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How Online Retail has changed in the Last 5 Years

It’s likely that readers will harbour their own opinion about the fact that the first online purchase (20 years ago) was a Sting CD and that those opinions will spread into what online retail has meant for shopping and marketing in general. Whichever side of the fence you plant your flag the impact is undeniable. In two decades, the once non-existent practice of online shopping has gone through so many iterations and evolutions that it’s almost impossible for marketers to keep up.

The main change has been how truly powerful consumers have become. Where online shopping was once a hit or miss chamber of half-truths and all out misrepresentation by a faceless (and brand-less) entity, today’s digital retail experience is more personal, more targeted and far safer, with customers reasonably sure that they’ll be getting what they pay for.

The increasing sophistication of e-commerce platforms and the explosion of smartphones and apps has meant that the line between digital and reality has begun to blur. After smartphones hit the market in 2007, the whole paradigm of online shopping underwent a total revolution, ushering in the age of the seamless brand interaction.

Today, everything is – and must be – connected

Consumers develop complex and valuable relationships with brands online, relationships that they expect to be continued in store. This alone has probably been the most profound change in online retail since its iteration. It means that instead of becoming a separate retail channel that eliminates physical stores, the two options have merged and have to cohesively fulfil different consumer desires without disruption. In other words, the big surprise is that mobile devices have, against all predictions, begun to drive foot traffic to physical stores.

For brands and marketers that means developing new ways not just of collecting the wealth of data that consumers are prepared to part with, but harnessing it in a way that can create an uninterrupted world of enticing and relevant digital and physical interaction.

Take Adidas as an example

Working with their agency iProspect, Adidas determined to find out if mobile investment marketing was worth the money and whether clicks on their locator links actually led to any in-store sales. They found that for a mobile investment of $1 million, the value brought by store locator clicks in mobile ads generated an extra $1.6 million in sales.

Given that past form has shown that marketers have not generally been all that great at predicting what exactly any online activity will become, it’s hard to say where online retail will be in another five years. What is certain is that there is a world of opportunity for marketers prepared to think creatively about how consumers want to use online to engage with the world around them.

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