February 2, 2022

If You Want to Innovate Your eCommerce Startup, Here's What You Have to Do

If You Want to Innovate Your eCommerce Startup, Here's What You Have to Do

The pandemic supercharged eCommerce growth last year: According to Shopify, 10 years’ worth of growth in the sector happened in the first quarter of 2020 alone. That was when the first wave of COVID-19 shut down stores and sent bored, quarantined consumers into a shopping frenzy. This year, oddly enough, we’ve settled into the swing of living in a global pandemic, and Shopify predicts eCommerce growth slowed nearly 9% in the US as a reflection of that.

But all that lockdown time laid the groundwork for eCommerce growth to tick back up again in 2022: Nearly 150 million people shopped online for the first time during the pandemic, and retailers beefed up their digital experiences to meet that increased demand. That acceleration of eCommerce investment has paved the way for startups in the space to create more intuitive, streamlined, and downright cooler shopping experiences. 

If you’re an eCommerce startup looking for ways to stand out heading into 2022, we’ve got you. Without further ado, here are five things you can do to innovate your eCommerce startup:

1. Text more 

Reach out to customers who’ve given you their number and permission to text them via SMS. That’s important: Don’t send anyone a green bubble that didn’t agree to receive it, or you run the risk of looking like spam and damaging your eCommerce startup’s fledgling reputation. With that in mind, text is becoming a popular way to share marketing promotions and deals that customers can quickly act on. Per Shopify, nine in 10 texts are read within three minutes of being sent.

The newest trend in eCommerce texting? Fulfilling orders from within the chat. That’s right; there’s no need to have customers click on a link that sends them to a browser. Instead, retailers can check customers out within the chat itself. For instance, Dirty Lemon processes over 50,000 messages a month in which it prompts customers to answer which of its detoxifying beverages they’d like to order and how many. 

So when it comes to texting, teaching an old dog new tricks works. 

2. Focus on first-party data

Increasing privacy restrictions are limiting third parties’ ability to gather data: Facebook now asks permission to personalize ads, and by next year, Google plans to phase out cookies that collect data on its Chrome browser. But the Excel sheet of customer analytics is half-full, not half-empty: Increased privacy restrictions could create an opportunity for eCommerce startups to build more transparent relationships with customers. 

Just like how we mentioned sending a text without the customer’s permission can come off as spammy, leveraging data that was gathered surreptitiously can be creepy at best and invasive at worst. Have you ever been served an ad so uncannily tailored it feels like you’re being spied on? It’s not a great customer experience, even if you do really want those PJs with your dog’s face on them. 

Instead, the new era of privacy restrictions is a chance for eCommerce startups to gather data about their customers with their permission and leverage that data to create a better shopping experience. 

3. Try livestreamed shopping

Live shopping events are like Gen Z’s QVC, encouraging shoppers to purchase products in-the-moment while viewing the products and deals they’re interested in or even directly interacting with sellers and influencers. In other words, it’s an alternative to scrolling endless reviews and creates a sense of urgency that online shopping often lacks.

Coresight Research predicts the US’s livestream shopping market will be worth $25 billion by 2023, and social media platforms are paving the way for that growth to happen. In late November, Twitter rolled out its live shopping feature, and Walmart became the first brand to try it with a Black Friday event hosted by Jason Derulo. Walmart was also an early brand to try out TikTok’s shoppable livestreams last December; it said its foray received 7x more views than predicted.

Several other platforms, including Amazon and Facebook, offer similar features, letting eCommerce startups meet their customers where they already are in an innovative, new way.

4. Leverage machine learning

If you want your supply chain to be a fast-spinning flywheel, try implementing some algorithms. Chinese retailer Shein has mastered this: When it launches a new product, it first sends a small batch to its warehouses. From there, an algorithm determines whether to scale up or down production based on the item’s popularity, and if it’s popular, Shein.com recommends the product to more shoppers. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Of course, you shouldn’t let the robots run the show. Shein’s supply chain may be too fast, causing quality issues. Additionally, Amazon stirred up negative press this month when a driver blamed its fast and furious algorithm’s demands for rushing him into crashing his delivery truck.

Bottom line: Leverage machine learning but don’t completely lean on it. 

5. Integrate augmented reality

Similar to livestream shopping, AR features can educate customers about a product in an innovative way. The main way AR’s been utilized in eCommerce so far is to help customers visualize furniture and home decor in their spaces by overlaying items onto their surroundings.  Customers can do this by using their phone’s camera or uploading an image to the brand’s site or app.

But other sectors can leverage this technology, too. For instance, L'Oréal and other makeup brands let customers try on makeup virtually. As AR gets more advanced, richer textures and details could make the tech useful for myriad other products (not just for making the Snapchat hot dog dance on your desk).

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