Since its beginning in the 2000s, the world of online shopping has been in a constant state of change. Instead of selling products in a strictly curated seasonal catalogue, companies could now make changes in real time.
Customers, on the other hand, suddenly had access to a much larger range of products, as well as the ability to compare prices and share product reviews with other prospective buyers. When online shopping first took off, this all took place on a computer that took several minutes just to boot up. Today computers are becoming more and more powerful and smartphones are increasingly popular, especially with the rise of the mobile Web. These developments significantly changed the way we buy products online. Today, 30% of all online purchases in the USA are carried out using a mobile device,. In China, the same is true for over 75% of all purchases. Naturally, many new shopping models have been developed over the years.
One of the new models of the millenium are shopping clubs, the most famous being Club Vente Privee (now known as Veepee), founded in France in 2001. Unlike other shops, products are only visible to club members. This requires customers to register, which is generally free of charge. Shopping clubs make use of a concept known as flash sales. The frequently discounted and limited offers aim to keep members coming back to the shop multiple times per week. Shopping clubs generally offer a mix of fixed product ranges and flash sales in order to continuously entice customers to browse their products and buy items.
The success of subscription models started around 2010. In these models, customers do not buy a specific product; instead, they subscribe to a recurring delivery of boxes containing a surprise mix of products. Well-known examples include Glossybox and BirchBox (widely regarded as the trendsetter in subscription models). Those monthly boxes contain skin care and beauty products, most of which are travel size, which allows companies to offer a wide range of different products. Today, subscription models have been established in a wide range of product sectors, and customers can now subscribe to recurring deliveries of cooking ingredients and recipes, razor blades, or even black socks.
A huge advantage of online shops is that customers can access them from anywhere in the world, and it is becoming more and more common to order products from their country of origin. The trend-setters here are Chinese suppliers such as Aliexpress, Wish, and Shein, who all ship products directly to buyers. Items are often supplied directly from factories and without the involvement of any distributors. There is an incredibly wide range of products - from technical devices to fashion to replacement parts - which were previously not even available in specialist shops. However, the shopping experience itself remains relatively simple, with minimised obstacles during and after checkout.
Social media commerce
There’s no doubt that the huge success of smartphones has significantly been influenced by social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. According to current statistics, users around the world spend an average of more than two hours per day using these apps. One of the uses of social media apps is, naturally, commerce. Iin Social media commerce, Products are promoted by influencers and can be ordered directly through their channels. This type of shopping is continuously gaining popularity in Germany, while already well-established in more tech-forward markets such as China.
In Live shopping, instead of presenting products in a traditional online catalogue, a host introduces products on livestream which can then be added to the viewer’s shopping basket with a single click. The sellers are often well-known influencers with millions of followers. The stream will usually be hosted in the influencer’s private bedroom rather than in a professional studio. Fans can watch the stream from anywhere and use the integrated chat feature to chat with one another and write messages to the host.
We are also experiencing another new trend in many German households: smart speakers with voice assistants. They can have a wide range of functions in the home and may also be used for shopping. This is useful for items that need to be reordered frequently; users can add items to their shopping basket by simply using a voice command. “Alexa, please add toilet paper to my shopping list” - this type of shopping might feel like science-fiction, but is becoming more common every day!
Of course, this raises the question - what comes next? Concepts for smart refrigerators that automatically order food already exist. The trend term “Internet of Things” is used to refer to the networking of electronics from vacuum cleaners to kitchen appliances to toothbrushes. For any situation involving consumable items, the re-ordering process could be carried out automatically in the future. Meanwhile, bedroom mirrors could also become digital and provide virtual suggestions about clothes and shoes.
No matter what the future of digital shopping may look like, the customer service accompanying it will always be an important part of the entire concept, and will play a crucial role in determining whether the customer will shop somewhere again. Nevertheless, the rapid transition towards online shopping is pushing the traditional concept of customer service to its limits. The service must be provided whenever and wherever the customer expects it. This is demonstrated by recent surveys, which found that 66% of all consumers prefer to contact companies via instant messenger. And while users may expect a response within one day when using email, when using direct messaging, customers expect their issue to be resolved straight away.
The first step that companies must take is to adopt instant messaging as a channel for their customer service, either via the shop’s own website or app, or else by making use of well-known services such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. These channels must not simply be run by the social media team. Instead, they must be viewed as a valuable customer service channel. Communicating with customers in this way means that businesses will have to respond to more enquiries than ever before. Instant messenger services make it easier than ever to get in touch, and because users can simply start writing straight away, there is no longer an opportunity to filter out enquiries through FAQs or contact forms.
That’s why chatbots are an important part of this transition. They help companies meet the new expectations that customers have and provide automatic responses to enquiries.
Jürgen is the CTO and Co-Founder of Solvemate. Before founding Solvemate, Jürgen worked as a developer and coach in e-commerce and is now a partner at the consultancy etribes in addition to his work at Solvemate.