When it comes to end-of-year trend predictions, we don’t really know what’s to come in the year ahead. Updates, platform changes, new developments - so much can change in a very short space of time.
Well, we’re officially over half way through 2023, which means there has been plenty of time for some new ecommerce trends to spring up!
Let’s look at just a few of the trends that have started to emerge in the first half of the year. These trends have already started to influence how customers browse and shop online, and how merchants adapt their strategies to suit.
#1 - AI assistance in personalization and shopping
The last year or so has been big for artificial intelligence, and especially towards the end of 2022. That meant it was a key focus across the entire internet, and in ecommerce everyone was excited at how AI could be used in the customer experience.
Early in 2023, OpenAI launched GPT-4, the newest iteration of their generative AI tool slated to be as much as ten times more advanced than its predecessor. This development put AI firmly in the spotlight, as retailers and others in the commerce space looked to how it can impact the customer experience. After all, 65% of Americans say their expectations are higher than just 3 years ago and AI could help seriously improve their experiences.
So far, the impact on customer experience has manifested in AI assistance. Not long after GPT-4, Shopify announced its ChatGPT powered ShopAI tool designed to help customers by finding brands and products. Google later in May announced it was testing generative AI assistance in SERPs through Search Labs, to give users better information and guidance when they’re using Google to research a new purchase. While these ideas are still in their early stages, they certainly demonstrate the potential direction that AI will take in ecommerce.
2023 is shaping up to be the year of generative AI experimentation, so how can brands start to leverage this technology? One key way is through something that matters to customers - personalization. AI can be used to improve search functionality - especially if you have a large catalog it can help with making suggestions, or narrowing down search results. It can also be used to tailor product recommendations, using data about individual customers and similar customers to create hyper-personalized recommendations. Email marketing can too be enhanced using AI to offer personalized promotions and product offers, analyzing individual customer data to find the combination that will convert.
Another way that many merchants are experimenting with is using AI to improve the chatbot experience, giving chatbots greater capabilities to understand and communicate with users about issues. It’s estimated that in 2022, chatbots saved 2.5 billion hours of customer support time.
#2 - Recommerce and second-hand marketplaces
This is a trend which was already on the rise over the last few years, but is currently making an even bigger impact in 2023 thanks to social media. C2C or customer-to-customer commerce is primarily achieved through marketplaces. This isn’t a new concept - after all, eBay has been around for many years and is by far the most popular C2C marketplace platform. However in recent years we’ve seen the rise globally of platforms like Depop, Poshmark, Vinted, and more. While eBay allows for all kinds of products both new and preowned, this growth is more in the second-hand market, also known as “recommerce”. In 2021, the recommerce market in the US was valued at around 160 billion USD, but is expected to reach over 245 billion by 2025.
This trend is driven by many different factors. One is the rise in environmentalism and sustainability as an important part of the customer decision making process. Another could also be the rise in the cost of living making it more appealing to consumers to shop second-hand - over 53% of consumers shopped second-hand in 2022 as a way of saving money. Finally these platforms are popular on social media with the trends of thrifting and upcycling. Most of these newer platforms are also modeled after social media platforms themselves with the ability to “like” items, curate lists and saved items, and communicate in a method similar to social media direct messaging.
For brands, the best way to engage with this trend is going to be having some kind of presence on these platforms. Many brands use platforms like Depop as a sort of “warehouse sale”, selling products that are imperfect or returned and not fit for resale. At the very least, it's worth figuring out ways to engage with the recommerce or sustainability trend - this may be through a self-hosted imperfect product sale on a brand's own site.
#3 - First and Zero-party data
Ever since Google announced that it would be sunsetting third-party cookies, the concept of first-party and zero-party data has continued to grow in importance. To recap, zero-party data is that which is freely given to you by your customers e.g. their contact information, any preferences submitted via quizflows. First-party is data which you gather from your own platforms e.g. behavioral data, what products they order, and customer service interactions.
In 2023, Google may not have retired third-party cookies yet but they have retired Universal Analytics. They’ve replaced it now with GA4, which makes greater use of first and zero-party data. The tools they’ve developed give merchants much more control as well as deeper insights into the data they actually own. This means retailers can do more with the data they own, rather than relying on third-party data.
That means as the year goes on, we’ll start to see more and more use of this data and see its impact on ecommerce. That may manifest through better use of data to improve conversion rates, more targeted marketing campaigns, or just a deeper understanding of what matters to customers in their experience.
#4 - Evolution of social search and commerce
Lastly, time to talk about the continuing impact of social commerce. Social media has long been important to brands, but in recent years it has become invaluable. In days past, it was more about having platforms to advertise and engage customers through content, but it’s now grown into more. These platforms are now used for customers to discover new brands, shop on-platform, find reviews and opinions from influencers and their peers, and much more.
The two primary drivers for the importance of social media in to brands in 2023 are social search, and social commerce.
Social search is a trend that has been growing since mid-2022. This was due to data from Google suggesting that young people were using social media instead of Google for queries around places to eat and visit. Now in 2023, there’s more data that suggests these younger audiences are using platforms like TikTok to discover new brands and products, and many take off-platform actions as a direct result of what they see on the app. That means it’s of growing importance for brands to engage with these social media platforms beyond just ads and content. They need to be thinking about how they can apply SEO principles to social search trends, so their customers find them on social media.
Social commerce is another trend which has been on the rise for a few years now, but with the current trend for social search along with new platforms like Meta’s new Threads and growth on key platforms, it’s going to be one to watch for the rest of 2023. Threads is still in its early days, so many brands and users alike are still working out exactly how this will fit into their repertoire of social media platforms. Before the end of the year, it’s likely that we’ll see how this influences social commerce given Facebook and Instagram already being major players in this space.
A lot has happened in the first half of 2023, and there’s still a whole half a year to go. Keeping on top of emerging trends is one way to ensure your store and brand is staying hyper relevant to your target audiences, and making the most of emerging technologies as soon as they start to become influential.