Like everyone involved in e-commerce, you know change happens constantly and quickly. It’s hard to keep up, and easy to be left behind. As advances in technology change the way we do business, brands need to adapt in order to stay competitive and seize a piece of the e-commerce pie. Each year, new trends appear, creating both new opportunities and new challenges. Here are some trends you’ll want to embrace in order to stay on top of the e-commerce wave.

These Are the Droids You’re Looking For

Although we’ve got a long way to go before before robots like the droids in Star Wars are manning the phones, artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t science fiction anymore. One way companies can take advantage of this emerging technology is by using chatbots as part of their customer support plan. Chatbots are sophisticated enough to answer basic inquiries, and they are getting more advanced all the time. This technology is rather new and not yet widespread, but chances are it will become a necessary addition to your toolset before long.

Online chat is an important part of customer service. Customers who engage in live chat spend on average 5%-30% more, and buyer conversion rate is 5 to 10 times higher following a chat session. For complex interactions, nothing can replace a human behind the keyboard. But using a chatbot for the basics can save time and money while still reaping the benefits that online chat provides.

Get Yourself a (Digital) Crystal Ball

While there is no way to predict every detail about your customers’ future behavior, there are tools you can use gain insight into their buying habits. More and more companies are using predictive analytics—that is, an analysis of historical data and statistics to identify the likelihood of future outcomes—to anticipate a customer’s needs.

Think about how Amazon.com creates individualized product recommendations for their customers. They gather information about a customer’s past purchases, as well as items they have rated and liked. They compare a customer’s purchases to similar items purchased by others, and they evaluate items currently in the customer’s shopping cart. Analyzing this information, they are able to make product suggestions that motivate shoppers to make more purchases.

Like Amazon, you can use predictive analytics to recommend products and increase sales. It can also help predict the benefits of advertising in various channels—for example, should you invest more in paid search, or social media? In addition, it can assist in forecasting revenue over a period of time so you can adjust your marketing strategies as necessary. There are companies that offer services in predictive analytics, such as Adobe and Infer, and you should consider working with one to take advantage of the insight analytics can give you.

Give Them Something to Talk About

You’ve set up your online store and got some social media accounts up and running. That’s a good start, but to keep customers coming back you’ll need to create content that is informative, helpful, and entertaining. Consumers will return to your site on a regular basis if they expect to find engaging new content each time, and may even share what they find with their friends and followers.

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Using engaging content to market your brand is cost-effective and can potentially provide a better return on investment than traditional advertising. It’s no wonder 78% of CMOs view custom content as the future of marketing. And customers have a hunger for it—64% of them place the enhanced customer experience great content provides above price point when choosing a brand.

A blog featuring information about your brand, alongside topics of interest to your customer base, is a great way to get started. But social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram are becoming more important than blogs. For these, you’ll need a lot of fun, interesting photos. And don’t forget about YouTube—videos that answer frequently asked questions or show how to use your products can capture a customer’s attention. Combining these platforms and strategies will increase customer engagement and potentially grow your sales.

Some companies have taken content marketing to the next level. Among these are Intel, whose iQ content site has nearly 3 million unique visitors each month, and GE, who are considered pioneers in content marketing with their popular GE Reports site and Labracadabra Youtube channel. Sites like these demonstrate that providing useful and engaging content generates interest in your company and creates brand loyalty.

Mobilizing the Troops: There’s an App for That

Convenience and mobility are priorities for today’s consumers. Millennials in particular are likely to have a smartphone within arm’s reach at all times. Gone are the days when one had to hunker down in front of a desktop computer to make an online purchase, as m-commerce (mobile commerce for the uninitiated) has become a major force in the retail world. To stay competitive, you’ll need to have a streamlined mobile website, and preferably an app for your retail store or brand.

Mobile transactions accounted for 31% of all e-commerce sales in 2015, and are projected to reach 45% by 2020. Mobile apps are a critical part of this; they provide the speed and convenience that consumers prefer, and are more effective than websites in converting traffic to sales. A fast, easy-to-use app designed with the customer in mind can increase engagement, as well as provide information you can use to personalize the customer experience. Using in-app messaging and personalized push notifications keeps customers engaged—just don’t overdo it! In the social media age, sharing is everything, so allow customers to rate products and share their reviews and recommendations with others.

Customers use apps to look for deals, research products, share their recommendations through “likes” or reviews, and ultimately make purchases. Get your brand mobile-ready, and you’ll be able to get a leg up on, or at least keep pace with, the competition.

This Time, It’s Personal

When it comes to the customer experience, the more personalized you can make it, the better. We already talked about how Amazon uses analytics to personalize their website and offer suggestions for each user. You can (and should!) do this as well, but that’s not all we mean when we’re talking about personalization.

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One of the most important—and overlooked—channels for digital advertising is good, old-fashioned email. Email is a great way to stay in touch with customers and keep them engaged, but to stand out, you have to personalize those emails. Simply using the customer’s first name in the subject line can increase the open rate by 26%. Send them messages thanking them for purchases, and on special occasions such as their birthday. You might include special offers based on past purchases. And, of course, always add a call to action inviting them to visit your site and browse additional items that might interest them.

Fulfilling Wishes (or at Least Orders)

As your business grows, you may find it increasingly difficult to keep up with incoming orders. Outsourcing your fulfillment to a third party logistics provider (3PL) could be the right solution. Demand for outsourced fulfillment solutions is increasing—so much so that 72% of businesses plan to increase their use of outsourced logistics services in the near future.

Traditionally, 3PLs warehouse your products and ship them out as orders come in. But today’s e-commerce retailers and brands want more from their fulfillment providers. They want increased visibility of their inventory, as well as data they can use to help manage their business.

Some fulfillment companies are leveraging new technology to deliver this information and better serve their clients.

Since 3PLs fill orders for their clients’ customers, they learn information that can assist their clients in strategic decision making. They know who is ordering what products, when, and how often. They know how customers like to receive their shipments. If you are ready to partner with a 3PL, you’ll want to find a provider able to utilize the latest technology to quickly report this information to you in a useful format. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to make strategic sales and marketing decisions, as well as discovering better ways serve your customer base. And, of course, by leaving fulfillment in the hands of experts, you’ll be able to focus on other aspects of your business.

These are only a few of the technologies and trends you’ll want to embrace as e-commerce races into a competitive, rapidly changing future. As new technologies emerge and change the way we do business, staying ahead of the curve will ensure that your brand doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, and will position you for continued growth and success.

What do you think is the biggest e-commerce trend for 2017? Tell us below or tweet us!