What Is the Future of Ecommerce in 2018 and Beyond? 10 Trends

What Is the Future of Ecommerce in 2018 and Beyond? 10 Trends

Next year, retail mega-giant Amazon will turn 25 years old.

Already commanding 37% of the ecommerce market, latest projections — compiled by Sellbrite — estimate the conglomerate will be responsible for half of all online sales within three years.

In light of those numbers, it’s easy to forget that — in the grand scheme of the commerce universe — both ecommerce and Amazon are still in their infancy. (As Jeff Bezos likes to say, it’s always “Day 1” at his company.)

Despite futuristic advances like two-hour delivery and a new drone service, long-term success starts with knowing the fundamental market opportunities and potential points of friction.

What is the future of ecommerce for 2018 and beyond? 10 trends offer the answer …
  1. Ecommerce Is Growing But Is Only 11.9% of Retail
  2. Multi-Channel Ecommerce Enables Anywhere Buying
  3. Ecommerce Automation Is an Accessible Reality
  4. Mobile Is the New Normal but Adds Purchase Complexities
  5. Native Social-Selling Is Finally Delivering Results
  6. International Ecommerce Remains Largely Untapped
  7. Micro-Moments Are the New Battleground for Optimization
  8. Content Is the Holy Grail of Ecommerce Engagement
  9. B2B Ecommerce Dwarfs B2C by Over $5 Trillion
  10. Fragmentation Is Ecommerce’s Biggest Challenge

Want the best insights on your industry?

Keep reading to unearth the big-picture trends shaping the future of ecommerce, but …

If you’d like an in-depth look at your vertical in particular, we’ve created the Shopify Plus Ecommerce Industry Reports — full of the latest data, insights, and imagination.

Whatever the future of your industry holds, you can grab each report right here …

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Beauty & Cosmetics

Toys & Children Products

1. Ecommerce Is Growing but Only Represents 11.9% of Retail Sales

Ecommerce market share in 2018, as a percentage of all retail sales, is expected to increase to 11.9% — up from 3.5% a decade ago.

But brick and mortar is still a dominant player by a landslide.

Data via Statista
Fast growth plus relatively low market share means that there is still enormous opportunity for new players to outpace traditional industry leaders.

High-growth businesses need to watch who’s emerging, track who’s loved, and research how to be successful in both business and life. To capitalize on this trend in particular, companies must also focus on optimizing their in-store experiences in conjunction with their ecommerce expressions.


For inspiration, take a look at the recent movement among ecommerce businesses to open brick-and-mortar storefronts.

Companies can use online to offline (O2O) commerce to breathe physical life into digital experiences. Alternatively, retail giants — like YM Inc. — are investing in offline to online through Shopify Plus in order to “provide shoppers a digital experience to match YM’s distinctive in-store feel.”

At the core of each stands a single word: omni-channel. To dig deeper, check out …

2. Multi-Channel Ecommerce Enables Anywhere Buying

I probably hate this word more than you do: touchpoint.

I hate everything about it — its lack of clarity, the fact that it’s become one word, and the fact that we all use it now.

And yet, that generic, inconsistent, confusing, word is so pervasive (yech! — another one of my least favorites) because it so aptly describes any individual person’s convoluted journey to purchase.

It might start on a Pinterest feed, or when someone sees their friend’s jacket. It might end after a search at the store, or at a buy button through Facebook. Most people (86%) shop around on at least two touchpoints (i.e., channels).

The good news is shoppers that do this tend to spend more. Javelin Strategy predicts that mobile commerce, accounting for $161 billion at the end of 2016, is set to jump to $319 billion by 2020.

I’d previously written about the solution to all this confusion:

Multi-channel management is the art and science behind decoding the subtle nuances of who, what, where, when and why people are buying from you on each individual channel you sell your products on.

“It’s about creating balance, and understanding when and where to amplify and show restraint throughout your channel mix, so you won’t overwhelm your following or burn your marketing dollars trying to convert people when they’re not interested.

“It’s about finding opportunities in your data, and implementing creative or budget changes to capitalize when the opportunity arises.”

Yet even though this discipline sounds simple enough, it brings its own challenges.

Managing multiple channels can be confusing unless it’s all consolidated into one system. That doesn’t come easy … nearly a third of retailers lack “the inventory visibility across stores, vendors, and warehouses in order to accurately promise multi-channel fulfillment.”

