3 Ways Online Shopping is Evolving—and Why Retailers Need to Keep Up

Online shopping came close to hitting the $300 billion mark in sales in 2013 in the U.S. alone—and that number is expected to grow by nine to 12% in 2014. Consumers have ever-changing needs when it comes to leverage online shopping technology and making purchase decisions. The retailers who keep on top of changing technology are the ones who will ultimately win in this new era of retail.

Here are three of the most critical ways the online experience is evolving how people shop:

1. Consumers are going online earlier in the decision process.

Originally, online retailers built technology to support consumers who already knew what they wanted. But consumers today are bringing more of the decision process online and looking for inspiration and advice from different channels and sources.

Think of Amazon. If you know what product you want, you do a product search and Amazon returns the product, price, and shipping options. With one-click ordering, you’re in and out after just a couple of keystrokes and clicks. When you already knew what you want, the experience is fast and it’s efficient.

But what if you don’t know what you want yet?

In the past there wasn’t much to do other than engaging in a general Google search. But knowing what information is viable and trustworthy is difficult. You resort to asking friends and family or an in-store sales associate for help. But this part of the decision process is moving online and the amount of information out there to assist in that decision is both abundant and fragmented all across the Internet.

2. As mobile grows, the line between online and in-store shopping is quickly disappearing.

Most retailers still operate with a clear line between online and offline shopping. But consumers today expect to move seamlessly between online and offline and from their mobile device to their desktop.

Think of consumers who get inspired after seeing an outdoor patio set at a brick and mortar store. It gets them thinking; perhaps they even take the opportunity of being in the store to snap a picture of the patio set and text it to their significant other. Then they go home, talk to their spouse, look at their current patio set, and realize it’s time for a change.  They go online to get more ideas, inspiration, and 0check out reviews. They might even ask close friends or family for their opinions. After all that, they’ll head over to the store again to look at options and get feedback and advice from the store’s salesperson. When they’re confident with their decision, they’ll research where they can find the best deal—whether in-store or online—and ultimately make the purchase.

3. Consumers are hungry to share and consume advice and product suggestions within their trusted circle across channels and mediums.

We’re seeing existing e-commerce technology and communication platforms not keeping up with consumer need. Consumers are using shopping carts to save things they are still considering, which is why 60% of shopping carts are abandoned. In fact, 56% of shoppers say they abandon carts because they’re ready to purchase. Consumers are cutting, pasting, and sharing links in text messages, emails, and chats to get feedback from friends, family, and experts. Sixty nine percent of shoppers claim they first look to friends and family for advice on what to buy.

Shoppers are looking to collaborate when making shopping decisions (whether that be online, offline, or on whatever device they may be using). They want to consume information and become knowledgeable on their own—buy they also need the collaboration to make the ultimate decision. They want to feel confident they’re making the right choice with the right information and getting suggestions and feedback from the right people at the right time.

With that in mind, retailers need to build a strategy that embraces how consumers really engage online.

Alex Gonzalez is CEO and cofounder of Chatalog, a collaborative shopping technology.

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