2018 Technology Trends for eCommerce
At this time of the year it’s traditional for journalists and observers to make their predictions for the year ahead in technology.
With such a fast-paced industry there’s plenty of material to use and lots of new buzz-words to get your teeth into!
Of course, a change in the final digit in the year doesn’t draw any other line in the sand than causing you to look daft when you put the wrong date in your cheque book (for those that remember cheque books!), and technology doesn’t get turned off at the end of one year and turned back on again to reboot new technologies at the beginning of another.
Last year’s tech will continue to be this year’s tech – only more so!
So what’s currently on the horizon in the technology industry, that may soon trickle down into everyone’s lives and buying habits?
2017’s Technology Trends – What Were They?
The predictions laid down at the beginning of 2017 mainly circled around the following topics;
With more (affordable) processing power comes more … processing! Distributed database systems in different platforms were going to all be brought together to be crunched through in order to find new patterns, new trends, more insights, etc. much more easily.
While Big Data’s not going anywhere, it remains largely the realm of database engineers.
The bad news for Big Data at the beginning of 2018 is that vulnerabilities in the world’s most well used processes have been found, and the response to that is – at least in the short-term – a reduction in processing power and therefore speed of transactions. Intel and Microsoft have, in the last week, admitted just that.
The Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities may only be of short-term impact (or perhaps longer) but 2018 will certainly bear the brunt of the fallout.
The Internet of Things
The act of automating your house so that all of your devices are able to talk to one another across your network.
You want to open your garage door from your workplace? You can do that. You want to turn down the heating in October half term when your family’s home and you are out and about? Sorted.
The Internet of Things, providing such inter-connectivity across your home is the reason that you can now buy internet-connected fridges.
Virtual / Augmented Reality
The summer of 2016 saw Augmented Reality get its first mainstream airing in the form of Pokémon Go.
With a large selection of an age-appropriate audience already in possession of a smartphone containing a camera, screen and geo-location, people were able to get their screen time and fresh air at the same time as they roamed the streets (and sometimes more questionable locations such as a Holocaust Museum) to collect characters that weren’t actually there.
So, besides raising the value of Nintendo, where has this technology gone?
A lot of money is going into e-sports at the moment, including a Formula 1 virtual championship, but what about every day use?
While wearable devices and security via biometrics were already in place prior to the start of 2017, the iPhone X was released (in the UK) in the Autumn of 2017 featuring facial recognition.
The smart phone market may no longer be a monopoly but Apple continue to lead the way on new features and this is one that will continue to roll out to other smart phones and devices.
So far Apple have managed to stretch this technology so far as logging into a phone and augmenting reality to create Animoji Karaoke (yes, I had to look it up too and it now explains the advert on TV of a women and a cartoon horse singing together to advertise a phone).
While I wouldn’t accuse anyone of trying to find a purpose to suit a technology, rather than using technology to resolve a problem, this and Pokémon Go are a great way of bringing technology to everyone’s fingertips.
You know that technology is leaving the realms of science fiction and becoming real when Stephen Hawkins wades into a debate about whether mankind’s own creation will turn around and destroy it.
Regardless of whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will ask you for your boots, your clothes and your motorcycle, 2017 will be seen as the year that innovation in this area really took off.
What’s most interesting about Artificial Intelligence is how much it covers.
Every area of our lives could be altered by AI; self-driving cars were mentioned in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget, computers wrote a poem for the first time, Facebook shut down AI robots after they formed their own language and what I find fascinating is how society is going to handle all of this.
There will doubtless be unforeseen changes, though hopefully not Arnie, that are going to come as a surprise (both good and bad).
We largely don’t know what “Artificial Intelligence” means beyond our own definition of how it’s recognised. That leaves a very wide-open area of possibility. Will 2018 see that come to fruition?
2018’s Predictions – What Are They?
As mentioned above. One year doesn’t end and draw a line underneath any given technology. Progress continues and many are seeing the following as areas that will continue to see growth…
- Virtual Reality
- Artificial Intelligence
- Internet of Things
- Blockchain Technology
- Google Home and AdWords
- Facial Recognition
- Same Day Delivery
- eCommerce in 2018
While I’m no clairvoyant I’m going to put some ideas forward about what will happen to this technology in 2018. I think we’re going to see several technologies merge, or in some cases continue to merge.
Over the past 12 months, VR and AR technology has rushed to the forefront of tech news websites, following the popularity of Pokemon GO and VR headsets in gaming. Let’s Play, a popular form of reviewing games on YouTube has generated a great deal of interest in making VR technology accessible for everyone, and not just the super-rich.
They hope to do this by showing potential customers what products would look like in their homes. A user with a headset would be able to pick furniture or furnishings from a virtual shop and ‘place’ them in their home using AR technology.
Not only would this making shopping a much faster and stress-free process for many, but it would also help businesses cut down on refunds and returns for unsuitable goods.
AI has merged already with the Internet of Things and Automated Virtual Assistants (biometric technology) in the form of Voice-Driven Applications. This is still in its early stages but it’s already starting to appear in homes in the form of the Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.
While there will be a hit on processing power, which may impact on the cost of processing, the issue with the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities will be overcome, given time. Either a better way of securing pre-empted data will be found or the technology will come down in price to zero out any difference.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies often made the news in the latter stages of 2017, and this will continue into 2018.