Attempting multi-channel without properly setting up and maintaining your inventory management system is futile. And no strategy is worth anything if you can’t measure results — so you’ll need multi-channel attribution.

If you’re looking to survive — and thrive — in the future of ecommerce, you’ll need to build your store on infrastructure that can manage and maintain multichannel retailing with minimal manual input from you.

Multi-channel ecommerce is one of the keys to the future of ecommerce

For an executive summary of this trend, download The Enterprise Guide to Multi-Channel Ecommerce

3. Ecommerce Automation Is Now an Accessible Reality

If your business had a secret to save time, lower costs, and sell more, would you tell anyone?

A decade ago, that secret was marketing automation. Enterprises like Amazon, Walmart, and Costco — with the resources for large-scale research and development — built empires on its back.

Today, a new secret for the future of ecommerce is emerging: automation.

Not surprisingly, entrepreneurs at the forefront are staying tight-lipped. In fact, search data from Google Trends displays just how lean the chatter is:

Ecommerce automation is part of the future ecommerce and its present

Image via Google Trends

The reasons for this silence lay on two fronts. To start, no ecommerce platform has offered comprehensive automation as an accessible feature. Companies that are automating have either created their own in-house processes — at great financial cost — or cobbled together mix-and-match workarounds with third-party applications.

No platform, until now. Three tools are unleashing ecommerce automation at Shopify Plus.

(1) Shopify Flow

Shopify Flow is a three-step visual builder that enables you to automate any customer-facing or back-office process you can think of. By specifying triggers, conditions, and actions, you can create your own processes or — even simpler — download and install a growing number of ready-made workflows … all without any coding.

(2) Launchpad

Launchpad is a command center for major commerce events: like flash sales, product releases, and special celebrations. Schedule everything on your to-do list long before big days arrive and take the guesswork and heavy-lifting out of driving revenue to your store.

(3) Shopify Scripts

Shopify Scripts lets you add automatic discounts, relevant payment options, and specialized shipping options to create a customized checkout experience for each customer. Scripts offers fine-grain control over your customer’s cart and is an exercise in optimizing closest to the money.

Together, Shopify Flow, Launchpad, and Shopify Scripts make saving time, lowering costs, and selling more with automation not only possible but easy.

4. Mobile Is the New Normal but Adds Purchase Complexities

In the last two years, you’ve probably seen your mobile traffic outpace or at least come close to your desktop traffic. Over 2017 Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to data from Adobe, while 46% of all BFCM traffic came through mobile devices, only 30% of sales closed there.

People browse on mobile, but they still buy on desktop.

Against that broad industry reality, Shopify saw mobile sales account for 64% of BFCM sales, an increase of 10% year-over-year.

What accounts for Shopify businesses beating the average ecommerce mobile conversion rate by over double?

Part of the answer lies in Shopify’s approach to mobile ecommerce design and optimization: meaning all Shopify stores are built for mobile from the ground up.

Of course, today, most sites are responsive and mobile friendly in their design … that’s why what makes Shopify merchants uniquely positioned for the future of ecommerce is our approach to mobile first payments.

Take something like Shopify Pay. During BFCM, over 400,000 people spent over $30 million 3x faster using Shopify Pay.

Shopify Pay's mobile-first approach is a perfect fit for the future of ecommerce

As Alan Cassinelli — Director of Marketing at Peel, who saw their conversion rate double on Shopify Plus over BFCM — puts it:

“Accelerated checkouts really take advantage of the new technologies we have to purchase. It doesn’t make sense to have to re-enter the same information over and over again across all of the Internet.”

“It’s kind of like going into your favorite coffee shop, and they all already know what your order is going to be. It’s a more personal experience. You’re not just some random person on the web. It’s just more convenient and, as everyone knows, convenience is the number one driving factor of ecommerce.”

Despite the rising prevalence of mobile, retailers are still trying to figure it all out. For one, consumers aren’t just browsing content on mobile: they’re making purchases. In the U.K., for instance, mobile spending tripled in the first half of 2017.

Some people are window shopping and others are comfortable enough with their phones to make purchases. Rather than tracking these variations in behavior, ecommerce stores should focus on making their on-site experiences as easy to use as possible.

5. Native Social-Selling Is Finally Delivering

By the time you read this, Instagram will have over a billion monthly active users.

