The Future of M-commerce: Top trends to watch in 2021

Posted by Hilda Wandawa on

The Future of M-commerce: Top trends to watch in 2021

With consumers' heavy reliance and use of mobile devices, mCommerce is becoming a major shopping channel that merchants should be paying close attention to. Not only are consumers browsing through mobile sites, but they are also spending a lot of time in mobile apps. This presents great opportunities for businesses to promote and sell their products or services to this gold mine of potential customers.  

Mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology, are so ingrained into modern society that about 80% of people globally own a smartphone. Whatsmore, a 2017 global survey by Statista found that around half of respondents spent more than 5 hours on their phone per day. This trend has only intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic with the time people are spending on their phones increasing at an average of 21% globally.

So what are consumers doing on their mobile devices for all these hours per day? 

What may come as a pleasant surprise to merchants is that around one-third of consumers are using their phones to shop for products. In addition, 66% of the time spent with e-retail is done on a mobile device. This, therefore, demonstrates the importance of M-commerce.

What is mCommerce?

M-commerce, which stands for mobile commerce, allows consumers to buy goods and services from the palm of their hands in a myriad of ways including, mobile apps, virtual marketplaces, and digital wallets - to name a few. 

M-commerce presents a number of benefits to brands, such as providing additional touchpoints from the brand to the consumer, increased chances for interactions with customers, and a greater understanding of customers due to more comprehensive customer data. It is thereby clear to see why brands would want to incorporate mCommerce into their strategy. 

M-commerce has been in the business mindset for over 20 years, and as technology has evolved, so has the scope of mCommerce. In this article, we examine some key trends in mCommerce for 2021 so you can reap the rewards effectively.

Progressive Web App optimization

    If there is anything that is going to automatically deter a customer from making a purchase using a mobile device, it is slow loading times. In fact, a study by Google found that 53% of mobile users abandon sites that take more than 3 seconds to load. Coupled with the fact that the average load time of sites via a 3G connection is 19 seconds and 14 seconds on a 4G connection, it is clear to see that there is a huge disparity between customer expectations and the capabilities of most mobile sites. This inefficiency of mobile sites is seemingly a result of poor planning with 80% of companies not having a long-term mobile strategy in place.

    With such a big gap between the speed of mobile sites and the speed at which most mobile sites are loading, there is a huge opportunity to exceed customer expectations and capitalize on the swarths of mobile shoppers. Fortunately, there are technologies that have been developed with the aim to address this divergence, namely, progressive web apps (PWA).

    Progressive Web Apps are a cross between a mobile app and a mobile website. To the users, PWAs feel just like an app, but they are built using web technologies. PWAs, unlike apps, do not need to be installed or downloaded, rather they are compatible on any device with a single codebase. 

    alibaba trends in mcommerce

    Alibaba PWA. When the B2B trading platform added PWA to their mCommerce arsenal, they experienced a 73% conversion rate and a rise in active monthly users.

    PWAs are made up of three different components:

    1. Web app manifest: this allows the website to run as a standalone application in full-screen mode. It is also used to determine how the PWA will look, assist in optimization for multiple devices, and assigns an icon
    2. Service workers: these ensure that the PWA can be used offline to a certain point
    3. Application shell architecture: this is essentially the face of the PWA; it is everything the user sees powered by HTML, Javascript, and CSS

    PWAs have very recently developed in a way that will allow businesses to further optimize the experience provided by PWAs. Let’s take a look at exactly what improvements have occurred that you can take full advantage of in 2021.

    Offline feels like online

    One of the pain points faced by consumers using PWAs is when they cease to operate due to a lack of, or faulty, internet connection. A benefit of PWAs previously mentioned is that they have the ability to work offline, but the point at which the functionality could continue was fairly limited until now. Cached content - which uses cache to collect data for offline functionality, background syncing - which allows users to perform actions such as sending a message which will then be automatically executed once the connection is restored, and skeleton screens - which draws out the interface without content until a connection is reestablished, can now be used to further drive the user experience whilst they are browsing offline.

    Optimization of loading speed

    PWAs already operate significantly faster than mobile websites, as experienced by the Japanese media business, Nikkei. In 2017, the company’s PWA achieved a 75% faster loading time when compared to their mobile website. This can now be further optimized to tackle the dwindling attention spans of consumers head-first. Speed optimization can be achieved in a couple of ways:

    1. Prioritizing resources: developers should identify exactly which resources are of utmost importance so that they can be rendered before they are ever used. This could be static elements like product images or prices. When these elements are rendered in advance, the user can immediately see important details which will assist them in their buying decisions a lot quicker. In order to do this, developers should specify the priority of elements within the HTML. 
    2. Adaptive loading: this is a technique that will optimize the performance of PWAs regardless of the strength of the internet connection. It is achieved by loading specific elements based on the strength of the user’s internet connection type; ie. 2G, 3G, 4G, or wifi. Fortunately, this can be simply implemented with the ready-made plugins provided in Google's Workbox tool.

