The Most Important Ecommerce Trends to Look Out for in 2016

What a year 2015 has been! Online retail sales have once again been growing year on year and Black Friday led to many records being smashed, from small ecommerce sites to the multinational big boys.

So where do we go in 2016?

There is still so much potential to grow your own online store over the next 12 months.

So I thought I’d ask the top experts in the field to give their thoughts on the biggest trends that will hit ecommerce in 2016.

Read on to discover the tactics the experts will be using to grow their business in 2016…

Larry Kim, Wordstream

Facebook is planning on opening up Facebook Messenger as a service (API) sometime next year. They are working on a way to buy stuff on mobile using Facebook messenger. So for example, messaging a business to send you a new pair of shoes or something like that. I think that’s pretty interesting.

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Chris Makara

I think 2016 we will see more social commerce options become available. As we all know, Pinterest rolled out buyable pins this past year which allowed users to make purchases without ever leaving Pinterest. This makes is very easy to see what they want and make an impulse buy with ease. While some social channels like Facebook are already testing this, there’s no doubt this move by Pinterest will increase the urgency of making an option like this publicly available to all businesses so that both the social channel and business can cash in.

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Terry Lin, Build My Online Store

Store owners that can make better decisions with data across different platforms will come out ahead. This means taking a holistic view at Adwords, SEO, Google Shopping, Amazon, Facebook Ads, etc. and seeing how they can help each other. In particular, social channels (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) are now developing stronger ad platforms and analytics, which means you can get more data from the top of the funnel that you can test new ideas with throughout your entire sales funnel.

Some examples:

  • Using high converting and CTR Adwords for your SEO/content strategy
  • Using high converting mid-long-taill keywords in SEO for Adwords campaign ideas
  • Using highly engaged photos on Pinterest for Instagram/Facebook Ads
  • Using highly engaged Facebook posts in your niche for SEO/content strategy ideas

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Darren DeMatas, SelfStartr

Mobile, personalization and multi-channel marketing will continue to dominate the ecommerce industry in 2016 and beyond.

Regarding a “new” trend for 2016?

I think you will start to see niche e-commerce sites get smarter about customer loyalty. CRO and customer acquisition have been hot button topics in e-commerce for the past few years. While those topics are critical for success, it is actually 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep one.

Small business on the front line, are starting to feel that cost and will look to customer loyalty to drive revenue.

The same type of technology that powers loyalty programs for mega brands like Amazon is available to companies with smaller budgets. You just have to be smart about it. Read: don’t design your customer loyalty program to attract cheapskates.

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Shabbir Nooruddin, Bootstrapping Ecommerce

I think one of the biggest trends for 2016 will be how smaller merchants can use community building and social media to make a name for themselves in a market dominated in nearly every other aspect by Amazon.

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Sam Mallikarjunan, Hubspot Ecommerce & Inbound Commerce

Marketing automation and dynamic personalization (both on site and in emails) as a method to raise customer LTV’s by improving up-sell, cross-sell, and re-selling campaigns will be the areas that sophisticated eCommerce marketers focus on in 2016.

That being said, much of the industry is still lagging far behind on things like closed-loop analytics (what marketing campaigns are driving your sales?) and basic marketing automation such as abandoned cart nurturing.

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Matt Dion, Edgacent

From what we’re hearing from online marketers, shifting ad spend to mobile (especially on Facebook) is what’s driving results in 2015 for those that embrace it. Some sites we’ve seen 75% smartphone traffic, 10% tablet and only 15% for desktop, so it makes sense that ad budgets are allocated accordingly. I believe this will catch on in 2016 as these marketers share their “wins.”

Recent Facebook updates “Flex And-Or Exclusion” will make Facebook return better for marketers that take advantage, as the more relevant your audience, the less wasted impressions and the higher click through rate. It shows Facebook is committed to investing in its ad products and options.

