How is technology improving ecommerce? Aside from the fact that ecommerce is technology, a lot of new inventions and improvements have implications that directly affect — and boost — the
ecommerce industry. Many recent topics in science journals, from AI to cryptocurrency, are already helping online retailers make more sales.
So which tech should you keep your eyes on, and how can you use them for your ecommerce brand? Below we outline 4 of the more relevant technologies affecting online retail — artificial intelligence, augmented reality, alternative payment methods, and automation — plus how you can use them yourself.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has been trending in the news for years now, and its recent leaps have already advanced quite a few areas, from space exploration to calming road rage. While many people conflate AI with scary killer robots, the broader definition includes any machine-learning device or algorithm — something that can look at data and draw its own conclusions, just like a human.
Ecommerce Uses for AI:
Recommendations Engine — As long as it doesn’t invade their privacy, online shoppers love personalization. If an algorithm can accurately suggest products based on a person’s tastes (or at least previous products they’ve looked at), it saves the shoppers time searching for the products themselves, and may even tell them about products they may not have known existed in the first place.
ChatBots — One of the biggest advantages brick-and-mortar stores have over ecommerce is sales reps who can answer specific shopper questions in real-time. The ecommerce industry is rectifying this with chatbots, who can answer a range of questions with pre-programmed responses. Although not as personal as human reps, chatbots are cheaper and can work 24/7 to help shoppers around the clock.
2. Augmented Reality
The halfway point between virtual reality and actual reality, augmented reality (or AR) involves manipulating real-time video to create something that mixes fact and fiction. This technology is highly dependent on smartphones, which come intact with both cameras and video players, and often come packaged within apps. The popular Pokemon Go phenomenon showcased just what AR could do, but the field has since advanced and expanded outside of gaming — and into ecommerce. For more information and best practices, read our complete guide to augmented reality for ecommerce.
Ecommerce Uses for AR:
At-Home Placement Apps — If you can get shoppers to picture a new product in their home, you’re a step closer to a sale… so what if they can see it with their own eyes? Popular with furniture and home decor retailers, AR apps can superimpose realistic images of products in whatever room the user films, even saving time (and physical labor!) in testing different spots or locations digitally.
Virtual Fitting Rooms — Just like you can visualize what certain furniture would look like in a certain corner, you can get an idea of what some apparel would like on you. Using the camera on themselves, shoppers can “try on” different clothes, even mixing-and-matching to create entire outfits.
Pop-up Stores or Events — More of a promotional tactic, brands that host pop-up stores or events gather shoppers in a specific location to buy products or receive gifts. These campaigns can make the shopping experience more fun and reward loyal customers with special discounts or coupons.
3. Alternative Payment Options
Credit cards are so twentieth century — which makes paper money from the stone age! New and improved payment options keep cropping up, each one better than the last. Some offer more security, others offer more convenience, while still others grant access to exclusive stores or markets. If you want to reach more people and gain their business, you have to accept their preferred payment method.
Ecommerce Uses for Alternative Payment Options:
Virtual Wallets — From Google Pay to Apply Pay to PayPal to Venmo, people are stashing their money everywhere except leather wallets. Chances are you may not have the option to offer all of these options in your online stores, so check your user analytics to see which methods are most popular, or ask your customers directly which they prefer with an on-site or email survey.
Cryptocurrency — Although they seem to come and go in waves, cryptocurrencies aren’t going away. These are not as mainstream as virtual wallets, but rather tend to operate in niche communities (often tech-savvy ones). If your target customers happen to be in that niche, they’d greatly appreciate the chance to pay with their preferred currency, to the point where you can win over business from competitors who don’t accept it.
Since our ancestors first used a stone to crack nuts instead of their fingers, technology has been making our work easier. Today that equates to digital automation, where we can computerize tasks instead of doing them manually, handling them faster, cheaper, and with less risk of human error. Automation takes many forms, but for ecommerce it’s mostly about taking care of the “busy work” to free you up for more managerial decisions.
Ecommerce Uses for Automation:
Inventory Management Software — Any ecommerce business constantly has products and orders coming and going in all directions. Keeping track of both orders and stock levels simultaneously can be difficult, exponentially so the more sales you make. That’s where inventory management software like ecomdash comes in handy: you can check your inventory at a glance with a click of the button and have your online stock levels automatically updated — a huge time-saver if you’re selling on multiple channels.
Email Marketing Software — Keeping track of all customer email addresses past and present can be just as hard as keeping track of products. Automated email marketing software not only makes it easy to send bulk emails, they also help in collecting email addresses and applying more stylish graphics to the emails themselves. At advanced levels, you can even segment customers into groups, so you can send specific and personalized emails that are also relevant.
What Tech Are You Looking Forward To?
This is an exciting time for digital industries like ecommerce, with a lot of new advancements crossing the horizon. Which ones are you looking forward to most? Are there any you’re confused about? Feel free to ask us anything in the comments section below. We want to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published April 2019 and was updated in September 2020 to reflect more accurate and relevant information.