How Digital Shopping Will Evolve: Three Trends To Watch

A year ago last month, digital shopping began to surge as stay-at-home orders related to the Covid-19 pandemic rolled out across the U.S. Now, as widespread vaccinations raise hopes of a more normal future, I can already see some trends taking shape on how digital shopping will continue to evolve throughout 2021 and what this means for retail and brand technology teams.

1. Livestream shopping’s moment has come.

Livestream shopping — using live video to engage remotely with customers and present and sell products — seemed to burst onto the scene in 2020 as a retail solution tailor-made for social distancing. As the National Retail Federation recently pointed out, “livestreaming is the closest many retailers and brands have been able to come to physically connecting with their customers during the pandemic.”

But the livestream shopping trend has actually been building for years. It started in the mid-2010s in Asia, then spread to Europe and North America. In fact, the core model has existed for decades, led by companies like mine that pioneered interactive video commerce on TV and then brought this model to new platforms as they emerged. Today, digital media consumption is exploding, and the list of video platforms has become immense — from websites and mobile apps to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Roku, Hulu + Live TV and many more.

As more retailers, brands and tech companies jump into livestream shopping, sales in this sector are expected to double to approximately $120 billion worldwide in 2021. This may rise further as purchasing within video shopping experiences becomes easier. For example, both LG ShopTime and Facebook Live Shopping offer purchasing options via their apps. My company’s mobile apps already offer fully transactional livestreams, and we plan to add in-app purchasing to our video streaming service shortly.

I believe this livestream shopping trend will endure long after the pandemic, so every retail or brand technology team should be considering this model for their business. Strategic planning now can help develop the infrastructure and company-wide buy-in necessary to capitalize on this trend as it grows.

2. The future of retail spans multiple platforms.

For several years now, consumers have been moving toward a multichannel view of how they want to engage with their favorite retailers and brands, connecting physical and virtual touchpoints. The past year has supercharged this trend, and it will only continue to grow.

Retailers and brands need to be everywhere consumers are, on every device or app, 24/7, with personalized experiences that reflect each consumer’s individual interests. We must deliver content that is both targeted by platform and integrated across platforms, so customers can move seamlessly with us across devices and apps and still be recognized as individuals in every interaction.

Through such tools as advanced AI and digital marketing platforms, retailers and brands are becoming more sophisticated about reaching consumers in new places with products and experiences tailored to their buying behavior. The previous distinctions between “brick and mortar,” “e-commerce” and “direct to consumer” are disappearing. To deliver truly multichannel experiences, retailers and brands will need to expand their technology further to reimagine every step in the customer’s journey — from discovery and browsing to purchase, retention and advocacy.

Consider, for example, a customer walking past a store who, a few days earlier, had watched an Instagram Reel about a product there. What if, at that moment, the customer’s app offered them step-by-step directions to find the product on the shelf? This would require massive data analysis in real time, but it’s coming and technology teams will be critical to bringing it to life.

3. Rise of the ‘every person’ influencer.

Shopping is an inherently social experience, even in a multichannel world. Consumers increasingly look to their peers — family, friends, neighbors and other customers — for ideas and validation. Thousands of “average people” are using social and other collaboration platforms to become microinfluencers.

Companies can also tap these technologies to turn their most passionate customers into organic influencers. This may mean developing online libraries with assets that these customer-advocates can share with their networks. Or it may mean creating digital spaces where customers can post about their latest shopping discoveries in new ways. For example, my technology team is helping our business pilot an app that allows every customer to host their own livestream or on-demand show and broadcast it to our entire community.

The opportunities presented by these three technology trends share one important feature: Seizing them will require business-wide collaboration, involving multiple departments and centers of expertise. So if these trends excite you, your next step is to talk with colleagues beyond your own team. Like every other “technology initiative,” the key to success will be your partnership with the business.

Courtesy of: Karen Etzkorn