Online retail isn't just changing, it's changing at an exponential rate. It wasn't too long ago that buying online was the exception, not the rule. And yet, with all its growth, we continually underestimate the possibilities.

Not today. Today, we look to the future  with the greatest of optimism. Below are a few "predictions" that we think will come to fruition over the course of this year and the next few years.

Growth spurred by the omnichannel model.

We don't expect the pattern of growth we've seen up to this point to stop. Experts anticipate it will only increase as mobile device activity also increases. Ecommerce is expected to reach $523 billion over the next five years, and The National Retail Federation estimates 8% to 12% growth this year alone.

As the digital and physical shopping worlds further develop, an increasing importance is placed on the dynamic merging of both experiences. The brick-and-click (also known as click-and-brick, and click-and-mortar) business model emphasizes hybridization over completely switching to digital. This isn't anything new and has already been adopted by most major retailers. However, as customers more commonly view both worlds through a single lens, the need to innovate will continue to intensify.

Even faster delivery.

If you thought two-day delivery was fast, it's only getting better. Free next-day, same-day, and even two-hour and one-hour delivery are on the table already. Amazon may even offer these services in your area already.

And Walmart is looking at taking it up a notch, too – delivering groceries directly to your fridge! You don’t even have to be home to receive them.

Custom order items fast.

Need a special part for your car? Your printer? Your sink? In the future, you may not need to head to a physical location or place a special order. Instead, a truck may drive to you and use 3D printing to immediately make what you need.

OK, this one may be a little further down in the future, but how cool would that be?

More niche online retailers.

Amazon gets a lot of attention in the ecommerce world, but many other companies are carving out a significant space for themselves in the industry. Most are doing so by focusing on a smaller niche and enabling their customers to feel like they belong to a community.

In some cases, that community is a social network. For example, Houzz allows users to share home design ideas and inspirations and also find home-related products and services. In other cases, it means sharing content that their target market would find interesting. Thrive Market provides health products and also shares information related to healthy lifestyle choices.

In both cases, retailers are allowing their customers to feel like they “belong” to a larger group – as opposed to more general retailers like Walmart, Amazon and Target.

The rise of social media selling.

Pinterest and Houzz may come to mind when you think of social networks that encourage product purchases, but this industry is expected to expand drastically in the near future.

Already Instagram has released a "view products" feature that applies to relevant photos, and Facebook offers a similar feature.

As mobile-driven impulse buying is becoming more common, advancements in facilitating the transition from product discovery to product purchase are expected from social networks.

Retail over voice search.

You know VoIP. Now get to know RoVS. Amazon Echo, Google Home and even Apple’s Siri offer unlimited potential for buying and selling via voice search. Digital voice assistants have turned a corner and these now nearly ubiquitous cloud-helpers will further affect the way people search for products on- and offline. For example, you might type “bicycle store Brooklyn” into Google’s search engine, but if you’re asking Google Home, you might say “Hey Google, find me bicycle store.” As this technology is more commonly used, e-retailers will have to adjust their keyword strategies for search engine optimization.

Sales bots and customer service bots.

Customer service has always been a key driver in the success or failure of ecommerce stores, but the way that customer service is delivered will continue to change in the future.

The average consumer today likes to solve their problems without talking to another person. 67% of consumers prefer self-service, and robots may be the key to making that more feasible.

Chatbots are already efficient at simulating human conversation. They enable customers to more easily browse and make purchasing decisions. They also automate problem resolution, mediate product replacements and answer shipping questions.

As sales and customer service bot technology continues to advance, these systems may replace a lot of the need for the human-run customer service model.

Final Thoughts

As online retail continues to grow, we'll continue to watch with optimistic anticipation. Maybe all of our predictions won't become reality this year, but surely, some will and that's enough to for us to take on 2018 with excited motivation.