Instagram ads will go the way of Facebook – where organic brand reach may diminish as their ad options mature (as we have seen with Facebook). So essentially marketers should be prepared to shift budgets to where eyeballs are (mobile, Facebook, Instagram) but be prepared for constant change and refinements, and what worked last year is not predictable to work exactly the same in 2016 (no set-it-forget-it strategies).

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Tracey Wallace, BigCommerce

I think in 2016 this whole idea of silo-ed commerce will finally go away. There is no ecommerce, mobile commerce, social commerce –– what you’re talking about there are channels, and the data shows that the most successful stores are in ALL channels (including having their own brick-and-mortar). Omnichannel and multi-channel commerce is simply just plain old retail today. It is how you become successful. I’ve heard a few industry insiders calling it “in-context commerce,” meaning the ability for consumers to purchase from where ever they are. They need to be able to purchase from an email, on Facebook, on Amazon, on your owned and operated site, via partnerships –– no matter where or what they are doing, it is essential you get your product in front of them –– the consumer.

Now, of course, there are tons of challenges to doing this –– the biggest of which is often inventory management and warehouse operations. After all, once someone buys, you need to be able to get them their product as quickly and aesthetically as possible. Design matters so much from your site to your box design. For big brands, operational efficiency is easy. They have the money to put toward it. For the small guys, or the quickly scaling brands, this isn’t so true, and that area remains a real challenge. For instance, if someone from Florida orders your product, but you’re based in West Texas –– the shipping costs are going to be pretty extreme. There are, of course, apps which can show this shipping cost to buyers before they purchase, but few people are OK with high shipping costs these days. Consumers expect free shipping no matter where they are –– and that’s tough. You could always use Fulfillment by Amazon to increase your warehouse presence across the U.S., but you’ll also need to do a cost-benefit analysis to that. And, even figuring out your ROI with FBA is difficult based on your seasonal highs and lows. And, in general, it takes a bit of time before you are moving product effectively through FBA. In the meantime, you may be paying higher dollar for products that won’t move off the shelves simply due to your inability to effectively cross-post products in all channels.

Despite the challenges, retailers in 2016 will very much be looking to utilize all channels to sell. They won’t see Amazon as the big bag wolf anymore. Instead, Amazon can be a very strategic partner if you’re smart about it –– and there will be a lot of experts helping retailers understand exactly how they can be smart about it. I’m already about 40 pages deep into writing one of these books myself, so there will be the educational materials needed. Retailers will have to figure out for themselves, though, how they will operationalize before they lose out to competition who has already figured it out.

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Beka Rice, Sell With WP

I think 2016 will be dominated by social commerce. Tons of brands connect with customers via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other networks to get them interested in their products, and historically customers have needed to take the initiative to follow through to the merchant’s site to make purchases. The marketing and brand loyalty efforts of the company were divorced from direct sales channels.

With the launch of eCommerce integrations from several major social networks, the purchasing experience is now integrated with marketing and customer outreach, making the efforts spent in building a social following and loyalty much more valuable to eCommerce brands and reducing the effort required on the customer’s part to make a purchase.

I’m definitely curious to see what these changes yield for merchants, especially if platforms like Twitter and Pinterest open these sales channels up to more platforms or with an open API so that more stores can leverage them.

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Dennis Moons, Store Growers

Big platforms like Amazon will continue to do well and grow their business through 3rd party sellers. Many stores will use these platforms to turn more volume with lower margins.

While this can be a nice extra, breakthrough success in 2016 will come from stores that do branding well. The ones that are clear on how they are different compared to other stores or platforms. This means creating your own products, curating products for a specific niche or adding value in different ways.

Taking control of your own destiny also means actively experimenting with different channels to bring in new customers.

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Kurt Elster

The biggest trend in ecommerce for 2016 is going to be relevance. As marketing automation tools have become affordable, easy to use, and accessible to small business storeowners, the end result is great for the consumer and the merchant: relevant messages! Just as a few short years ago the early adopter of responsive website leapfrogged their competitors, so too will the store owners who adopt marketing automation to deliver the right message at the right time to the the right customer. The folks who continue you to blindly go around sending out “eblasts” to their audience will get left in the dust.

