2018 was a big year for ecommerce: retailers are on board with Big Data, augmented and virtual reality are changing the way consumers learn about products, and omnichannel has become a priority for many.

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With 2019 upon us, everyone's talking about ecommerce trends. Before we dive in, let's take a look at these important statistics: Ecommerce sales generated more than $500 million in revenue in 2018 — an increase from 2017.

Statista predicts this trajectory to continue through 2022.

Now let's take a look at what our collaborating experts predict for 2019 in ecommerce, as well as some of our own thoughts based on research.

2019 ecommerce trends

  1. Brands need to be relatable and transparent
  2. Duplicative products and "copycats" in a crowded space
  3. The ever-changing opportunity of search
  4. Artificial intelligence will dictate ecommerce web design
  5. Micro influencers will be the new social media strategy
  6. Digital brands will continue to make their mark in real life
  7. Teams are becoming more virtual
  8. More multimedia
  9. Expect more green, pink and purple

1. Brands need to be relatable and transparent

According to one survey from Sprout Social, transparency from businesses is more important than ever before to 86% of Americans. And a majority of the consumers who believe brands need to deliver from an ethical standpoint are Millennials and Gen Z. As these consumers gain spending power, brands who don't relate may be left behind.

To be relatable, develop your brand values, embody them and share them. Then use transparency to show off how your products are made, and how your business is run to reflect those values.

"With the proliferation of smartphones and social media, the curtain has been lifted on internal business operations and companies that openly address the inner workings of their company will prosper," says Luke Wester, digital marketing analyst, Miva. "Show people your brand is accountable."

Wester recommends creating content that communicates your brand values and how your business supports the causes you claim to care about. Share your contributions on your about page, give a look into the product process on product pages, and use social media to tout visual content about your commitment to your values.

This isn't the place to take shortcuts either. "Professional photography is a must to communicate the brand," Wester says. "This creates trust with consumers and elevates brand equity."

2. Duplicative products and "copycats" in a crowded space

Amazon is a monolith. We all know this. To put it into perspective, consider their Small Business Impact Report findings: Small- and medium-sized businesses have made more than $1 billion on Amazon; more than 20,000 of those businesses surpassed $1 million in sales themselves in 2017 alone.

With that much competition, it's hard to imagine the wide selection of products available. Unavoidably, there is some overlap.

Professional product photographer Moritz Schmittat takes product photos for many of his clients' Amazon listings. One trend he's noticed lately and predicts to continue into 2019 is that we'll see a lot more imitation products on the marketplace.

"I predict infringement of intellectual property rights and product piracy to be a continuing challenge," he says. "I often receive products to shoot that are very similar to existing products." The supplied client briefs also commonly link to existing Amazon listings and ask Schmittat to outright duplicate what's already there, MAYBE with minor tweaks.

You can avoid accidentally copying someone else's idea with some due diligence and research. You'll also want to take steps to protect yourself from falling victim to a copyright infringement.

"If you start a brand now, make sure you have proper legal protection in place should copies of your original products enter the market," he says. "I've recently worked for an organization called Anti Copying In Design (ACID) that does exactly that: protect brands against intellectual property theft."

3. The ever-changing opportunity of search

Search/SEO is constantly changing. New algorithms, changes in ways people search, and technological advancements are just some of the things that keep marketers and brands on their toes.

For 2019 in particular, there are a few things to note when it comes to search:

  • Conversational commerce
  • Product research
  • Visual search

Conversational commerce: Voice search makes up one-fifth of all mobile searches. Experts predict voice assistant usage in the U.S. to increase to around 67 million devices by 2019 — a figure expected to hit 50% by 2020.

27% of consumers own a voice-activated device (like an Amazon Echo or a Google Home), and just under a quarter have used one to make a purchase, according to AdTaxi. One report predicts the voice shopping market to grow from $2 billion today to $40 billion by 2022. Currently, it only accounts for 1% of total ecommerce sales — indicating a BIG opportunity to be the first to capitalize.

"Voice search and voice assistant tech are making consumers more detailed when looking for specific products," says Jomel Alos, online PR lead, Spiralytics Performance Marketing. Voice search users aren't just looking for where they can purchase the product; they're also doing product research this way.

"Ecommerce sites have to optimize their product pages for long tail keywords by including all or the top possible product descriptions," Alos says. "Having multiple photos of products that come in various colors, shapes, themes, etc. can also help as long as you name the image files properly, write the appropriate alt text and use concise captions."

