20th Annual Mystery Shopping Report Analyzes Evolution of Ecommerce Over the Past Two Decades

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Astound Commerce study provides unique insight into the key ecommerce features that have made the biggest impact on today’s customer experience

The evolution of digital merchandising and customer service tactics has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. Technology advancements have given retailers the ability to consistently improve the customer experience year-over-year, which in combination with increasing consumer comfort with shopping online has culminated in a nearly $400 billion ecommerce market today, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The e-tailing group has conducted an annual mystery shopping report to document the evolution of ecommerce since 1996. Now part of Astound Commerce, the world’s largest privately-held digital commerce agency, the team analyzed 281 metrics across 100 retailers, evaluating each metric’s increase in market penetration since it was first introduced. Released today, the report, 20/20 Vision: Looking Forward by Looking Back at 20 Years of Digital Shopping Innovation, brings together two decades of ecommerce research and analysis to illustrate the digital accomplishments that have made the biggest impact on the customer experience.

The research found that features such as real-time inventory management, customer reviews and personalized product recommendations have increased market penetration by more than 50 percent over the last 10 years and can now be found on more than 90 percent of retailer websites surveyed.

“The ecommerce experience has undergone a vast transformation as technology has advanced and retailers have made smart digital investments to improve their merchandising and customer service tactics,” said Lauren Freedman, SVP of Digital Strategy at Astound Commerce. “We are honored to have been part of the growth of ecommerce and hope this long-term 360-degree view of the customer experience will inspire the next generation of digital retailers for years to come.”

The Emergence of Top Ecommerce Standards
The shopping experience of 20 years ago was mostly a game of guesswork and order taking, which is a far cry from the connected and informative path to purchase consumers enjoy today. Customer demand for simple navigation, detailed product content, and fast delivery have inspired many of the standard features of the modern ecommerce experience. Among the top merchandising tactics that are today considered standard in the industry are:

  • Product Visualization: Alternative views and color change existed on just 12 percent and 13 percent of retail sites respectively when first analyzed by the e-tailing group. Today, these features can be found on 96 percent and 92 percent of sites.
  • Customer Reviews: Product reviews by consumers joined the survey in 2005 at 32 percent proliferation, but are now seen on 94 percent of sites, indicating consumers are placing increased stock in validation from their peers.
  • Product Personalization: Personalized product and shopping cart recommendations were at 44 percent market penetration in 2001, and today are provided on 99 percent and 90 percent of ecommerce sites respectively.

Experience-Improving Features Proliferate
Many features that were once considered major technological feats have experienced massive growth and serve as industry game-changers since first being introduced. Twelve metrics saw more than 50 percent growth in terms of market penetration, including:

  • Alternative Payment Options: When PayPal was first introduced to the survey in 2007 it was featured on less than a quarter (22 percent) of ecommerce sites. Rising demand for alternative payment options has prompted 83 percent of the top 100 retailers to offer PayPal today.
  • Real-Time Inventory: Inventory visibility across digital and physical channels was available on less than a quarter (24 percent) of retail sites when first analyzed in 1999. Today, 95 percent of retailers offer consumers visibility into product availability across channels driving omnichannel adoption.
  • Post-Purchase Features: Post-order merchandising such as product recommendations related to a past purchase was initially offered on only 38 percent of sites in 2003, and is now offered on 90 percent of retailer sites, reflecting a larger focus on customer interaction and upselling after the initial purchase.

“The current ecommerce experience is almost unrecognizable from that of 20 years ago,” Freedman furthered. “With next-generation features such as chatbots, virtual reality, the digitization of brick-and-mortar, and the dominance of disruptors like Amazon and Alibaba we anticipate the commerce experience will continue to change dramatically over the next five years. We’re excited to keep analyzing this space, and can’t wait to see the next ‘big things’ in the omnichannel customer experience emerge.”

To learn more about the top 20 factors that have transformed the retail experience, visit http://www.astoundcommerce.com

About Astound Commerce
Astound Commerce, the world's largest privately held digital commerce agency, combines strategy, technology, creativity, insight and a proven methodology to deliver exceptional digital shopping experiences. Through a forward-thinking, results-driven approach, Astound Commerce serves leading global brands such as adidas, L'Oreal, Under Armour, Jimmy Choo, Lacoste and Versace. Founded in San Francisco in 2000, the passionate team of 600+ dedicated, diverse industry and technology experts has decades of ecommerce experience and more than 400 implementations under their belt to address the complex challenges, advancing technologies and unique needs of global markets. To learn more, visit astoundcommerce.com.

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Rachel Gulden
Walker Sands Communications
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