2017 was a big year for e-commerce: chatbots were more talkative; cross-border broke down the barriers to online sales; deliveries became even more convenient; and we witnessed record breaking online sales from October through to December.
By Charles Brewer, CEO DHL eCommerce.
As the end of the year approaches it’s always enjoyable to reflect on the year that was, before embarking on the one ahead. That’s why I’ve compiled my ‘Best of 2017’ list to reflect on another wildly exciting year in the wonderful world of e-commerce.
1. Chatbots lending even more of a helping hand
It may not have been obvious, but this year chatbots started turning up everywhere. They’re a much cheaper alternative to customer service agents which is a huge bonus for startups. Used correctly, chatbots can be of immense value to a brand creating quick and fast customer interactions and also making the online shopping experience more personal. A great example of a chatbot that worked really well this Christmas is the Marks & Spencer’s Christmas Concierge. The messenger based chatbot helped customers find presents, plan food, and receive decorating and cooking tips. There’s still a way to go, but we’ll be seeing a lot more chatbots in the new year and they’re going to become a whole lot more intelligent.
2. Customers are loving omni-channel
Omni-channel is increasingly blurring the line between online and brick and mortar stores. It’s also becoming more and more popular with shoppers. According to Deloitte’s Annual Holiday Survey, omni-channel customers spend 208% more than single channel shoppers. This year’s Singles’ Day showed us how retailers can entice shoppers with online offers that can be redeemed in the real world – an incentive that worked like a dream. Because omni-channel provides a seamless shopping experience, and opportunities for customers to engage both online and offline, they want more of it. And we gave them what they wanted with omni-channel fulfillment solutions, providing e-tailers with the transparency needed to manage their inventories and organize shipments and deliveries seamlessly.
3. Virtual payments and cryptocurrencies take off
With bitcoin having crossed the $15,000 threshold, cryptocurrencies are finally looking like a reality. Virtual currencies and payments took off in a number of different ways this year which is great news for e-commerce. In our key market, Southeast Asia, where only 27% of the population had a bank account in 2016, telecoms companies are linking together mobile telecoms and blockchain to unlock the potential of nearly 400 million unbanked people.
4. Predictive analytics is not just for the big boys
We tend to think of big tech giants when we think of predictive analytics, but it’s also great for SMEs. New tools like Google’s Data Studio and Instagram’s business tools came out this year and made predictive analytics more and more accessible to small businesses. Predictive analytics can help companies anticipate what customers might buy, but also the kind of price they’re willing to pay. On top of that it’s also great for forecast analysis which ultimately helps businesses optimize fulfillment – a key part of e-commerce success.
5. Customers want even greener deliveries
Our customers don’t just want fast delivery, they’re also becoming more and more concerned with the environmental impact of the last mile. That’s why we introduced a range of electric motorbikes when we launched our domestic delivery operations in Vietnam and Malaysia this year. These environmentally-friendly delivery methods will be the future of domestic B2C delivery. We’ll be exploring plans to roll out more as part of our GoGreen commitment towards Zero Emission by 2050. In Germany, our subsidiary StreetScooter GmbH has just confirmed a second manufacturing facility. We will then be capable of producing up to 20,000 e-vehicles per year.
6. Robots on the rise
At DHL, we’ve been testing different kinds of robots to use in our facilities and for deliveries. Our “PostBOT,” a self-propelled electric robot, is following around our deliverers and lightening their load in the German city of Bad Hersfeld. Our “Effibot” has also been logging some miles this year. As well as helping warehouse workers move goods for picking and packing, the trailer-like robot was also a regular feature in the FIA Formula E pit lane, helping teams move around their spare parts. We also introduced “Pepper” at our Innovation Centre in Troisdorf, Germany; it greets new arrivals and can even answer a few questions.
7. Cross border e-commerce goes mainstream
Online shopping is now so prevalent that geographical boundaries have become less and less important. Price, quality, product offering and delivery are now the key factors for customers, where the goods come from is almost irrelevant. That said, cross border e-commerce is expected to make up 20% of all e-commerce in 2022. So, it’s vital that e-tailers make the experience seamless. To do that, a good logistics system with traceability and customs clearance is important.
8. Shopping on social media
Social e-commerce is also on the increase particularly in Southeast Asia and also in Latin America, where many shoppers purchase direct through Facebook. A report by Valuewalk showed that companies that have embraced social media are now generating roughly $2.4 million every minute through e-commerce. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter together are helping generate more than $40,000 in revenue every 60 seconds. Almost a third of e-commerce sales across Southeast Asia are the result of consumer journeys which begin on social media. If you’re not considering it yet – add it to your list for next year.
9. Even more convenience for customers
Convenience has long been the cornerstone of e-commerce and this year saw a number of new ideas for easy deliveries. Amazon Key allowed deliverers to go in people’s houses to drop off packages, and Walmart announced an ‘In Fridge’ delivery service. We’ve been offering DHL Packstation lockers for years and also piloted a car-trunk delivery solution this year in Germany. In Southeast Asia we just opened a network of DHL ServicePoints across Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. These allow customers to choose a ServicePoint online, book a shipment and simply drop it off at their convenience – we take care of the nationwide shipping. The network will expand even further in the coming months.
10. Cyber sales become end of year highlight
With record breaking sales holidays like Diwali, Singles’ Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Double 12, the end of the year is turning into one long cyber sale. People spent some €25 billion on Singles’ Day alone and a combined €1 billion during the US cyber sales. The Double 12 sales day on December 12 also proved a huge hit in Southeast Asia: over one million merchants got in on the action in China and Malaysians spent three times as much as they did on 11.11. Our teams around the world were ready for the peaks but our warehouses were practically flooded with boxes and parcels. It’s only thanks to our teams’ heroic efforts, that we delivered the smile in the last mile to all those bargain-loving customers.
It certainly was a big year for e-commerce. But there’s plenty more to come in 2018! Watch out for my predictions for what’s on the horizon next year. One thing is for sure – there’ll be no shortage of topics for the 2018 ‘top ten’ list.
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