According to Flurry, the average digital adult spends 5 hours per day on their devices and “50% of time-spent is in social, messaging, media and entertainment applications.”

And a good slice of them are buying — 18.2% of respondents to this September 2016 survey have purchased products directly via social media. Even more will buy in the coming years, as these early adopters vet and validate the experience.

MVMT Watches has already succeeded with social selling, directly generating $15,000 in revenue with 1,500 people visiting their Facebook shop in a week.

“This is a very similar conversion rate to what we saw at the beginning of the shift to mobile,” says Blake Pinsker, MVMT’s director of brand and retention marketing. “Our mobile conversion rate more than doubled as people got comfortable purchasing from their phones and we think the potential for growth on our Facebook shop is similar as people become more familiar with the platform.”

Similarly, selling on Instagram has proved fruitful for ORO LA. “Since launching Shopping on Instagram, ORO LA has already seen a 29.3% lift in month-over-month revenue directly attributable to Instagram.”

Imagine if the results from selling on social even come close to selling on mobile. Think twice about ignoring this trend. Don’t let it slip through your hands.

6. International Ecommerce Remains Largely Untapped

According to McKinsey, 1.4 billion people will join the global middle class by 2020, and 85% will be in the Asia Pacific region. CPG and retailers who enter this space early will have a competitive advantage in meeting market demand.

The William Wrigley Jr. Company, a popular chewing gum producer, for instance, has already achieved 40% market share in China. In fact, ecommerce as a whole has likewise shifted away from the West:

Global ecommerce will define the future of ecommerce

Data and image via The Enterprise Guide to Global Ecommerce
Nonetheless, many enterprise leaders will struggle to capitalize on the future of ecommerce’s international opportunities.

The reason? Each country introduces a new set of constraints, market preferences, and security challenges. Consider a country like Nigeria, for instance, where demand for U.S. ecommerce products may be strong but risky to fulfill.

Don’t back off from these global opportunities. Instead, find a creative workaround and trusted partner. Mall for Africa, for instance, is a service that helps U.S. and U.K. ecommerce companies reduce the risk and stress of selling into Africa due to fraud.

The company has created distribution points in strategic locations to ensure that goods are accessible even in relatively remote areas and relies on a rigorous, multi-level security system to protect identities and data, as well as to detect unusual purchases.

The company eliminates risk and helps brands like J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers reach African markets, in which there is high demand.

Double down on global ecommerce markets and make sure infrastructure — like your global fulfillment partner and international warehouses — is ready to handle it.

7. Micro-Moments Are the New Battleground for Optimization

Marketing is becoming more granular. One-size-fits-all advertising messages are already obsolete in ecommerce, and now, companies’ competitive advantages are coming from optimizing micro-moments.

What are micro-moments? According to Think with Google, these include:

  • In-the-moment purchase decisions
  • Decisions to solve problems right away
  • The pursuit of big goals during downtime
  • Decisions to try new things in routine moments

Now more than ever before, shoppers can make more out of their brain breaks and downtime. In addition to creating content, promotional offers, and targeted ads on social media, ecommerce marketers should optimize every last detail—including transactional emails like shipping notifications, purchase confirmations, and status updates.

Triggered by buying behaviors, these messages can help generate repeat sales and deepen customer engagement. According to research from Experian, the revenue per email from transactional messages dwarf bulk emails. Open and transaction rates for messages are also higher since shoppers want to know when their orders will arrive.

You can add the following types of optimizations to your transactional emails:

  • Cross-sells based on seasonality and purchase
  • How-to videos and buying guides
  • Links to your mobile app
  • Exclusive offers

For an example of an engaging transactional email, check out the following from ModCloth. In addition to providing shoppers a shipment notification, the company shares promos for interesting offers, content, and community features.

Make the most out of every moment that you have with your customers. Their attention is hard to get.

8. Content Is the Holy Grail of Ecommerce Engagement

Great content is educational, helpful, and entertaining. As a marketing strategy, it’s also cost-effective and impactful to ROI. That’s why 78% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing. Not to mention, brands that rely on content save over $14 on each new customer acquired.

In theory, content is something that companies can create as soon as tomorrow. It takes minimal resources to launch a blog or create a product guide. But you need to be thoughtful and strategic about your approach: consumer attention spans are spread thin, and audiences have high-quality standards for what they’re reading, watching, and interacting with.