If I could make predictions on cryptocurrencies then I’d be a very rich man by now, so I’m not going to offer any advice there (this the person who invested hours before the pre-Christmas drop in their value) but I do think that blockchain, the technology behind it, will blossom.
This is the process of distributing digital information without it being copied – which is where it works well for currencies. Blockchain technology is also being mooted for purposes in education, digital identities including preventing voter fraud, music and photography copyright registration (welcome back, Kodak), supply chain tracking, land registration, and “smart contracts”.
Google Home and AdWords
While Echo from Amazon (with Alexa built in) is considered the more popular choice of voice recognition home assistant, there is a lot of buzz around Google Home and how it integrates with AdWords.
Back in March 2017, Google experimented with running ads in their Home search results and the overwhelming verdict from users was negative. No one wanted to hear adverts for products when they were just asking about the weather forecast for the day.
This test highlighted that Google still has many hurdles to overcome if it wants to integrate its Home product with AdWords.
Perhaps more integration with businesses, for example, being able to check availability of tradespeople from search results, or find hotel booking availability, Google will be able to control more stages of the buying funnel without bringing AdWords into the equation.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave on Mars, chances are you will have heard about cryptocurrency in the last 6 months. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Zcash, and many others have become the hot trend to follow in the latter part of 2017 and into 2018.
From an eCommerce stand-point, cryptocurrency represents an untapped buying potential. How many customers out there are waiting to spend their ‘hard-earned’ crypto-cash at your online business but currently don’t have the option?
However, don’t rush out and start adding payment methods to your checkout just yet. There is still a lot of fluctuation happening in the cryptocurrency world.
While cryptocurrencies continue to make headlines, and there are places online to pay for products and services with Bitcoin, don’t expect 2018 to be the year that it is readily accepted everywhere.
At the moment the volatility of Bitcoin and co. (and more cryptocurrency alternatives continue to regularly appear, with Bitcoin forked twice in the last couple of weeks) make their value difficult to track; a payment made in the morning may equal a very price by the afternoon.
This immature technology’s bubble is still touted to burst at some point but, when it does and it begins to settle as a potential currency for buying and selling, rather than investing, then this will be the time to consider it for your store.
When the new GDPR rules come into play in May 2018, part of their coverage will now include biometric data, something that wasn’t really a factor when the 1998 Data Protection Act was first implemented.
Nowadays, fingerprint recognition has become almost commonplace online, and more detailed biometric recognition technologies are not far behind. How long will it be before you can unlock your phone with a retinal scan, or a voice-activated password? Although these technologies do exist today, there’s still a long way to go before they become mainstream.
The Holy Grail of recognition technology is the ability to activate your tech using facial recognition. The sheer complexity of this achievement is what currently keeps it in development hell, but every day we progress ever closer to the goal.
Same Day Delivery
At the moment, same day deliveries are focused either on one location delivering to nearby addresses, or a business with multiple locations offering a restricted service based on distance and specific product (think flowers and Interflora).
However, as newer technologies emerge, such as drones and reactive inventory apps, could same day delivery be rolled out on a much larger scale, covering more locations and more product types?
Last October, ASOS announced that it is teaming up with the On The Dot app to offer same day delivery to more of its customers, so will other online businesses feel the need to follow suit in order to stay ahead of the curve?
How will 2018 Tech affect eCommerce?
The biggest change to affect eCommerce this year, I believe, will be in the form of virtual assistants. In the US, Amazon are leading the way (68% market share) with their Alexa and have teamed up with Walmart (who own Asda in the UK) and the Target courier company.
Combine this with your Amazon Prime account, Amazon’s introduction to the groceries market, Amazon Pay / Amazon Cash and your kitchen (coupled with the Big Data of what they know about you), and you have a very easy way to do your weekly shop as you notice what’s already been eaten from your fridge.
How can eCommerce sites take advantage of this? This will come down to two things; the adoption of the technology and where your products sit in the marketplace. Clearly, at the moment, your store needs to be aligned with Amazon.
If you’re interested in this route does the investment into the Amazon echo system justify that entry into virtual assistance? Will your products sit well on the Amazon infrastructure? Do you sell your product on its own or does it come with your service and customer care (which can’t always be sold on Amazon)? Do you need to review your pricing to see your products competitive on there?
As an aside, perhaps start thinking about how easy your products are to pronounce.
At a friends’ house on New Years’ Eve last year, following the consumption of a fair amount of red wine, we began to place orders via Alexa.
Of the examples that I can mention on here, a “Subaru Impreza” resulted in an email confirmation seconds later for “Superglue”! This is also a lesson in the security of your voice assistant / inviting me round to your house.
What will be interesting in the adoption of Amazon and Google’s assistants in the UK will be societal changes.
In the US, typically, there is a great trust in large corporations that we don’t tend to share in the UK, where we’re a little more suspicious. Will the Great British public start to allow such devices, en mass, into our homes and lives (you can get Alexa on smartphones too)?
In early 2017 9% of households had an Amazon Plus, Echo or Dot. As Amazon use this loss leader to increase sales, expect that number to have already risen considerably by now.
As shoppers come to rely on their assistants to do all of the running around for them, eCommerce businesses in 2018 are going to have to ask themselves, “Can we keep up?”