Top 10 Trends in Digital Commerce

Innovations in customer experience, business models and technology will transform digital commerce in the next few years.

Much has changed since the first products were sold online in the 1990s. Early instances of e-commerce focused on the transaction, with little emphasis on improving fulfillment, customer service or loyalty.

Then, organizations began to hone commerce operations in response to customer desires, offering features like inventory visibility, product reviews and package tracking.

Now, organizations focus on more strategic initiatives that will give them competitive advantage in the future, such as providing a unified experience throughout the customer’s journey and establishing a trusted relationship with the customer.

Read more: How Retailers Can Compete With E-Commerce Giants

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Next phase of digital commerce trends

Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, says digital commerce is getting more intelligent and personal.

Customer analytics is a key enabling technology leading to superior customer experience, supporting personalized and unified experience. It involves the use of multiple tools to get various perspectives of customer data so organizations get more value from the same dataset.

By 2023, the majority of organizations using AI for digital commerce will achieve at least a 25% improvement in customer satisfaction, revenue or cost reduction

Trust and privacy is becoming more important due to the increasing focus on customer data and analytics, and more jurisdictions are issuing privacy laws. Organizations need to keep the balance between getting more than enough customer data and enough data to deliver a good customer experience without crossing the privacy line. Customer trust is the prerequisite of a successful business in any capacity.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the technology that will have a profound impact on commerce, according to Gartner. By 2023, the majority of organizations using AI for digital commerce will achieve at least a 25% improvement in customer satisfaction, revenue or cost reduction.

These 10 hot trends will impact the future of digital commerce

  1. Visual commerce. Visual commerce enables users to interact with a brand’s products in a visual, immersive manner. Visual commerce technology spans 360-degree video, 2D and 3D configuration, visual search, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
  2. Personalization. Personalization is the process that creates a relevant, individualized interaction to optimize the experience of the user. There are many opportunities to personalize throughout the customer journey, such as landing/product page, search, product recommendation, banners and offers. Personalization can achieve objectives like purchase, engagement, loyalty and customer satisfaction.
  3. Trust and privacy. Building a trusted customer relationship starts with protecting customer privacy. Customers want to have transparency and control of their data. Nearly 160 countries and jurisdictions have or are developing privacy regulations, and organizations face mounting pressures to comply. Think about how to build trusted customer relations beyond being compliant.
  4. Unified commerce. Customers use an increasing number of channels throughout the buying and owning stages. Unified commerce not only offers consistency across channels but also a continuous experience throughout the customer journey. Ideally it is also personalized for the customer context.
  5. Subscription commerce. Everything from socks to video games can be now sold on a recurring and automatically renewing basis. Organizations can benefit from subscription commerce with repeatable and predictable revenue; customers like the convenience, cost savings and personalized curation. By 2023, 75% of organizations selling direct to consumers will offer subscription services, but only 20% will succeed in increasing customer retention.
  6. Thing commerce. Billions of connected devices will gain the ability to act as customers. Connected machines such as home appliances and industrial equipment can make purchases on behalf of human customers. The primary benefit of thing commerce is to reduce customer effort and friction in purchases. This trend is in the early stage, as many organizations are still focused on expanding commerce through traditional channels like websites and mobile apps.  
  7. Enterprise marketplace. This is a business model where organizations shift from selling only products they own or source to selling third-party products that are owned, managed and serviced by someone else. Early adopters such as airports, shopping malls, real estate developers and manufacturers tend to have large numbers of customers and partners. 
  8. Customer analytics. Customer analytics includes a range of analytics tools that extract insight from customer data to improve customer experience and achieve business goals. Given the large amounts of data processed by digital commerce platforms and the transient window of opportunity to convert shoppers, customer analytics plays a critical role in digital commerce. By 2021, more than 40% of all data and analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience.
  9. Application programming interface (API)-based commerce. Businesses are building modular platforms instead of relying on a single monolithic commerce solution to improve their flexibility and agility in supporting new customer experiences, business models and ecosystem partners. API-based commerce enables organizations to decouple the front end from the back end and quickly integrate new capabilities or systems.
  10. Artificial intelligence. AI applies advanced analysis and logic-based techniques, including machine learning, to interpret events, support and automate decisions, and to take actions. Examples of AI in digital commerce range from product recommendation, content personalization, fraud detection, price optimization and virtual assistants to image search and categorization and customer segmentation.

Shen recommends focusing on no more than three items in this list at a time. “Check out the competition to see which technologies are must-have or give you competitive advantages, and move those to the top of the list. Prioritize the remaining options based on business value, time and cost to deliver,” she says.

This article has been updated from the original, published on October 12, 2019, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

Gartner clients who are IT leaders can read more in What’s Hot in Digital Commerce by Sandy Shen et al.

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