Here are some other tips to prep your store for conversational commerce in 2019:

  • Create voice-only promotions on Amazon, Google Shopping, and other sites that use voice search.
  • Optimize for Google SEO AND Amazon SEO.
  • Use voice search-targeted keywords like how, what and best.
  • Target Google Snippets, which help in both voice search and organic search. Look for common questions related to your keyword and create content to directly answer those questions.

Related: Amazon SEO: How to Get Found and Sell More

Product research: SEO and keyword research is also rich with insights as to what the market wants and is actively looking for. This can be amazing data to analyze when considering new products, category expansion and purchasing — especially if you're looking to grow.

"Sellers can see what customers are actually looking for online, check out the competition and spot rising trends and new product opportunities," says Krista Fabregas, ecommerce analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com. "This research tactic helps sellers attract a larger audience of ready shoppers and drive faster growth than 'gut-instinct' and sales-based purchasing."

Fabregas likes the free Keywords Everywhere app as a quick search research tool. With it, she conducts a search for [cross body purses] to see what's related and trending.

The data shows that nearly 50,000 users searched for her query in the past 30 days, and also that uses searched for [black cross body bags] 6,600 times. "Based on this, a fashion shop might decide to add this trending item in 2019, and that black crossbody bags might be a good starting point," she says.

Visual search: Like voice search, visual search is also on the rise. This is unsurprising, especially considering that 90% of information transmitted to the human brain is visual. We've seen the success of visually driven platforms: Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat.

Related: How to start promoting your online store on Pinterest

Now, it's bleeding into the way we search — both by serving visual content to users in search results AND by using image recognition technology to allow users to conduct searches by inputting visual content.

In fact, one ViSenze report found that 62% of Millennials want visual search over any other new technology. And MarketsandMarkets predicts the image recognition market to grow to $25.65 billion by 2019.

Statista also shows that worldwide market revenue from visual search is expected to continue to increase.

And Gartner predicts that brands which redesign their websites to support visual (and voice!) search will increase online revenue by 30%. (More on ecommerce site design next.)

High-quality imagery is becoming increasingly important. It's also crucial to make sure those visual assets are optimized for search so you can continue to capitalize on this trend.

4. Artificial intelligence will dictate ecommerce web design

"Artificial intelligence is here," says Danny Star, CEO of Websites Depot. 77% of consumers use an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered service or device on a regular basis. It's also one of the top "next big trends" according to marketers surveyed by BrightEdge.

So, how does AI come to play in ecommerce? Mainly, chatbots. Well, almost 60% of millennials and Gen Xers in the U.S. have interacted with chatbots. And according to Oracle, 80% of businesses plan to have chatbots by 2020. This can also be on social media (Facebook states that users have created 300,000 chatbots for its Messenger app, for instance).

Facebook found that more than 50% of customers are more likely to shop with a business that they can connect with via chat. Not to mention Gartner predicts 85% of consumer engagement with businesses to be done without interacting with another person — instead with chatbots and self-service options.

Chatbots are mutually beneficial for you and your customers. "Users have an unprecedented level of detail about what they're buying and business owners can get comprehensive information about their client's preferences, which is useful to enhance their platforms with promos and the right optimization," says Star.

But AI doesnt' stop at chatbots. To stay ahead, Star says that ecommerce brands need to leverage the data they learn from chatbots and introduce personalization. "Next year, companies need to go to the next level of personalization and provide content that not only makes it easier for users to choose their products but also create a genuine trust in their buyers," he says.

Related: What color background should your ecommerce site have?

5. Micro-influencers will be the new social media strategy

Influencer marketing is not new. What IS new is the way we go about it as brands. Consumers have increasingly caught on to influencer marketing. Fake influencers have been outed. And brands are increasingly trying to attribute ROI to it.

But what really took the influencer marketing world by storm was this idea of micro-influencers, or nano-influencers. The New York Times wrote about it in an article posted on November 11, 2018:

"That is the term ("nanos" for short) used by companies to describe people who have as few as 1,000 followers and are willing to advertise products on social media.

Their lack of fame is one of the qualities that make them approachable. When they recommend a shampoo or a lotion or a furniture brand on Instagram, their word seems as genuine as advice from a friend."

These influencers (presumably) have more "intimate" relationships with their followers. And because consumers are more sensitive to being advertised to from the individuals they follow on social media, they're also more skeptical of the messages coming from big-time influencers.

Smaller names (also presumably) vet the brands more and only recommend those they truly support, whereas you might assume macro influencers will take whatever major deal comes their way.

"Targeting specific influencers that have a loyal following can naturally integrate product placement," says Nick Le, founder of Gridfiti. "Catering to the right audience will bring more effective results."