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Kunle Campbell, 2xEcommerce

There will be more focus on driving more repeat business from existing customers as it will enable online retailers afford to pay more for acquiring new customers.

The savviest of online retailers will want to know more about each customer in a bid to sending them highly targeted, unique personalised offers in their messaging and communications.

This will mean focusing on tracking each customer’s interaction with their website (browsing behaviour), email campaigns (email behaviour), social media updates, advertising and their purchase history.

All these customer interaction data points will be consolidated into customer profiles that can be placed into segments.

Maximising customer lifetime value (CLV) and repeat purchases from customers in each of these segments will be a key KPI for ecommerce managers in 2016.

I will like to see personalised messaging extend to social media communications.

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Neil Patel

Upselling and downselling. Cost of advertising is going up and margins are going down on products. One of the best ways to make more money is by upselling and downselling throughout the checkout process. You’ll see more companies doing this in 2016.

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Tucker Schreiber, Shopify

The biggest trend we’ll see is content and commerce becoming one. People won’t  shop on “stores” anymore – it’ll be a flawless, integrated shopping experience for consumers with the introduction of buy buttons. A good example of this is Apple – before, you had to go to a separate online store to buy products. Now, buy buttons are directly embedded within their content.

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John Larkin, EcommerceLift

For me the biggest trend within ecommerce in 2016 will be a shift away from products and onto brands. It will be so important to build a brand next year that every ecommerce business will need to embrace this principle. People will always buy generic products from amazon – you can’t compete with that. But they will buy YOUR products because they value your brand.

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Adii Pienaar, Receiptful

In the next year, I think we’re going to see a greater emphasis on multichannel retail – especially for more luxurious goods – whereby many online retailers will open up physical stores. Amazon recently opened their first brick and mortar store and whilst the store itself might be unspectacular, it’s Amazon’s usage of customer data to personalise the physical shopping experience that has most critics interest piqued.

This however doesn’t only apply to the big retailers; but smaller, premium (and sometimes, niche) brands will explore brick and mortar opportunities to augment their online retail efforts. Nic Harry (disclaimer: I’m an investor), a premium menswear brand, recently opened up a small store in Cape Town city center and within 3 months, brick and mortar is outselling online.

Why? If you asked Nic, he’d tell you “Premium, luxury retail happens using all 5 senses. eCommerce only provides a single sense. A retail environment can provide the other 4 needed to close a sale.”

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Alaa Hassan

I believe in 2016, the focus is going to be more on mobile optimization as well as conversion research (figuring out why aren’t customers buying our product).

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Pamela Hazelton

Images, video and illustrations will be more popular than ever. Expect the need to utilize toggles and arrows to expand and collapse descriptions, reviews and more. The reason? Media will be the #1 reason shoppers even look at a product. While everything else is also very important, textual content and supporting info will be accessed mainly by those who want to learn more before clicking the ADD button. The 8-second rule (that is, grabbing their attention within the first 8 seconds) will drop to just 3 or 4. It’s actually kind of scary.

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Omri Yacubovich, Commerce Sciences

In the past couple of years we’ve seen that traffic to online stores grow year after year, online retailers have been struggling with some SEO related issues, as well as mobile adaption. However, despite the growth in traffic volume and shoppers willingness to spend more online the average conversion rate still remains very low (below 3%). Based on various surveys online retailers start focusing on website conversion rate optimization (CRO) activities and understand the high potential impact on their bottom-lines. However, running continuous optimization activities is hard as it requires expertise and resources: in-depth analysis capabilities based on proven methodologies to define and prioritize the right tests, creative resources and IT team with fast execution capabilities. Obviously this is something mid market retailers can’t afford. That’s exactly why I see as part of the trends for 2016 and beyond Machine-Learning technologies combined with dynamic website personalization solutions assisting online retailers to achieve much more, with their current head count. With these technologies marketers can remove their dependency in their IT team almost completely as they are able to change any aspect of their site on the fly just as editing a power-point file, add new components with a click of a button and most important get a clear visibility on their improved performance.

