A look at e-commerce in 2014, continuing the series of cyblerlaw predictions for the coming year.
1) Tablet-first design will become the norm
New websites are increasingly designed to be responsive, but the default template still tends to be for desktop. However, tablets are fast becoming the internet-enabled device of choice and they’re set to overtake PCs by 2016, according to research company IDC. Couple this with very convincing conversion rates (at least equal to PCs at 2.54 per cent), and it’s clear that retailers will have to start considering tablet devices as most important from a design perspective. It’s a much smarter way to work – on the whole, tablet experiences can adapt perfectly for desktop users, whereas this is less likely to be the case the other way round.
2) Wearables will go mainstream and Personal Area Networks will make a comeback
Early adopters have been quick to take to the wearable tech which is currently available - Pebble, Galaxy Gear, Fitbit, Nike+ and so on. 2014 should see it cross over into the mainstream, possibly overnight if (self-proclaimed) arbiter of innovation Apple announces the much-anticipated iWatch. And, Personal Area Networks, introduced when Bluetooth first made an appearance, will come to the fore again as networks comprising numerous wearable sensors linked to the internet via smartphones become a more feasible reality, thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy.
3) Location and identification will enable personalised, seamless retail journeys
iBeacons are essentially ‘GPS for indoors’, which allow for personalised, micro-location–based notifications and alerts. Already in close to 200 million iPhones and iPads, this low-cost, high-impact technology will be a big deal in 2014. Apple has already introduced iBeacons to its US stores, and smart retailers are already making plans to follow suit. The technology has the power to revolutionise retail in an exciting way – expect to see widespread adoption over the next 12 months.
However, while hands-free payment systems such as PayPal Beacon will reach live trials by mid-2014, they’ll be slow to roll out due to the need for customer education and business integration, and will struggle to take off until 2015.
4) The mWallet war goes on
Over the last couple of years, a number of industry consortia have got together to try and come up with a definitive mobile wallet solution – identification and verification by card proxies, phone numbers, user names – the list goes on. The format war still won’t be won in 2014, and there still won’t be a convincing reason why customers should use mWallets, or why retailers should invest in a system which could turn out to be the equivalent of Betamax.
5) Consumers will learn the value of data and privacy
Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about their digital presence, and are more aware than ever before of the value of their personal data to advertisers. As a result, they will increasingly ask what’s in it for them, and will expect a much clearer value exchange before sharing their details with retailers and websites. And we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the NSA leaks and ‘intrusive’ initiatives such as the Tesco facial recognition screens. Privacy scares will become the norm for new technologies (led by a backlash against Google Glass) and businesses will need to tread carefully and make sure they fully explain the consumer benefit of digital technology if they’re to avoid being painted as ‘big brother’ with sinister motives.
6) Digital permanence - social networks shift towards private networks
Concerns about privacy will also filter through to social networks. Younger users in particular performed a sudden about-turn in 2013, and are now the most switched on to the fact that what they post online will live forever on social networks. And, of course, their parents are on Facebook now, which means that there will be a permanent shift among youths to more private, ephemeral, ‘narrow-cast’ messaging via services such as Snapchat or Whatsapp. Instagram and Twitter are taking steps to follow suit in 2014. The ethos behind these platforms is completely at odds with advertising – any promotional activity would be tantamount to brands ‘barging into’ private conversations – and retailers will have to get creative in order to reach these users without alienating them.
7) Consumer technology will become enterprise technology
Currently, consumer tech, particularly in mobile, is better in almost every way than its traditional ‘enterprise’ counterpart. Over 2014, it will become increasingly obvious that adopting consumer technology on an industrial level is the way forward – it has superior UX, it’s more familiar and preferred by users, it’s easier to use, easier to replace, and easier to develop for – all at a lower cost. The logical upshot of this is that tablets will be visible in the majority of major UK retailers by 2015, and cutting edge stores will be using Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technology, mirroring the trend which took hold in offices over the last 18 months or so.
8) 1 in 5 in-store checkouts will take place on a mobile or tablet device by 2015
As the tide turns in favour of mobile and tablet devices for internet access in general and shopping activities in particular, there will be a sea change in the way both consumers and retailers experience the purchase journey. Businesses will implement multi-device solutions which offer the same slick technology to sales staff as they currently offer to customers, empowering employees to increase sales and enhance operational performance. The result will be widespread use of mobile checkouts and increased opportunities for sales at each touchpoint on the path to purchase. As the recent report from Retail Systems Research suggests, it’s a case of ‘get over it, and get on with it’.
Of course, this can only be a view of the future from the final days of 2013. Advances in technology happen so rapidly that there’s no way to have total confidence about what’s round the corner, but at the very least these predictions have a healthy grounding in reality and experience – with enough ballast to weather the storms to come.