Editor's Pick: Originally Published Wednesday, Dec. 23
As the year comes to a close, it's time to both reflect on the past and look ahead to what's in store for the future of shopping.
E-commerce had a big year in 2015, with an industry growth rate of 15%, according to comScore, and some new holiday sales records. Cyber Monday was the biggest day for online sales in the history of U.S., Thanksgiving hit a new record for online sales, and Black Friday, typically the big day for in-store shopping, saw more online shoppers than brick-and-mortar shoppers, according to the National Retail Foundation.
And yet there's still room for growth, with e-commerce only making up 7.4% of total retail sales in the U.S. during the third quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Here are some trends will may help boost that percentage in the coming year.
1. The rise of the digital assistant
As artificial intelligence improves and digital assistants grow in popularity, e-commerce will begin to embrace a more human element online. One of the major downsides of shopping online versus in a brick-and-mortar store is that the customer loses the interaction with a salesperson who can guide him or her on a purchase. With digital assistants such as Apple's (AAPL) Siri and Facebook's (FB) M, consumers are now getting used to a different reality that could slowly but surely take over the e-commerce industry.
Some retailers are already making moves here. The North Face, for example, just rolled out a new tool called XPS that uses IBM's (IBM) Watson to provide recommendations for online shoppers. And companies such as Facebook and Amazon (AMZN) are enabling e-commerce through digital assistants that will automatically process a transaction for a consumer.
"As voice recognition technology becomes more sophisticated than ever and voice-activated web browsing becomes more common, look for digital assistants to also grow," Forrester analysts wrote in a recent report.
2. Chatcommerce will become a thing
In a trend intertwined with the rise of the digital assistant, chatcommerce, which is already popular in Asia, will make its way to the U.S.
Tencent's (TCEHY) WeChat is currently one of the biggest players combining the worlds of messaging and commerce. Consumers use WeChat not only to send friends stickers, but also to order a ride or shop for physical goods.
Facebook's Messenger could potentially be the one to bring that success to the U.S. Just last week Facebook integrated Uber into Messenger to let users order a ride directly within the chat app. And a few retailers like Everlane and Zulily are testing Messenger to conduct transactions.
"Messenger is ahead and they're the most likely to win this one," said ChannelAdvisor Executive Chairman Scot Wingo. "The other one I would say has a shot at this is Snapchat. They're getting a fair amount of advertiser attention these days, and it'd be natural to look at that platform as part of this chatcommerce trend."