E-commerce: Looking back, facing forward

45 years ago, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) arranged a cannabis sale between students at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is described as the seminal act of e-commerce. Then, in 1984, UK Grocer Tesco launched the first business-to-customer online shopping system with Mrs Snowball, aged 72, being the first home online shopper.

We’ve come a long way since Mrs Snowball’s first online purchase.

The online marketplace is wildly different today from the one we started with, and even from the marketplace of 10 years or even just 5 years ago. So, what have we learned, what myths have we busted and what truths have stuck in that time? 

It’s not all about conversion

For years, we’ve heard the mantra: Convert! Convert! Convert! Of course, conversion remains important. But online retailers and banks, amongst others, are slowly and steadily relaxing their once laser-sharp focus on conversion rates. Why? Because there’s a problem - conversion tells us very little.

Conversion, as we’ve said before, is a tiny one-dimensional piece of data in a world that’s huge and multi-dimensional. As marketers, we’ve always looked at conversion simply because it’s easy to measure - but it tells us nothing about experience. You could have 20% of your customers converting on the very first site visit, and a massive 80% who are only converting after multiple visits. So understanding whether users are having positive or negative experiences and interpreting the intent behind every interaction is infinitely more valuable than cold, flat data from conversion rates.

It’s not all about a site’s functionality

An EMarketer report says we can expect retail e-commerce sales to reach an impressive $4.1 trillion by 2020. However, owners of online shops face a very serious problem on their road to success: competition. E-commerce hasn’t stopped growing and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. With this mind, acquiring new and retaining customers is getting much harder.

Simply, the design of digital properties needs to be better - they need to be more than just sitting pretty. They have to satisfy and involve visitors, keep them loyal and stand out from the crowd. Reading another report, we can see that personalization is a driving factor for loyalty for about 50% of customers.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to be different. 56% of people claim they would improve their perception of a brand if provided with a personalized incentive. Different is essential for the modern day digital brand.

It is all about data

“CMO’s don’t care about data" - something I hear all too often, and it couldn't be more wrong.

Data matters across every business - data has brought marketing and tech teams closer together and that’s why I care. Big data is bigger than ever and we have more information on our customers too. This is good, because today’s customers are more demanding and are asking more of brands - they require a more complete experience. Data allows us to gain insight into the practices, styles and profiles of our customers. It helps us understand which outreach strategies work and which fail, and arguably most importantly, the reasons why.

It’s never just about the numbers, but if you can understand the story behind those numbers, and act to improve experiences based on the insights those numbers are pointing to, there's nothing that matters more.

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