due to AI-powered systems. The technology offers the opportunity to enhance the consumer experience and offer better, more targeted communication. The aim of personalisation has always been to promote loyalty and trust, and building closer relationships is going to be even more important in 2018.

The foundation for any personalisation project is a good customer data structure. Remember: your personalised offering can only ever be as good as the data underpinning it. But it’s no easy task. In the Total Retail 2017 report, 39% of retailers said the ability to turn customer data into intelligent and actionable insights was one of their biggest challenges. You need the right tools to glean insights from your data and provide dynamic content at the right time.

Done right, machine learning and AI can drive incremental revenue growth from your retained customer base. The technology will play a big role in 2018, helping retailers understand what customers like, predicting what they’re likely to buy next and turning that data into intelligent product recommendations on the web, in app and in emails.

Eventually, this will progress to propensity modelling – allowing you to better forecast when a customer will potentially make their next purchase, what they might be most likely to buy and what will incentivise them to buy. Ideally, this will be completely automated, from the logic through to the communication.

But that’s not all:

That data will help you connect with shoppers in a far more meaningful way.

Marketing automation makes emails more personal than ever

Boston Consulting Group found that those brands that are already creating personalised experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and data are seeing revenue increases of 6 to 10% - two to three times faster than those who don’t.

The role of email – and its ability to connect with the consumer – has developed in recent years. Marketing automation has moved the communication from B2B and B2C to H2H (human-to-human), making communications more relevant. Once used to blast a single newsletter to an entire database, it’s now much more personalised and increasingly targeted to the user’s wants and needs. Today, marketing automation lets retailers pick up on browsing history, basket abandonment and purchase history, amongst many other triggers, to deliver one-to-one communications at scale.

So how can you bring your email marketing to the next level in the new year?

Tackle your existing programme first

Implement and perfect one tactic at a time. Even small changes, such as sending triggered messages or segmenting customers by gender, will give you a noticeable lift in online revenue.

Focus on what appeals to customers rather than what you want to say

The most effective loyalty strategy you can have is showing customers they are important to you, removing friction, helping them when they need it and being relevant by knowing them. Part of this is ensuring that every message isn’t necessarily ‘buy this, buy that’ but more of a digital dialogue, such as a thank you email, a birthday wish or even a competition.

Take it to the next level with recommendations

The next step is using the information available to you – what the shopper is buying, browsing and/or moving to a basket – to recommend other relevant products. This requires an even deeper understanding of individual customers.

By pairing predictive modeling with selected business rules, you can easily integrate personalised recommendations into your newsletter and on your website. Or up-sell and cross-sell in your browse and basket recovery messages, order confirmations and post-purchase follow-ups. Or bring back lapsed purchasers with products chosen just for them.

Looking forward

Getting closer to customers and providing a better shopping experience online remains a key target in 2018. Retailers looking to drive loyalty, trust and differentiation through personalisation – via technologies such as marketing automation, AI and machine learning – will stand out from the competition, connect better with their customers and maximise revenue in 2018.


By Saima Alibhai, Managing Principal Consultant EMEA, Oracle + Bronto

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