Written by – Ranuli at Omebiz
E-Commerce platforms have skyrocketed to whole new levels over the past few years and are carving out a larger share of the retail pie with each passing day.
The shifting consumer patterns and continuous advancements in technology have strengthened the foundation of modern e-commerce retail. The digitally-savvy and perceptive online shopper expects new features and functionality to deliver a compelling online shopping experience. An increasing number of us are choosing the e-commerce option rather than actually visiting physical stores.
In 2017, it was concluded that an estimated 1.66 billion people worldwide purchase products online. In the same year, retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to 2.3 trillion US dollars, that is, 10.2% of all the retail sales worldwide. By the end of this year, the e-commerce market share is expected to boost to 11.9%!
Here are some insights into how E-Commerce companies are taking the retail sector by storm:
Artificial Technology is Disrupting E-commerce as We Know It!
Machine Learning Algorithms
Have you noticed how much content Amazon, or Alibaba, or eBay provide? They are not exactly minimalist sites.
Amazon uses machine learning algorithms to predict what products that customers prefer the most and to provide customized recommendations based on the customer’s searches. Machine learning is able to use the smallest piece of data about every hover or followed link to personalize on a deeper level. It has been estimated that Amazon’s recommendation engine drives 35 percent of total sales.
eBay has recently added similar technology but is upping the ante by allowing users to share images from social media or websites in order to find similar products for auction on the site.
Virtual assistants are another lucrative application of AI that e-commerce companies have taken on. Amazon’s Alexa was first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126.
In April, Amazon unveiled the Amazon Echo Look, a new voice-driven intelligent assistant device. It comes equipped with a camera that is intended to be used to take wardrobe photos that can be compiled into Look Books. In addition, the Echo Look is integrated with Amazon Style Check, which uses machine learning and human feedback to help individuals decide which outfits to wear.
In the same vein, Alibaba attempts to compete with Amazon with the launch of Tmall Genie, a very similar product to the Amazon Echo. The voice-activated AI assistant debuted in July 2017. Currently, the device is only available in China and is programmed to receive commands in the Mandarin language.
E-commerce companies are now blurring the lines between the brick and mortar and online to take advantage of both. They prefer to have the physical presence as well so that customers can look and touch the merchandise but at the same time have the online experience which is more convenient and cheaper.
Amazon Inc, opened their first physical store, Amazon Go, in their headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Amazon Go is an emerging initiative that came along with the company’s push into the grocery industry through the acquisition of Whole Foods Market. The company uses AI technology and sensors to track when products are removed from and returned to the shelves. Products are tracked in a virtual cart and customers are charged via their Amazon accounts eliminating the need for a traditional check-out system. Currently, only four of these stores are in operation.
Alibaba launched their first AI fashion store in partnership with the global fashion retailer GUESS in Hong Kong. The store does not look all that different from a regular clothing store, however, once inside, the clothing racks are RFID enable with gyro-sensors and Bluetooth low-energy chips. This implies that any clothing article that the shopper picks up will be displayed on a smart screen. Alibaba is now looking to further expand this new venture by bringing in increased omnichannel capability, through the addition of a new “Virtual Wardrobe” feature to its Mobile Taobao app.
Alibaba has also launched their Hema Supermarkets that operate in a similar manner. Shopping at Hema is a smartphone-powered experience that can be done from both home and in store.
Moreover, the company is now rolling out auto-vending machines. It recently launched its first with Ford in the bustling southern city of Guangzhou and plans more in the near-future. The Ford auto vending machine lets customers browse makes and models inside their app, choose one they want to test drive, pick it up from an unmanned vending machine and drive it for up to three days.
E-Commerce Perceives Retail as an Entertainment
E-commerce has now transformed retail shopping into a form of entertainment. It has become a social activity for the mobile-savvy e-commerce consumer. Taking advantage of this newly defined concept, Alibaba introduced their “See Now, Buy Now!” online fashion shows. During these shows, the audience can purchase outfits using a purchase link shown on the left side of the screen Taobao or Tmall, or simply shake their phones to go to the product page if the viewer is watching from home. The viewers are given access to a virtual fitting room where they can upload their photo and fill in their details to try on and preview new looks!
Private label has emerged as a viable way for online sellers to start off their business. When a company owns a brand or label it creates an identity of its own which can drive large volumes of sales. Amazon Inc has filed for a series of trademarks that suggest the company is planning to roll out more clothing brands, part of its bid to become a bigger fashion destination.
The company now has roughly 100 private-label brands for sale on its huge online marketplace, of which more than five dozen have been introduced in the past year alone. But few of those are sold under the Amazon brand. Most of the clothing is priced below $100 and has only been available for the past few months. Examples:
- Franklin & Freeman – Men’s dress shoes
- Franklin Tailored – Men’s suits and accessories
- James & Erin – Women’s clothing
Convenience trumps it all!
E-commerce companies have become more customer focused and are continuously striving to improve customer satisfaction and increase delivery efficiency whilst reducing shipping costs. For an instance, Amazon is now implementing Prime Air delivery drones. In December 2016, Prime Air was launched in a private trail in the United Kingdom. Amazon claims the drone successfully delivered its first 5 lbs package within 30 minutes. In addition to this, Amazon has also debuted its first branded cargo plane, Amazon One.
Consequently, Amazon is taking great strides toward customer convenience,
Amazon Prime Now has also taken a giant step further, providing same-day delivery to dozens of metropolitan areas. To further enhance their delivery, Amazon has also launched, Flex, an Uber-like system of independent drivers. Flex is able to cater to one out of four Americans in an hour or less.
In 2008, Amazon officially launched AmazonFresh, a home grocery delivery service available in a number of major U.S. cities as well as a handful of others globally. These allow customers to order grocery items on time, schedule a pickup time and have the items loaded into their cars.
Consequently, Alibaba along with its logistics arm, Cainiao Network, currently offers one day and next day delivery for their customers. However, in the longer run, they are planning to improve this further by putting 1 million smart logistics vehicles into the market to cope with exploding delivery volumes in the future – expected to reach 1 billion a day within a decade.
E-commerce will not obliterate all retail trade, rather it is changing the retail game. Consider the change already wrought across the world, where e-commerce accounts for about one-tenth of retail spending. If that share were to rise to one-fifth, let alone one-third, the effects would be vast.
Furthermore, the majority of the e-commerce companies today are looking to expand their operations and take their e-commerce expertise global, especially Amazon and Alibaba. Currently, Amazon dominates North America and Europe while Alibaba controls China and has made a web of strategic partnerships and investments in Southeast Asia. Outside the US and China, Alibaba has taken a minority stake in twice as many companies as Amazon, while Amazon has acquired 5 times more companies than Alibaba.
In the longer run, the impact of e-commerce will not be limited to the conventional retail industry it is increasingly replacing. It will also change how consumers spend their days, transform the landscape, disrupt workers’ lives and reshape governments’ view of corporate power.