    User-friendly push notifications

    Modern techniques can be deployed to optimize the quality of push notifications sent to the users. Push notifications are automatic alerts or short messages sent from an app, usually to encourage a user back to the application. These have the potential to be irritating to customers. Fortunately, there is a modern solution to prevent this pain point: customized push notifications. 

    Rather than using the standard permission request to use push notifications, brands can go further and create requests for more specific and relevant push notifications. 

    Generic push notification trend in mcommerce customized push notification trends in mcommerce 

    Polymer Airways updated the messaging on their permission request to provide a value proposition for the user.

    This is certain to increase user interaction with your PWA, as it will multiply the likelihood of user acceptance to push notifications; in turn, attracting users to return to the app more.

    Voice Search 

      Convenience is key in the land of user experience. Making interactions as easy, as quick, and as intuitive as possible is vital if you want to turn mobile visits into repeat purchases for your business. A one seemingly important way that you can warrant such a convenient shopping experience to consumers is through voice search - the act of speaking to a search engine to perform search actions on mobile devices.

      This used to be a tiresome task for consumers as search systems would fail to recognize certain accents, resulting in users having to repeat their searches and eventually abandon the task altogether. However, this technology has significantly improved over the years and has weaved into the fabric of people’s daily lives, namely via voice-enabled devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo.

      Voice-enabled devices are so entrenched that 65% of people who own such devices can not imagine living without one. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, as global sales of smart speaker devices reached an all-time high in 2020 - with 150 million units sold. It is projected to surpass $30 billion in global sales by 2024.

      Voice-enabled devices are not only limited to smart speakers, they are also integrated into smartphone operating systems via virtual assistants like Siri on Apple’s IOS and Alexa on Google/Android.

      So how does this relate to mCommerce, and how can the benefits be reaped? 

      Businesses will be happy to learn that, up to 43% of consumers use their voice-enabled devices to shop, with a further 22% completing purchases through voice search alone, accounting for $2 billion in consumer spending. The majority of consumers are also using voice search to research products amongst other shopping-related actions.

      voice search and shopping statistics trend in mcommerce

      Navar's research shows the variety of shopping actions that users of voice search are completing. This vast range suggests that consumers are comfortable using voice control for shopping, and can provide valuable information to better inform marketing strategies.

      Consumers are also demonstrating a will to connect with brands via voice with 52% of smart speaker owners being open to receiving information such as deals, sales, and promotions from brands.

      Voice search, therefore, presents a potential cash cow for businesses in 2021 and beyond. Voice search and voice capabilities in mobile devices will likely become a norm as developers strive to improve them, allowing consumers to intuitively search for items, select their size and color, add to the basket, and purchase successfully. Mobile apps operating solely by voice control are likely to enter and dominate the market. This can be gleaned through the following voice search statistics:

      1. 31% of smartphone users worldwide use voice search at least once a week
      2. Smart speaker users search for music 70% of the time, whether 64% of the time and fun questions 53% of the time. This suggests a huge potential for voice-controlled apps in these categories.
      3. 55% of teenagers use voice search daily. This is a great indication of the potential and likely proliferation of voice-controlled apps in the future, as voice search is already a consistent part of Gen Z’s lives.

      There are several actions that businesses can take to feel the full effects of the rise in voice search:

      1. Optimization. Voice searches tend to be longer than text searches as people naturally speak in full sentences. It will be important for businesses to optimize their content for longer and naturally-sounding queries and keywords. 
      2. Analyze. Voice search keywords tend to be different from the ones consumers type in, therefore businesses should keep a close eye on what these voice search terms are, so they can be applied to the SEO strategy. 
      3. A conversational tone is key. Again, as voice search results in users using full sentences or questions rather than a few keywords, a conversational tone in your meta description and introductory paragraph will be of utmost importance in pushing your site higher in search ranks.

      Social Commerce

        Social media is an ingrained part of modern life; in 2020 the global social media penetration rate climbed to 49% with East Asia having the highest rate at 71%, followed by North America at 69%. This should come as no surprise to savvy businesses. However, what might be one is the increased amount of consumers turning to social media for shopping. 

        In the US alone, this year retail social commerce sales are expected to hit $36.09 billion - an increase of almost 35% from the previous year. This, however, is not a trend limited to the US. By 2028, the global social commerce market size is projected to reach $3,369.8 billion.

        With an estimated 4.08 billion active mobile social media users worldwide, a well-thought-out social commerce strategy is going to be a key part of leveraging your mCommerce prowess.

        Of late, social commerce has evolved from simply showing ads or sponsored posts on social feeds, to giving consumers the ability to make purchases within the apps via shoppable posts and pages. In this case, retailers tag their products in posts, which can then be clicked on to be purchased without ever leaving the app.

        The important question is, do these recent advancements in social commerce have taken any effect on consumer behavior and habits? And the short answer is, certainly! A study found that brands that use Instagram Shopping features had an increase of 20% in revenue. In addition, 49% of US young adults made purchases via social media. For those who have not made a purchase using social media before, 27% of these consumers are willing to give it a try.

