Top 6 online retail trends for 2012


After a year of technical innovations, most notably the emergence and rapid adoption of smartphone and tablet technology, the shopper-seller relationship has changed dramatically. In this article, Rakuten, one of the world’s top 3 E-commerce and Internet service companies by revenue, who recently acquired eBook company Kobo and in the UK, announces its industry predictions for 2012.


In the year ahead, cutting edge mobile devices, worldwide broadband penetration and innovative social shopping services will continue to open up global markets, providing huge growth opportunities for merchants large and small, and giving consumers unparalleled levels of choice.

The predictions cover the entire E-commerce market and discuss 6 key trends for 2012, including:

1) Tablet-commerce and Mobile-commerce retail therapy
2) Bricks and mortar in the cloud
3) Shopping with your social network
4) Borderless shopping communities
5) Flexible, local shipping models
6) Online shopping gets personal

In a year where international retail markets floundered E-commerce displayed resilient growth, with reports out from research house ComScore at the end of 2011 citing double digit growth in the US festive period.

Over the last 12 months the E-commerce sector has rallied against challenging economic conditions and driven innovation in business and shopping models, thanks in part to the unabated rise of the e-marketplace entrepreneur. At Rakuten alone in 2011 we attracted over one thousand new sellers and grew the total value of the marketplace to over $13 billion.

A flurry of technical innovations, most notably the emergence and rapid adoption of Smartphone and Tablet technology, has transformed the shopper seller relationship. Fuelled by mobile technology, E-commerce growth shows no sign of abating. JP Morgan estimates that global E-commerce revenue will hit $963 billion next year.

Rakuten considers six key trends which will fuel E-commerce growth in 2012:

1.) T-Commerce and M-Commerce retail therapy – In 2011 web enabled mobile devices transformed E-commerce, opening up a new 24/7 channel to the consumer and creating innovative new ways to engage them, from QR codes to location based offers. In 2012 m-commerce will continue to gather momentum, but it is T-commerce that’s particularly exciting. The rich functionality of the tablet shifts the traditionally transactional and bargain hunting online experience into a virtual store experience, making the web an almost tactile experience. For example, Rakuten’s BuyTV in the US and Rakuten SuperTV in Japan bring video reviews to enrich the tablet shopping experience. Better still, mobile commerce is not exclusively for big brands with big budgets. Better still, mobile commerce is not exclusively for big brands with big budgets. Thanks to affiliate services and marketplaces like Rakuten, merchants large and small can harness the mobile channel without incurring heavy infrastructure costs. Gartner estimates that by 2013, smart mobile web devices will overtake the total number of PC’s in use, exceeding 1.8 billion. With 1.8 billion consumers just a click away this too big an opportunity for retailers to miss.

2.) Bricks and mortar in the cloud – The boundaries between online and offline worlds are becoming increasingly blurred, as retailers fuse their digital and real-world offerings. Barcode scanning services such as ShopSavvy help users find the best deal, by allowing them to scan the barcode and search for better offers online. However, the challenge with these applications is they fail to reward the store whose display instigated the purchase. To avoid cannibalising the high-street we believe a new system must emerge in 2012 that rewards offline and online ecosystems.

3.) Shopping with your social network– Getting a second opinion before committing to a purchase is nothing new, but now rather than taking a friend shopping you can take your entire social network with you. Retailers are becoming increasingly aware of the power of “the fan” and social will form an integral part of the E-commerce evolution in 2012. Data released in July by Hitwise indicated that 1 Facebook fan was equal to 20 additional visits to a retail website in the course of a year. Retailers are now using social not just for brand awareness, but for product development and customer service too. Rakuten’s ShopTogether feature lets all merchants capitalise on social service by enabling Rakuten marketplace users to invite friends to view products and live chat whilst looking at the product page.

4.) Borderless shopping communities – 2012 will see the rise of the local global e-marketplace. In 2012, international marketplace models will provide sellers of all sizes around the world with the opportunity to expand their operations internationally, without the cost intensive outlay traditionally associated with establishing local delivery models, storage facilities etc. Sellers will be able to dabble in international shopping communities and dedicate resources based on real world demand. This will open up opportunities with burgeoning markets, such as China, India and Brazil. In late 2011 Rakuten surveyed international interest in shopping globally online and the results revealed that consumers are open to borderless shopping. Brazil is leading the global e-shopping charge with 81 per cent of consumers keen to shop in different markets online, followed by Indonesia (77%), Thailand (74%), China (69%) and Spain (66%).

5.) Flexible, Local shipping models -According to a report by Forrester in January 2011, shipping issues were one of the most common reasons for cart abandonment in Europe. It’s true that the internet has created a global marketplace, but local market shopping preferences must be taken into account. In Indonesia for example, locals are reluctant to pay online, to combat this Rakuten set up a shipping model, of local bike couriers, who collected payment on arrival. In 2012, flexible shopping models will be vital for growth, as evidenced by the growing popularity of the click & collect phenomenon, which accounted for 10.4% of all E-commerce sales in the UK this Christmas according to the IMRG.

6. ) Online shopping gets personal – The old adage “Information is power” takes on new impetus in 2012 as retailers seek to capture the fickle attention spans of information savvy internet shoppers. Gone are the days, when retailers tracked consumer behaviour based on loyalty points. Today’s online retailers can acquire huge volumes of data on both their potential and existing customers based on user browsing habits alone. In 2012 data exchange between retailers and social networks will begin to provide solid business models for social platforms and offer new insights into the psyche of the shopper. What matters most to retailers however is how their marketing teams translate this wealth of data into meaningful and timely communications with customers. The web generation is already jaded from a surfeit of push advertising, to truly engage consumers in 2012 and beyond, retailers must learn how to harness user specific data to provide timely, personalized and relevant communications.

Commenting on the E-commerce industry in 2012, Adam Stewart, Marketing Director, Rakuten’s said: “In 2011 we barely scraped the surface of what’s possible with online retail. We are on the cusp of creating an experience-rich, 24/7 international shopping community. In the year ahead, cutting edge mobile devices, worldwide mobile and broadband penetration and innovative social shopping services will open up global markets, providing huge growth opportunities for merchants large and small and unparalleled consumer choice.”


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