A good strategy pays off:

  • Interesting content is one of the main reasons why people follow brands on social media, according to Demand Metric.
  • 64% of people say that customer experience is more important than price point in their choice of a brand, says Gartner.
  • Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13x more likely to generate a positive ROI, says HubSpot.
  • Content can help double website conversion rates from 6% to 12%, says HubSpot.

As powerful as content is, it’s also tough to do right.

You want to make sure that your approach is optimized to drive product interest and sales. Here are some heavy-hitting examples to inspire you:

  • Create how-to videos, like Luxy Hair’s and Reshoevn8r
  • Curate user-generated content, like Pura Vida Bracelets
  • Answer FAQs on your YouTube channel like REI
  • Become your own media outlet like The Hundreds

Finally, consider interactive content:

“A trend we have researched is the momentum toward greater use of interactive content. We have found that interactive content does a much better job of engagement than static or passive content: quizzes, assessments, calculators, even videos that accept viewer input to determine what is shown.

“These do a much better job of engaging those who consume it, and it also converts much better.”

Jerry Rackley, Chief Analyst at Demand Metric

9. B2B Ecommerce Is Dwarfing B2C Ecommerce by Over $5 Trillion

If you haven’t invested in an ecommerce wholesale platform yet, you’ve probably at least considered it.

After all, the numbers for B2B ecommerce speak for themselves. In 2017, according to Statista, “the gross merchandise volume of business-to-business e-commerce transactions is projected to amount to 7.66 trillion U.S. dollars, up from 5.83 trillion U.S. dollars in 2013.”

That difference in growth almost matches the entire amount of projected transactions in B2C ecommerce, at $2.143 trillion in 2017.

B2B ecommerce will share the future of ecommerce and is already 257.4% larger than B2C in market size

In addition, the average conversion rate of B2B survey respondents was 10% — over three times higher than the 3% average reported by B2C ecommerce executives.

Naturally, the opportunity comes with its own challenges. Every B2B ecommerce buyer is also likely a B2C ecommerce shopper. Having shopped at Amazon, they’ll also be conditioned to want a similar experience — fast, direct, streamlined operations with no resistance between search and checkout. They want to buy at the website, not through a sales rep.

Experimenting with self-service B2B ecommerce is a must. See how, supported by their wholesale ecommerce channel, Laird Superfood increased their ecommerce sales by 550%.

10. Fragmentation Is the Future of Ecommerce’s Biggest Challenge

Thanks to the accessibility of digital, consumers have access to more buying opportunities than ever before. Our phones give us immediate access to more retailers than we can count.

For big-ticket items, in particular, this means an exponential increase in a word I’m loathed to mention: touchpoints.

The future of ecommerce holds a multiplicity of customer touchpoints

Image via Think with Google

While lower-cost products rarely take three months of research, nearly all online buyers now follow a similar, meandering path.

If you’re a large company, you may be scared because niche boutiques are well-positioned to gain market share. If you’re a small company, you may be excited about the lower barriers to market entry and growth.

No matter where you sit on the fence between startup and dominant industry player, there’s an opportunity to win and an opportunity to lose.

As K. B. Sriram, partner at strategy&, explains:

“[W]hat we call the great fragmentation is manifested in consumer behavior and market response. In both developed and emerging markets, there is a wider variety among consumers now than at any time in the recent past.

“Growth is evident both at the top of the market (where more consumers are spending for higher-quality food and other packaged goods) and at the lower end (where an increasing number of consumers are concentrating on value). But the traditional middle of the market is shrinking.”

But here is where the big opportunity comes in and where the playing field becomes level:

“Consumers’ media usage has also fragmented with the rise of digital content and the proliferation of online devices. Each channel — from the Web, mobile, and social sites to radio, TV, and print — has its own requirements, audience appeal, and economics, needing specialized attention.

“But at the same time, media campaigns need to be closely coordinated for effective consumer messaging.”

Final Thoughts on the Future of Ecommerce

“Business as usual” is business no more. Ecommerce leaders are facing a world of opportunity to adapt and evolve, with success coming from big and small steps alike.

The real changes won’t be the drones.

Through strategy, they’ll manifest themselves in the incremental, micro-decisions alongside the macro-decisions — like your platform itself — that you’re making to reach your shoppers every day.

About the Author

Herbert Lui is the creative director of Wonder Shuttle. He was a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New York Observer, and Fast Company.