Editor´s note: This is a guest post by Emily Grunwald, a Full-Stack Marketer. Follow her on EmilyGrunwald.com

In the last decade, the Internet has fundamentally changed how we do business. From a single local market, you can now tap customers all across the world. If Uber – an eight year old company – has a higher valuation than 80% of companies on the S&P 500, it is because of the reach of the internet. The pace of change has been swift and to keep pace, you need to remain on your toes. And 2017 is no different than any other in this regard. There are emerging trends that are changing how we conduct e-commerce especially in the food industry. I’ve shared some of these changes below and how you can keep apace with them.

1. Rise of live video

In 2005, YouTube was born followed soon by Ustream in 2007. Since then, YouTube has been massively successful in driving people’s addiction towards video content whereas Ustream has popularized the concept of live video. “Live video” is when users broadcast video content in real-time over the Internet, as opposed to recorded video (the majority of YouTube content). Live video has been technologically limited for much of its history. It wasn’t possible to record and stream video because of bandwidth concerns. This meant that you’d only see live video on televised sports events, live news stories, etc. That has changed today. Faster data connections and 24×7 access to a video camera (your smartphone) have made live video as accessible as recorded video.

Today, anyone can pull up a smartphone and broadcast himself to thousands, even millions. In fact, 80% of people today even prefer live video instead of text-based content. And due to this shift, the live video market is expected to grow from $30 billion today to $70 billion by 2021. For this reason, Facebook has bet huge on live video.

In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg stated: “We’re entering this new golden age of videos online.” And with that, Facebook introduced more features for live streaming such as group streaming and 360-degree footage to keep people engaged on Facebook. And Facebook is not alone in this push. Other social media giants have bet on live video too with their own services such as Twitter’s Periscope and YouTube’s Live. Brands, influencers, and celebrities are all heavy users of live video content already. For example, check out how GE created a week-long drone campaign to showcase their manufacturing facilities live on Periscope.

How to use it in your e-commerce business

Live video has transformed social media into “real time” media. Instead of polished messages, it prioritizes real-time, intimate and honest conversations. Embrace this shift and use it as a growth hacking tactic to engage with millennial customers. An e-commerce business might show off “behind the scenes” of its work – how products are made, packaged and sold. Live video is particularly effective for retailers in the food industry where it can inspire greater trust and authenticity. If you can show customers that your food products are real and you are passionate about making them, they will fall in love with your brand. As an example, consider how Wendy’s used YouTube celebs to send customers personalized messages along with a live show on Periscope.

You can easily use similar ideas in your live video marketing campaign.

2. Growth of AI

AI (better known as artificial intelligence) has been a buzzword for decades. However, with recent developments, AI is coming close to reality. Tools such as Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana are simple examples of this increasingly smarter AI. For example, you can queue up a movie on Netflix with only a voice command.

As we’re still on the first few generations of such AI technologies (Google Assistant only launched in 2016), they are bound to get better at what they do. Beyond helping us accomplish tasks, improved AI will also affect search engines. Instead of returning only search queries, they will be able to answer actual questions asked to them.

For example, you may ask “who is prince charles’s second son”?

Check out the result:

This is by no means a simple query (it might take even a human being a few seconds to figure it out), but Google’s AI-influenced algorithm (aka “RankBrain”) could figure out in just 0.70 seconds

How to use it in your e-commerce business

There are three ways AI will affect your business:

  • It will help automate low level tasks
  • It will change the way you rank in search engines
  • It will change the way shoppers find your products

For example, AI powered by machine learning makes “visual search” possible. This gives customers an option to search your store based on visuals (or visual descriptions). A customer might be able to take a picture of a real product and use AI to search your store for something similar. As Entrepreneur magazine points out: “The visual search capabilities, particularly via mobile, “reads” the item for clues — color, shape, size, fabric and brand. This helps consumers to find exactly what they are looking for right away.

3. Rise of messaging apps and chatbots

In the early days of the Internet, people loved to instant message. Whether it was AOL or Yahoo Messenger, people chatted away for hours with family, friends, and even strangers. The lure of instant communication was strong. Yet, people could only do so on their desktop (unless both parties paid for text messages). Then came along apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger just as WiFi became the norm and mobile data prices plummeted. The result was an astronomical growth of users of these apps. Take a look:

:WhatsApp and Co

Suddenly people began sending texts, images, videos, and even documents through these apps and the once popular instant messaging services began a slow death. The convenience of such apps has now spilled to the world of business communication. For example, team collaboration tool Slack has both an Android and iOS version app of their service to allow team members to communicate on the move. In addition, these apps are also beginning to feature “chatbots”. These are computer programs activated through specific queries meant to stimulate a real conversation with human users. Check out CNN’s chatbot on Facebook.

