Now that the year is still fresh, let’s take a look into what will be the most important issues brands and retailers should be aware of in 2019.

New Touchpoints

This topic has already been with us for a while, and it will become even more relevant: the proliferation of new touchpoints and different user scenarios that are the result.

In our post-web world, “voice” takes the lead. As of now, 21% of all US households are said to own a smart speaker, and a third of those use those devices several times per day. Amazon has sold more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices; Google, with all devices running Android, has announced that their Assistant is accessible via more than a billion devices. And even though evidence suggests that only a fraction of users have made an actual purchase via those devices (the primary use case for smart speakers are setting the alarm and playing music), more and more skills are coming to the app stores of the voice platforms and open up new areas for innovation.

Also, the Internet is getting more (smart) Things. At this January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), lots of devices were presented that had some sort of smartness and connectivity attached to them. But we’re not only talking smart bike pedals here: notably, car manufacturers also presented their products there. With vehicles being connected to the web, they, in fact, become new touchpoints in their own right, allowing drivers and passengers to look for information and entertainment as well as getting their shopping done while being on the move.

API-First and Headless

Headless Commerce

Tightly connected to those new interfaces is the technology in the background: How can brands and retailers avoid having to build and maintain a software zoo to feed their data to all of those touchpoints? The answer is, they need to rely on fast and flexible APIs to connect to all of those current and future devices, using a centralized platform.

These so-called headless commerce platforms, such as the commercetools platform, are designed to connect to those different user interfaces –  now and in the future. Investing in headless or API-centric platform is one of the key initiatives for businesses in 2019.

Building Teams & Growing Organizations

There are new touchpoints used by customers, there is a new kind of infrastructure to connect to all of those and enable seamless shopping experiences – but there still need to be people working with those capabilities, building and implementing new functions, right? In 2019, it will become even harder for businesses to attract new and retain current talent.

Brands and retailers need to work on their employer branding, think about near- and offshoring and at the same time leverage their existing workforce to find new colleagues and build new teams.

Platforms, Marketplaces and Alliances

When it comes to commerce infrastructure, there are a lot of high-tech solutions which make retailers perform better on multiple levels, such as a recommendation algorithm that helps customers find matching products, which potentially increases basket size. However, those solutions are expensive, and when a large pool of data is needed to scale, businesses often cannot do in on their own. In those cases, it makes sense to work together and form alliances or make use of platforms.

Other reasons are reach and customer access. These days, more than half of consumers start their online product search on Amazon. If your products and services are listed on their marketplace, you don’t have to worry about buying traffic. For larger retailers, it might make sense to leverage their technological and organizational infrastructure and rent it to 3rd parties, as Amazon does with its very successful AWS business. The beauty of becoming a platform: mitigating inventory risk, gaining new market insights and building brand awareness. In general, those kinds of gatekeepers will increase market share to 40% in the next few years, according to Gartner.

Artificial Intelligence

No list of trends would be complete without at least mentioning AI once. In the current debate, there is a lot of doubt regarding how far the development is, what the difference between AI and machine learning is and what possible commerce applications could be. But the online industry is bound to be disrupted by smart algorithms – however, not in the shape and form of evil programs that will govern all the world’s information and rule humanity.

But regarding something far more mundane, like product data: for decades, category managers and developers have been trying to create the perfect – high quality, relevant – product catalog. With advances in machine learning, these day-to-day tasks could be automated, leaving more time to think about innovation (which is something, that will be left to humans after all).

What do you think? What will be relevant for your business? Please let us know in the comments.