By 2020, the number of everyday things connected to the Internet is expected to reach at least 50 billion, and some estimates place that number at 200 billion or more. This is the wild new world of the Internet of Things -- a digital age in which the way we live, work and shop is enhanced and guided by constant connectivity. And the Internet of Things is making it easier than ever for e-commerce entrepreneurs to extend their reach and build lasting relationships with clients and customers.
According to online trend analyst Mintel, 69 percent of American adults shop online at least monthly, and those statistics reflect the growing popularity of e-commerce around the world. Businesses large and small are flocking to the digital stage because of the convenience and brand reach it offers. Now, the Internet of Things could -- and, according to industry watchers, will -- change the way business is done even more radically than the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce has.
The Internet of Things: Constant Connection
The Internet of Things is made possible by the steady advance of "smart" technology. Developers and IT professionals envision a world in which every aspect of our lives is seamlessly connected -- and, in turn, connected to the larger world.
That level of connectivity may still be years away. But two key tools of the Internet of Things -- round-the-clock data sharing and readily available mobile and wearable devices -- already make it possible for e-commerce ventures to promote brand awareness and build loyalty by personalizing the customer experience at every point.
Data Sharing Keeps Transactions Personal
The Internet of Things runs on big data -- the vast collection and storage of information that's constantly accessed and shared by those billions of constantly connected devices. This makes it possible for a company to get access to a customer's relevant information at any point in the transaction process.
If there's a complaint or a question, round-the-clock customer service can instantly access the purchase data and troubleshoot the problem. With information about a customer's buying history readily available, an e-store can generate personalized notifications about new products, sales and opportunities, and send them right to a smartphone, tablet or other device.
Data storage and sharing also allow online businesses to offer customers personalized accounts that store their buying preferences and keep sizes and style choices handy for later reference. This also allows sellers to promote related products and specials. That strategy is used by lingerie maker Triumph's online store, which allows customers to create personalized address books and get notifications of new deals and discounts on any device.
Connection Helps Build Brand Reach
Because it's possible to connect with people anywhere they happen to be, the Internet of Things lets online entrepreneurs build personal relationships with its customers, which boosts awareness, loyalty and sales. By meeting customers where they live -- on social sites such as Instagram and Facebook or right on the phone in their hand -- e-commerce ventures can engage people over time and keep the brand front and center.
Brisbane-based Black Milk Clothing has built an international presence by inviting customers who wear their products to share selfies on social media. Likewise, Vestal Watch, a seller of watches and eyeglasses for people connected to the world of music, uses its e-commerce presence to build community through invitation-only live events and information sent directly to customers' mobile devices.
The advent of e-commerce put a global marketplace at everyone's fingertips. Now, the Internet of Things is expanding that marketplace in astonishing ways, creating new challenges -- and unprecedented opportunities -- for e-commerce ventures of all kinds.