The popularity of chatbots can be seen through its staggering growth rate. Between July and November 2016, the number of chatbots on Facebook grew from 11,000 to 34,000.

How to use it in your e-commerce business

With chatbots here to stay, you can use them to automate tasks to improve efficiency. For example, you may automate basic customer service so as to provide uninterrupted round the clock care. Furthermore, chatbots can also change your entire marketing approach. You may choose to sell products directly via chatbots rather than create a separate site. You might also use chatbots to deliver recipes and customized content to users. For example, consider how Whole Foods uses chatbots to send customers recipes. Note the personalization and conversational nature of the transaction.

WholeFood

Check out this site for more examples of how AI can improve your site search, price monitoring and analytics.

4. Voice computing

With every action just a smartphone away, people have become overwhelmed. There is simply too much information leading to cognitive overload. People would rather just think of an action and have a smart system do the rest for them. Fortunately, this is now becoming a reality. Improvements in speech recognition technology has already given rise to smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. In fact, the Echo was one of the best-selling products during the holiday season. During CES 2017, Amazon’s speech recognition technology known as “Alexa” (the voice that powers the Echo) was found integrated in car music systems to refrigerators. In other words, Alexa is being trained with thousands of “skills” to help users perform a wide-variety of tasks just through voice alone. Just take a look at the growth in Alexa’s skills over a six month period.

Businesses are betting big on voice computing as the “next big thing”. They expect voice technology to be the next phase of computer interaction, similar to how touch screens revolutionized how we interact with mobile phones and computer screens.

How to use it in your e-commerce business

There is a reason Amazon – the world’s largest e-commerce company – has invested so heavily in Alexa. Voice computing, as Mobify points out, is the “future of e-commerce”. Imagine a customer being able to order your products with a simple command – “Order two boxes of bagels from XYZ store”. This instantly reduces friction to zero. Consider integrating your store with Alexa through the developer API. This is technically challenging at the moment, but expect more streamlined integration options soon. Meanwhile, you can use this Shopify-Alexa integration to get details about your store’s performance through Alexa.

5. The Internet of Things (IoT)

As a buzzword, IoT has ruled the tech press for a good 5 years. Today, it finally seems that the buzzword has matured to become a real, viable technology. In simple terms, IoT is connecting any device to the Internet or any other device. This includes items ranging from your coffee maker, washing machine, and even your lamp. With such devices coming ‘online’ you will have access to a stream of smart data. And this will let you have a deeper level of control over your life. For example, you can have a door lock contact you when someone attempts to open it while you’re out of your house.  Presently, wearable devices such as FitBit and Nike’s Fuelband are the first iterations of IoT. They constantly monitor and feed vital body data to your account over the cloud allowing you to make better lifestyle choices. And by 2020, there are expected to be 25 billion IoT devices in the market.

How to use it in your e-commerce business

IoT can transform the way you engage with your customers. It helps move your store away from a “screen-only” (mobile, desktop) experience to a more pervasive, “lived” experience. IoT also enables greater access to better data. Instead of just clicks on your website, you can learn from multiple data points from actual physical devices. This data can help you develop richer, personalized shopping experiences.

If you have an offline presence as well, IoT – through products like iBeacons – can bring your offline store online. You can get highly targeted data about the way customers behave around your stores, what they like and what they avoid. The result: better in-store shopping experience.

Besides the above, IoT can also help you streamline shipping and logistics. You might use GPS + RFID to tell customers exactly where their products are and their status. Finally, IoT can help retailers manage their inventory better. RFID tags built into products can communicate information about temperature, weather, object damage, etc. This is a big plus for food and beverage retailers who depend on accurate weather/temperature data to manage their inventories.

Conclusion

Being aware of trends and their potential impact on your business is critical. Only with thorough monitoring and analysis can you effectively adopt and make changes before having to face the risk of becoming obsolete. To start, go through the trends mentioned in this article and decide which make the best sense for you.

Author´s Bio: Emily Grunwald is a Full-Stack Marketer. Follow her on EmilyGrunwald.com

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This is a guest post written by one of our contributors.