2017 was a year in which we saw Amazon compete with Walmart in a battle to be the biggest US retailer, the re-rise of the brick-and-mortar store to promote ecommerce brands and the ever evolving artificial intelligence creations that are revolutionising the online landscape.

Now, with the new year upon us, we take a look at where we predict the future of ecommerce is headed in 2018.

Artificial Intelligence

We've already seen a huge boom of development in AI, but as one of the hot topics of last year it can only be expected that it will continue to reach new levels in 2018. One of the main ways it will be used in ecommerce is through providing an increasingly personalised shopping service to consumers. Artificial Intelligence will be programmed to have the same thought patterns as a human, instead of just using algorithms. So when a website is collecting data about what you're looking at, what you're buying etc. it will eventually become so attuned to your thought processes that it will start providing you with extremely relevant search results. Think targeted ads, but even more personalised.

A similar idea is expected to be used with chatbots. Currently there is a heavy focus on customer service within ecommerce, but having someone on hand 24/7 to answer customer queries can be both time consuming and expensive. As AI technology becomes more advanced, more and more companies will be using them to improve their customer service.

However, AI will not only advance customer related services, it is looking like we will also see it being used logistically. Warehouses will be able to implement systems like self-driving vehicles and robotic arms that can carry products, something which Amazon has already been trialing in their warehouses.

Voice Assistants

It's safe to say that Amazon Echo and Google Home have come into their own in a big way in the past year. In fact, studies suggest up to 40% of UK households will have voice-controlled smart devices in 2018. In fact, at the recent Consumer Electronics Show Amazon revealed just how many devices Alexa could be paired with, including within a bathroom mirror that can control shower settings! But what does this surge in voice assistants mean for ecommerce businesses?

The use of voice technology will change the nature in which people are shopping for things and ecommerce brands must shift both their optimisation and marketing techniques in preparation. Instead of searching online, people will start using voice software as a personal assistant, asking them to purchase specific items. This highlights the importance of increasing brand visibility and loyalty as people are more likely to be asking for, or pointed to, specific brands rather than happening upon something by chance.

Similarly to the idea of help chatbots, voice assistants can help with customer service and even integrate with home apps. For instance, if the user goes to a specific food outlet every day the voice assistant could set a reminder for them and then pre-order through the companies app.

Social Commerce

The power of social media has long been recognised in ecommerce. One of the trends that was already well underway in 2017 but will only get bigger in 2018 is companies employing the use of user generated content. Ecommerce branding is continually evolving and brands are learning that consumers more than ever want to be involved with a brands story, rather than just buying from a faceless brand.

One way to do that is to get consumers involved and creating a community. The use of Instagram has been super influential in this respect. Companies are realising the benefits of getting customers to post images of themselves wearing or using their products and then featuring them on their home websites. This improves brand visibility, as well as giving consumers a clearer (and seemingly more real/less biased) view of the product. It also greatly improves the companies SEO with continuous fresh content.

2018 will see the integration of social media in ecommerce go one step further, with the ability to buy through social media platforms. Facebook is already making clear progress on this one, with last years introduction of their marketplace feature. Whilst you can't buy directly off Facebook Marketplace currently, they have introduced the ability to make peer to peer paypal payments through Facebook Messenger, allowing for instant purchasing. This hints at what the future of social commerce might look like, with other social media apps sure to follow suit.

AR and VR

Another technological advance that is seeing prominence coming into the new year is Augmented and Virtual Reality. Whilst there is fairly limited scope for how VR can be utilised within ecommerce at the moment, Augmented Reality is already starting to see some traction. One great example of this is Amazon's new AR View shopping feature that allows users to see what different household items, including anything from pieces of furniture to kitchen appliances, will look like in their home. This is a whole new way of shopping that really allows the user to fully engage with the product before buying it.

Other brands are similarly following suit, including the Sephora mobile apps use of ModiFace technology that allows users to upload a selfie and then try different styles and brands of makeup on. These are just the beginning examples of how AR can be used by companies to improve customer experience. With their predicted growth and success, it seems likely that 2018 will see more and more companies investing in the software to be able to implement similar user experiences.

As can be seen from the above predictions there are two major themes that look set to be the focus of 2018; rapid development in technology and improved customer experience. It will be interesting to see how the two continue to intersect as companies are increasingly investing in these softwares that bring customer experience to the forefront of their strategies. Whilst a lot of these trends started gaining traction in 2017 their successes look bound to see smaller companies looking to employ them in 2018.