It has been a busy year for ecommerce. Again. The pace of sales growth continues with eMarketer predicting 20% global B2C ecommerce growth in 2014, reaching $1.5 trillion, driven by factors such as mobile and advanced delivery and payment options. The UK is still growing but at the slower rate of 16% with sales of £45bn. Interestingly the average online spend per customer is expected to reach £1,000 for the first time.
So what’s behind this and what will carry on driving ecommerce next year? It’s often a dizzying experience keeping up with the latest thing in technology, people, process and marketing, so in this blog I’m picking out five key trends that, based on my experience of 2014, will be front of mind for the UK ecommerce market in 2015. Feel free to disagree and suggest your own!
1. Touch first web design
This isn’t new but it’s definitely gaining momentum. The clamour has been around going responsive but that alone doesn’t address the shift in usage to touch screen devices, which requires a different approach to web design. For example, a traditional design approach doesn’t factor in hit targets on smaller touch devices and can result in content assets not being optimised for mobile. Email is a great example of this – I receive so many emails that are illegible on my iPhone and impossible to follow links without zooming.
Schuh is a great example of a progressive retailer that recently re-launched with a responsive, touch friendly web design.
The popularity of larger devices, from ‘big’ mobiles like the new iPhone 6 to large format touch screens (30” plus), has also increased the complexity for touch design. The technologies used on the large format screens behave differently to mobile devices in several ways. Depending on the technology used for the screen, there can be a significant variation between the perceived hit target and the on-screen touch target. Designers have to accommodate the difference in viewing perspective of people of different heights, which typically means creating bigger hit targets with greater separation.
So 2015 will see greater adoption of touch-first design and factoring in a greater diversity of break points (responsive) and device-specific implications (adaptive).
2. Obsession with speed
I’ve seen a step change in how seriously in-house development teams take site performance monitoring, analysis and tuning. This has evolved from traditional IT server-side optimisation to massaging the front-end code to shave milliseconds of load times, for example making better use of compression and deferring non-essential scripts. A key driver has been the move towards responsive design; no longer do people have a separate mobile site that can be streamlined, so the core code base has to be super-efficient (it always should have been!).
I love hearing UX developers celebrating shaving milliseconds of document load times because it demonstrates a dedication to performance optimisation and an understanding that even fractions count. I guess for many people, Google’s announcement that page speed would factor in its algorithm encouraged sharper focus in the area. However, in my experience, developers are genuinely motivated by the technical achievement of streamlining page compilation rather than the slavish need to admonish Google demons.
Interestingly, I also see more trading teams using online diagnostic tools (such as Google Developers PageSpeed Insights – below) to monitor page load speed and efficiency. They’re using this alongside web analytics tools for trend analysis, using some of the data points in their KPI dashboards. This then prompts discussion with the development team to sense check that there aren’t major gaps to plug.
In 2015 we’ll see further obsession with performance optimisation and shaving off milliseconds from server response times and document load times.
3. Component-based design
In retail there has been a subtle shift away from page design to component design. A component-led approach focuses on the key content assets that are required on a website, assets that have multiple uses such as a product carousel. These components are designed to use a standard schema but capable of being adapted to suit a variety of use cases across the site.
The key advantage of component based design over page design is that design teams can adopt a ‘design once, use many times’ approach that increases efficiency by reducing the number of templates that are required.
This is the approach our UX designer adopted for CrowdShed. A good example is the carousel module. This is used primarily to surface projects (on the homepage for example) but also lends itself to other content types like events, blogs and testimonials. The benefit for the development team is that they can re-use the module schema and structure for multiple purposes without needing new designs (giving us time/cost efficiency).
We’ll see more UX designers following component-based design in 2015 rather than thinking purely in terms of pages.
4. Gamekeeper vs. poacher
Ecommerce has for a long time nurtured a symbiotic relationship between client teams and external partners (agencies, freelancers and consultants). This is most pronounced in the UK where it’s common for contractors to be an integral part of the BAU (business as usual) operations and where the typical technology route to market is to build off of a 3rd party platform using a recognised SI (system integrator).
However, the times they are a changing. Paul Boag recently wrote about this in his blog 4 web design trends for 2015 that will change your job forever.
“Many companies have decided it is unwise to rely on an outside suppliers for business critical operations. Instead they are building internal teams to take on the role. This is strategically wise, but also provides significant cost savings over the longer term.”
Some agencies have even been bought out by their clients. Paul references Adaptive Path, a UX design agency acquired by Capital One, and Mark Boulton Design as examples.
The need for external specialists and consultants isn’t going to disappear entirely (I say breathing a sigh of relief!), it’s just a refocus of investment priority for client teams who want greater control over the core platform and trading. They’ll be a continued shift in budget allocation to internal recruitment to increase internal skill sets.
5. Analysis is more popular
I’m happy to see the rise of the analyst. Not the reporter, the analyst. Anyone can report, few can analyse and interpret data properly. The increase in demand for senior in-house analysts/optimisation specialists has led to a bun fight to find the best people. In the last 12 months I’ve noticed several ecommerce clients struggle to find the right people, which puts the best candidates in a very strong position.
Smaller agencies I know struggle to find switched on analysts with commercial acumen, a blended skillset essential when engaging with client teams. This is partly due to the rise of the analyst freelancer – an inevitable evolution in the market given the day rates than can be charged for this elusive skillset.
This demand is influenced by the speed at which you can implement A/B and MVT testing tools without needing to absorb an enterprise cost model. Tools like Optimizely and Maximyser are relatively light for web developers to implement and let the business manage the complexity via the tool. So the investment can be switched to a specialist to devise, implement and manage a sophisticated testing program.
I’m expecting to see the growth of in-house analysis and optimisation teams in 2015 as data continues to be a key competitive battleground. In Econsultancy’s recent 15 Fascinating Insights From Econsultancy’s 2014 Reports, Christopher Ratcliff calls out this year’s trend of an increase in analytics budgets but a continued skills gap barrier.
What do other ecommerce professionals think?
After I wrote this, I tapped up my #EcomChat network on Twitter to ask the question, “If you could pick one big ecommerce trend for 2015, what would it be & why?”. I wanted to see if people were generally in agreement with me or I was a lone wolf!
Their answers were broadly similar. Here are a few choice quotes:
“With FB Atlas, ecommerce should really benefit from cross-device measurement to refine acquisition & retention strategy” – @ACChaudre
“Bandwidth-aware ecommerce” – @bseymour
“Just don’t make the new stuff the excuse not to get the old stuff working right” – @mcmillanstu
Comments and questions
So what do you think is going to be front of mind in ecommerce in 2015? Where will teams focus budget and what is going to be driving website optimisation?
Please drop by and share your comments, questions and experience.