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Ryan BeMiller, Shopping Signals

I think one of the biggest ecommerce trends of 2016 will be Social Selling. Online merchants will increasingly be looking to take advantage of the unique capabilities offered by the major social platforms.  Ecommerce sellers are already seeing the huge gains with social ads, namely Facebook and Pinterest.  Many sellers are seeing massive ROI when running Facebook ads to generate sales, because of the ability to highly target customers based on demographic, location, and interests.

These benefits will only increase as the social channels improve their targeting capabilities, and ecommerce-specific features.

Beyond typical PPC ads, social networks are now offering specialized features to reduce friction in the buying process.  For example, Facebook is offering Buy buttons, which allow users to initiate a purchase directly from the news feed.  And Pinterest has introduced Buyable Pins, which allow users to directly buy what they see in a Pin, using Apple Pay or their credit card.

These innovations typically result in lower cost per acquisition for online merchants, which of course means we can expect more and more ecommerce owners to get on board.

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Alex O’Byrne, We Make Websites

Hosted platforms like Shopify make it 10 times easier to run an online store. Your entire ecommerce system will live in “The Cloud” so your whole team can use it between devices and with minimal training. Cloud based software is updated regularly at zero extra cost. In ecommerce things change quickly so this is great. Hosting concerns will disappear because your website will be faster and more secure than hosting it yourself. We know Shopify best and it gets more advanced every year, offering more selling features out-of-the-box than self-hosted solutions and from as little as $50/month. In 2015, brands like The Economist and Costa Coffee worked with us to create new offerings using Shopify. For this reason, I think in 2016 we’ll see more big brands leaving enterprise solutions and moving towards hosted platforms like Shopify that allow them to innovate and get to market quicker.

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Michael Anderson, Etail Solutions

As we enter 2016, we see a continued trend for rapidly growing multi-channel merchants to “get back to the basics”.  More and more sizeable merchants are realizing that selling online is a volume game, and due to the competitive landscape, they need to gain their edge through aggressive pricing combined with more efficient operations than their competitors.

This means that focusing on a solid systems foundation upon which they can scale and minimizing wasted time from a lack of system integrations becomes critically important.  More integrated systems on a scalable platform equals the ability to grow without needing as many people, which adds up to better bottom-line margins.

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Richard Lazazzera, A Better Lemonade Stand

I see a few trends going into 2016 that I’m really excited about:

1. Omni-Channel. Multi-channel selling will become more prevalent amongst small and large retailers alike. This trend is being sparked by ecommerce platforms that are making it easier to seamlessly integrate and sell on other channels while tracking inventory.

2. Shipping. Companies like Shyp are disrupting shipping, and it’s about time. New services will continue to popup in 2016 that will be tackling the painful, confusing and overpriced world of logistics to help small retailers get get their product from point A to point B in a more efficient, cost-effective way.

3. Small Business Banking/Lending. While not exclusive to ecommerce, I couldn’t help but to notice the number of companies that are taking on big banks to make banking and loans more accessible to entrepreneurs. This is important because the current banking system and the methods they use to assess small businesses are completely outdated and don’t reflect how fast online businesses can move.

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So many things to consider for 2016!!!

Thank you to everyone who gave their thoughts on trends for 2016.

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1 Comment
  • Ivona Vukovic Dec 21,2015 at 1:02 pm

    Excellent insights! However, I would like to reflect on the example given by Pamela, looking into the visuals and videos to engage shoppers. Product videos provide far more superior overview of the product than photos or descriptions, and create better support for the customer in decision making. That being said, it will be interesting to see whether in 2016 more retailers and brands turn to creating their own product video content or look for smart tech solutions like curation of user-generated product video reviews from social media.

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