        Instagram and Facebook are the big players when it comes to social commerce, and they have made it simple for businesses to take advantage of their shopping capabilities. Brands just need to set up a Facebook Shop account, upload their product portfolio, and later sync their Facebook Catalog with their Instagram business account. 

        popular social commerce platforms trend in mcommerce

        Statista research shows that Facebook owns the greatest share of the social commerce market in the US.

        AR & VR

          Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are shaping up to be the next big thing in mCommerce, with its global market in retail projected to be worth $1.6 billion by 2025. Therefore, early adoption of these technologies is key if you want to claim a substantial piece of this pie. 

          AR is where people use the camera function on their smartphone via an app to view an enhanced rendition of the real world. This can be with the addition of visuals, sounds, and other sensory stimuli to provide more information in a much more engaging way.

          augmented reality retail mcommerce trend

          Medium demonstrates how retailers can use AR to give customers rich product information and assist in purchasing in-store.

          VR, on the other hand, is a computer-generated simulation that allows users to interact in a 3D environment through specific devices, such as goggles, VR headsets, and smartphones.

          virtual reality university campus mcommerce trends

          Penn State University uses VR to give students a virtual tour of their campus.

          So why are these technologies projected to be so lucrative in the retail mCommerce market?

          Firstly, AR and VR result in a more engaging and convenient shopping experience, so much so that 40% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they can experience it through AR. 

          AR provides convenience for the consumer as whilst they are in-store, they can simply pull their phone out in order to instantly find a specific product or retrieve additional information on a product they would like to purchase instead of wandering around the store or trying to find an available staff member. 

          Convenience is also achieved with VR as consumers can be immersed in a virtual tour of your store from the comfort of their home. This is a more natural, fun, and engaging way for customers to acquire information about products and also a project full sensory rendition of your brand.

          AR and VR also present new paths to marketing your brand or product. A captivating draw that can differentiate your brand from another could be the immersive experience that is able to be achieved when these technologies are used. This has already proved to be the case in the US, as 61% of shoppers stated that they preferred to shop somewhere that utilized AR.

          In addition, advertisements can be displayed using AR and VR, providing richer and more engaging content for consumers to interact with.

          Retailers are already making use of these technologies in interesting ways to improve the customer’s shopping experiences and assist in decision making. This has proven to be a growing trend, as 75% of brands are considering creating an AR and/or VR strategy. Let’s take a look at some examples below.

          IKEA

          The Swedish furniture brand has developed an AR app called IKEA Place - which creates a visual representation of what their products will look like in the consumer’s home.

          Users of this app simply take a picture of the living space. The app then automatically takes measurements of the area and recommends items that will fit in the space. When a product is selected, a movable image appears, allowing users to see exactly how the item will work in their home.

          virtual reality university campus mcommerce trends

          IKEA made it simple for the customer to clearly visualize their products from the comfort of their own home. This realistic experience has a positive influence on customer decision-making, which increases the likelihood of a sale.

          Nike

          Nike has integrated an AR feature into their app called Nike Fit. Customers can take a picture of their (shoeless) feet which will allow the app to find their true shoe size. This is a valuable feature that solves an emerging problem, which is that 60% of people wear the wrong shoe size.

          Nike Fit app mcommerce trends

          Nike added additional, special features to their existing app, taking their mCommerce customer experience sky-high through a simple application of AR.

          Karen Millen

          The luxury ladieswear retailer partnered with Imperial Avenue to create a VR rendition of the brand’s flagship store. This allowed consumers to take a virtual tour of the store and even make a purchase. What’s more, as this used 360-degree panorama images to provide the virtual rendition, the feature was compatible on popular platforms such as smartphones, rather than solely on VR headsets.

          Karen Millen VR mcommerce trends

          Karen Millen invited consumers to an immersive tour of their flagship London store where they can, browse through different items, make purchases, and share pictures of items on popular social media platforms.

          These are just a handful of ways to integrate AR and VR into your mCommerce strategy. If you plan to take advantage of this growing trend, be sure to consider the following:

          1. What kind of team and technology do you need to achieve this - Are your team already competent in these technologies, or will you need to hire and invest in this? 
          2. How will you use this to enhance the customer experience - what do you want to present via AR and VR, and how will this be useful to your customers?
          3. How can you test this technology on a small scale - testing these technologies is important to avoid any hiccups once it is fully rolled out. It will also be useful to pinpoint the potential benefits to your customers and to your business.

          Final Thoughts

          These recent mCommerce trends are giving brands the ability to greatly improve the customer experience. This has been through more engaging content as seen with AR and VR, a more intuitive shopping experience as delivered by voice search and social commerce, and by enhancing the convenience already present within mCommerce - which is present in every trend. 

          These exciting trends, powered by advances in technology, have piqued the interest of many major brands. This is due to the fact that they are effective in drawing customers to products and services whilst maintaining their attention. Grasping onto the customer’s attention is a sure-fire way to turn a visit into a sale. It’s time to consider how to implement these trends so you can watch your sales soar!