E-commerce has come a long way. From the first online sale — Dan Kohn selling a Sting album in 1994 — to today’s transactions racking up billions in yearly sales, the industry has become a veritable behemoth. What’s more, e-commerce doesn’t seem to be slowing its breakneck growth.

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Last year, eMarketer reported that retail e-commerce sales in the United States hit $342 billion. In 2020, they say, that figure will climb to $684 billion. Brands and forward-looking marketers, take note: This is a wonderful guarantee that people will keep buying lots of stuff on the internet!

Needless to say, it’s absolutely important to stay at the forefront of the action. Let’s take a look at what’s coming next in the e-commerce universe:

1. The Force is strong with mobile commerce

Take out a portable device from your pocket, tap a few buttons, and get a product rushed to you? Mobile commerce is awesome. Turns out more and more consumers like the idea, seeing as mobile transactions are projected to make up 20.6% of total e-commerce sales this year, according to BI Intelligence.

But if a fifth of the pie is pretty good, we can gorge ourselves on the piece mobile commerce will command in 2020 — an incredible 45% of all e-commerce sales. Clearly, mobile is going to be a powerhouse in the coming years, and it’s not a fad that’ll dissipate anytime soon.

To keep up with the mobile curve, keep these tips in mind:

  • Optimize your website for mobile. Digital marketers have been talking for ages about having a mobile-optimized website. Going forward, having one will be imperative.
  • Make sure your mobile checkout process is as smooth as silk. For all the magic of mobile, mobile transactions still aren’t converting as well as those on desktop. Reasons for the disparity abound: smaller screens make it harder to find product information, users hit friction with adding payment options, and jungles of form fields make customers’ heads spin. When it comes to mobile checkout, think simple.

2. Get ready for a wave of new buyers

One big reason e-commerce will continue its steady march of growth is simply because more people worldwide will hop online and start spending money. In 2015 the number of digital buyers stood at 1.46 billion; in 2019 that figure is expected to cross the 2 billion mark.

5trends_image03It’s clear, then, that in the coming years there will be a hungry audience out there waiting for brands to reach them. With BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) acquiring growing economic clout, expect them to make bigger splashes in e-commerce soon. All of those nations currently have below 50% online shopping penetration (compared to a high of 77% for the UK), so they offer new avenues to growth for existing brands. More generally, the growth of digital buyers worldwide is being enhanced by new users from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

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How can you better reach these users? What new products can you create that might appeal to them? It’s time to start considering these questions — they might be key to your success with audiences that could become loyal customers.

3. Customer-friendly policies are paramount

In retail, competition is always fierce — but it’s much fiercer when amplified by the internet’s expansive options. Savvy online shoppers know that if you don’t have what they’re looking for and present it the way they like, they have multiple other ways to get what they want. The majority of consumers say they conduct research before buying anything, and they can be easily enticed by the competition if they see better deals elsewhere.

To get customers comfortable to buy, brands will need to offer features that were previously considered extras. 82% of consumers, for example, may abandon shopping carts if free shipping isn’t offered or if they believe items will be difficult to return. Because purchasing power is increasingly shifting to the consumers, brands will need to offer customer-friendly policies to remain competitive.

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4. Intrusive ads are dying

People have been sick of ads for as long as anyone can remember. For a glimpse into the future of intrusive ads, look at what the young’ins are doing: According to a recent IAB/YouGov study, 47% of 18-24-year-olds in the UK are using ad blockers. That’s an alarmingly high figure, and it’s indicative of how annoyed users are at getting bombarded by ads all the time.

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Marketers might want to be wary of the apparent silver lining the IAB/YouGov study found — that 54% of British consumers would turn off their ad blockers if it were the only way to access site content. But perhaps taking content hostage may not be the best option (users might disable their ad blockers, but couldn’t they just mentally tune out the ads?)

A better path? Let’s turn the idea of advertisements on its head. Instead of accepting the sad notion that ads will always be despised, we can make ads worth viewing and watching. Leveraging native ad formats (like Snapchat’s 3V) can keep users from being shaken out of immersive experiences. Following permission-based marketing by allowing users to skip ads lets consumers raise their hands willingly to see our messages. Above all, crafting insanely entertaining ads offers the best chance to keep users hooked.

5. Want to make a sale? Prepare an amazing cross-channel journey

Nowadays, consumers don’t just have options for where they shop; they also have options for what they want to shop on. Customers might see your product while window shopping at the mall, check it out on their smartphones, conduct further research on their tablets, and finally buy the product on their desktops. They move fast between devices and expect brands to keep up.

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According to Criteo, this year the majority of e-commerce transactions will be completed with multiple devices. Going forward, then, it’ll be especially important for your marketing to work harmoniously cross-channel. Think of your branding on different devices and social platforms not just as standalone messages, but as pieces that fit to give your customers consistent journeys through your marketing campaigns.

If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to set up analytics to track cross-channel activity. With the flurry of consumer activity, you’ll never get a good picture of your marketing effectiveness if you only track metrics from one source. Make sure your campaigns are tagged properly across channels so you can understand your marketing performance as customers find you on different platforms.

As e-commerce grows, so too will the industry that supports its marketing. Check out our blog post 5 Marketing Technology Lessons Every Business Needs. Also, find out how to get your brand noticed across the web with our guide The New Customer Journey: Building Brand Advocacy Across the Visual Web.