The way that consumers access the Internet and shop online is changing. Desktop computers, laptops, mobile Internet devices, and mobile phones are converging into a larger category of Internet enabled devices. Millions of new users and new shoppers come online daily.
By way of example, last year eMarketer estimated that by 2013 74.9 percent of all Canadians would be Internet users. Put another way, essentially every Canadian between the age of 5 and 65 will have web access within a few years. In the U.S. there were an estimated 234.4 million Internet users at the end of last year or about 76.3 percent of the total population.
Meanwhile, TechCrunch has reported that mobile Internet use in North America grew 110 percent in 2009 according to Quantcast. That number would be impressive except it trails worldwide mobile Internet growth, which was pegged at 148 percent in 2009.
With so much change and so much growth, the technical side of ecommerce is also evolving. It may no longer be enough to simply think about having a web site, or even enough to create a mobile optimized version of your site for, say, the Google Nexus One, Motorola Droid, or Apple iPhone.
With this in mind, I am making five predictions about how expanding Internet access will change ecommerce and ecommerce design and development in the next few years.
1. Dozens of New Internet-Enabled Devices Will Emerge
The mobile phone is not the end of the line for the great, expanding, and ubiquitous Internet.
By way of example, Internet-driven streaming radios and web-guided navigation have been available in some cars for more than a year already and soon more cars and trucks will have Internet access.
Thanks to technologies like near-field communication (NFC), which allows passive devices to communicate—and potentially access the Internet—even seemingly mundane objects like your credit cards, store loyalty cards, and commercial packaging (yes even food boxes and cans) will access the web and display messages like your available credit, special deals or coupons, or when you last used seasoned breadcrumbs.
For ecommerce this means that you need to be ready to address potential customers in many different formats and form factors, for example, some consumable products may include reorder messages, so that consumers can simply responded to an on package message to order from an ecommerce-enabled merchant.
Liquid web design could be making a comeback very soon too.
2. Merchants Won’t Process Credit Cards
As customers begin to use a greater variety of devices to access the Internet and seek to use those devices in different ways, the current card-not-present payment system will evolve. Merchants will stop collecting credit card data at all, and customers will process payments on their own machine either by “swiping” credit cards or using an Internet wallet.
Consider what Braintree Payment Solutions is doing already. The company’s flexible application programming interface (API) and a novel technique called transparent redirect allow merchants to build shopping cart checkout forms so that the credit card data entered in that form does not go to the merchant’s web server. Rather the data is sent directly to Braintree’s secure and certified servers.
The authentication is done between the customer’s own Internet enable device and the Braintree servers. The merchant receives only a token ensuring that the transaction has taken place. In most cases, the retailer is outside of the scope of the Payment Card Industry’s (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance requirements.
What’s more, many consumers will, in fact, begin to use Internet wallets—similar to Google Checkout or PayPal—to store credit card and back account information. A consumer will be able to browse to Amazon online and buy a book with one click; walk past an NFC-equipped Coke vending machine and buy a cold soda with one click; and even march out of a restaurant, paying for the meal on an iPhone with one click.
Effectively, every transaction will be an ecommerce transaction.
3. Scary Levels of Personalization
Facebook Connect, OpenID, or a similar service will help to make the Internet, in general, and ecommerce, in particular, much more personal. Shoppers will use the same safe and secure credentials to login to nearly every ecommerce web site.
Online stores that integrate the technology first will have a head start on the competition.
Once a shopper’s profile is connected across several stores, it will be possible to offer an almost scary level of personalization and recommendations.
For example, if a shopper has visited three online shoes store in the past few minutes looking for hiking boots, your store might promote a special discount on hiking boots as soon as that potential customer hits a landing page.
Your site will address each user by name, even if it is the first time they’ve visited your online store.
And preferences like font size for the visually impaired will be passed along from site to site.
Nearly every aspect of site merchandising and marketing will be dynamic and personalized for the user. And marketers will begin to categorize users—as Netflix does now—to provide recommendations based on actions or choices peer users have made.
4. Ecommerce Sites will Be Modular
Many ecommerce web sites are already developed in a somewhat modular fashion. Presently, page templates, perhaps written in PHP, pull together various bits of code and data base references to dynamically generate both site content and presentation.
Furthermore, some platforms already offer extension modules that can easily add functionality to a site without cluttering the core with unwanted features.
This trend will continue, and soon developers will create a single set of template files that output pages for desktops and laptops, mobile phones, car dashboards, and even refrigerator display screens.
Many of these modules will include rich Internet applications. There will be audio modules that read page content for shoppers in their cars. Video modules that integrate with televisions, and more.
No. 5 Augmented Reality Means Everything Will Be For Sale
One way to think about augmented reality is to imagine walking in a large mall. Think about all of the store windows, other shopper’s faces, and even the benches or plants that make up the décor. To this mental image add digital overlays that identify that an item is or even tell you who a person is.
In the not too distant future, mobile applications will allow you to hold up your phone, aim its camera in the direction of some item you want to identify, and an overlay will tell you what you’re looking at.
See a bench you like in the mall, use your augmented reality application to first identify its maker, and then, with a click or two, order it from one of your favorite online stores.
If you like the shirt some other mall patron is wearing, capture an image of it, click order, and decide to either have it shipped home—for free—or pick it up in a boutique a few storefronts away.