E-commerce companies today face different challenges from even five years ago. As mobile technology has become entrenched in every aspect of consumers’ lives, companies that rely on e-commerce to generate revenue must learn how to continue to grow in a world where e-commerce now stands for “everywhere commerce.”

As savvy companies have already noticed, many of the e-commerce challenges of the near future are already in full swing. These challenges boil down to three primary areas: interconnectivity, personalization and meaningful experiences.

Interconnectivity: This challenge speaks to the customer expectation of convenience. Customers don’t want to have to make a list of items to purchase when they go home. They expect to be able to make relevant purchases anywhere, anytime—and receive the same experience they would on a desktop or in a store.

That experience includes order tracking and fulfillment, which many companies take for granted. Nothing irks customers more than customer service reps who don’t know why a package is late or missing—a situation that costs the company both money and goodwill. Companies must be connected not only to their own software and inventories, but also to the third-party entities that help them fulfill their customer obligations.

Personalization: The next challenge starts with collecting data. Every e-commerce guru likes to talk about the importance of Big Data because everything from marketing analytics to demographics and website behavior tells the company something relevant about what turns a prospect into a buyer

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Any attempt to build a more personalized experience requires a solid foundation of relevant data. But transforming that data into personalization requires more than sending push notifications about previously viewed items and abandoned shopping carts. Actual personalized recommendations based on purchases and browsing behaviors earn more customers than regurgitated, once-discarded shopping carts.

Meaningful experiences: Combining personalization with ease of use, customers want to feel like they’re individually meaningful to the company pursuing their business and companies now have an obligation to customers to express that. Apps must provide interesting, engaging content without sacrificing ease of use. Brand experiences must be consistent—from storefronts to websites to mobile devices to experiential campaigns—so customers can follow the story and identify with the brand across multiple channels.

Meeting the challenges

As these challenges become more present, e-commerce companies must evolve quickly or risk finding themselves unprepared and left behind in a mobile world that moves on quickly. Prepare for the future by following these steps:

  1. Prioritize the mobile commerce experience

While really just a subsection of e-commerce, m-commerce (or “mobile commerce”) holds the key to success for e-commerce companies in 2017 and beyond. Mobile shoppers spent $12 billion more in 2016 than 2014. Customers are no longer hesitant to do business on one electronic platform over another—from tablets to smartphones to laptops—so companies have to prepare to meet them wherever they are.

Every website should feature a responsive design, especially if the company doesn’t rely on an app to secure business. The longer a site takes to load or the harder it is to navigate, the more likely a customer is to close the page and move on to a competitor’s site. Easy navigation, short loading times and intuitive shopping carts can all help e-commerce businesses take their pieces of the projected $220.4 billion pie in mobile sales this year.

  1. Engage socially

Most companies already have brand presences on social media but, in many cases, that presence is strictly promotional. Facebook allows users to purchase goods through a direct-buy link on the site, as does Pinterest and Instagram. Social media use should not be limited to marketing—it should be a direct sales channel all its own.

Social media can also extend beyond the traditional company-consumer relationship to help consumers talk with one another. Creating forums or opportunities for customers to show each other how they interact with a company or use a product engenders brand loyalty and helps attract business.

  1. Tap into a lifestyle

Fitbit technically sells only fitness accessories but the company has enjoyed massive success by marketing an active lifestyle surrounding its products. The app makes up the core of this approach, tracking users’ fitness information from the Fitbit products and encouraging them to log other aspects of their lifestyles as well. Similarly, L’Oréal uses its Makeup Genius app to cultivate a lifestyle among its followers. Users can use their smartphone cameras to superimpose different makeup looks on their faces.

Both companies succeed because they go beyond the traditional relationship of buyer and seller and speak to the lifestyles of their target audiences. Companies in 2017 and beyond need to expand the ongoing conversations with their customers and the best way to do that is to evolve from a seller to a participant in the lifestyle the customer wants to lead.
Running a successful e-commerce company can be stressful and with the challenges that lie ahead, it’s not about to get any easier. But by following these steps and creating a better m-commerce experience, companies can prepare themselves for the future while building better foundations today.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Tony Tie

Tony Tie is a numbers-obsessed marketer, life hacker and public speaker who has helped various Fortune 500 companies grow their online presence. Located in Toronto, he is currently the senior search marketer at Expedia Canada, the leading travel booking platform for flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises and local activities. Connect with Tony on Twitter @tonytie.