Le has a few words of advice on how to leverage this trend into the New Year. "Figure out EXACTLY what audience you're looking to target and develop a list of micro-influencers to reach out to and budget for in 2019."

6. Digital brands will continue to make their mark in real life and build the bridge between online and offline

Last year, much of the talk surrounded the idea of omnichannel, this concept that a brand/customer experience must be synonymous across ALL touchpoints, online and in person. Remember, consumers aren't limiting themselves to just one or two channels anymore. And many are researching online to make an in-person purchase.

And just because ecommerce is growing, and digitally native brands continue to take the world by storm, that doesn't mean human-to-human interaction is no longer necessary. In fact, 70% of consumers still WANT that face time with another person during their shopping experience.

But investing in a brick-and-mortar store isn't always feasible, or conducive to growth. That's where temporary retail comes into play. And while pop-ups were the talk of the town last year, we're now looking at more immersive experiences, pop-ups being just one avenue.

In-person micro events are opportunities for online brands to connect with shoppers in real life. "As AI and automatic systems require less human involvement, pop-up shops and micro events become important tools a brand has to celebrate human interaction without significant brick-and-mortar capital," says Saul Stokes, national design director at MC2.

To get more specific, Stokes uses Pointy as an example of a new trend that will have a major impact in this area. The device reads a store's inventory as consumers purchase items and makes it searchable on Google in real-time.

"This means any specific product search will not only lead you to a typical online retailer like Amazon, but also to other locations that have it in stock near you," he says. "This could add an entire new layer of opportunities for temporary retail. In addition to creating customer engagement, it's now possible to create temporary inventory locations that would become instantly searchable by product."

7. Teams are becoming more virtual

The internet has made communication easier ever since it was introduced. Today, more workplaces are taking advantage of video conferencing, chat, email, project management software and other tools to make remote team management more feasible.

In fact, some even believe virtual teams are MORE productive.

Virtual teams can mean one (or a combination) of two things:

  • Full-time remote employees
  • Outsourced contractors and companies

Let's look at the first one: full-time, remote, in-house, work-from-home employees. One 2017 study from IWG found that 70% of workers are remote at least half of the week.

And Buffer's 2018 State of Remote Work found a slew of stats that support that remote workers enjoy their freedom. Among those, 90% of remote workers plan to have this arrangement for their entire career. Buffer also walks the walk: Their own employee retention rate is more than 90%.

When hiring a full-time employee isn't warranted or a niche expert is needed, companies are increasingly outsourcing work. This is everything from product development through order fulfillment (Amazon has its own outsourced Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA). Ecommerce companies are also outsourcing web development and marketing.

The benefits of outsourcing are plenty. Consider the findings from Deloitte: Companies are no longer outsourcing with the primary goal of cutting cost. They're outsourcing to gain a disruptive, competitive advantage in their market. Outsourced partners are becoming strategic allies.

8. More multimedia

As 360-degree photos, virtual reality, augmented reality and other technologies create more immersive, multi-dimensional digital experiences, ecommerce brands are going to find ways to take advantage of these advancements.

Animated GIFs is just one multimedia format in which we're seeing product photography being represented to online shoppers. And brands are also going to start using video more frequently, not just on social media but on product pages as well.

In one analysis of the top fashion ecommerce sites, we found that more than a quarter of brands have begun experimenting with videos on their product pages. And more are using 360-degree views as well.

iHeartRaves is one ecommerce brand that's also using video on its product pages. Here's a tank top where the model shows how it fits and moves as he spins around.

9. Expect more green, pink and purple

When it comes to photography and branding, Shutterstock has shared its prediction for 2019 color trends. Their thoughts? An increase in green, pink and purple in imagery. You can see that Everlane features a deep green and a light pink on their homepage:

If you want to be on-trend, consider incorporating these colors into your visuals. Looking to stand out? Opt for a more differentiated color palette.

Regardless of the route you take, remember that your visual identity should represent your brand AND resonate with your target customer.

Looking for some inspiration? Here are some ideas for alternatives to white backgrounds for your product photos.

Recap: 2019 ecommerce trends

Remember, forward-thinking entrepreneurs stay a step ahead of the competition. With an overly saturated online marketplace, it's those who stand out and stay ahead of the game that make the path for success.

Which 2019 ecommerce trends do you think we missed? Which ones are you most excited about?

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Alexandra Sheehan

In her past agency life, Alex has led digital marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s passionate about helping retailers and retail industry leaders harness the power of the written word and fuse it with strategic content, email and social media marketing campaigns.

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