TOP eCommerce Trends in 2021

by Anca Iusan
Blog

A change in course, something in vogue, a shift, a movement, a trend. Online retail is constantly changing, evolving, and finding new ways to provide better services to customers whilst trying to find more efficient ways of doing business, and increasing ROI. 

With global eCommerce sales amounting to more the 3.5 trillion dollars, and U.S online sales up an incredible 44% year over year, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of the eCommerce world.

Paying attention to eCommerce trends is an absolute necessity for any online retail business. With trends in eCommerce being born at such a rapid rate it’s hard to keep track of what’s hot and what’s not. Confused about what to pay attention to? Worried your competitors have a greater understanding of new eCommerce trends? Relax, here we’ve sifted through all the current trends to find the ones that matter, the ones which will make the biggest difference to online retail businesses.

Personalized Shopping Experiences

Shoppers want personalized shopping experiences. Whether it’s B2C or B2B providing a bespoke shopping experience is what sets eCommerce stores apart. Taking and using data collected from AI is what provides the basis for enabling your site to provide a buyer with detailed customer service which anticipates their needs, and provides them with what they want.

It all sounds very nice, but does it actually work? Well utilizing personalized shopping experiences on-site or in marketing efforts has been shown to have a marked effect on revenue, with recent research indicating a 25% increase in revenue for companies engaging in advanced personalization.

And how does personalization help increase profits? When the shopping experience is highly personalized, customers are 110% more likely to add additional items to their shopping baskets, and 40% more likely to spend more than they anticipated. Shoppers also love the feeling of personalization, with customers rating their “shopping experience” as being 20% higher when shopping when retailers use high-quality personalization. 

Sustainability and Ethical eCommerce

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have noticed that the health of the planet has become a major concern, from global warming to biodiversity loss we’re moving at ever-increasing speeds – smart business and specifically eCommerce needs to recognize this, that’s why it’s our number 2 in eCommerce growth trends. 

Consumers are clued up when it comes to the environment, they know that they have purchasing power, and will choose brands and products consciously because of the environmental impact their purchase will have.

In 2020 Accenture produced research in current consumer trends, noting consumers have “dramatically evolved”, with 60% of respondents making more environmentally conscious, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the global pandemic- and Accenture predicting 9/10 will continue doing so. 

At the same time, the research group Kantar said that since COVID-19 sustainability “was more of concern for consumers than before the outbreak”.

So how can you appeal to these ethically conscious consumers? Look around and see what aspects of your business are already environmentally conscious, then talk about them, let customers know why you care. Even things like environmentally friendly packaging can go a long way to helping – 75% of shoppers wanting plastic-free alternatives. 

Other ideas include; 

1) Engage in carbon offsetting (work out how much carbon you’re producing and off-set this with a local tree-planting scheme), 

2) Go paperless and use biodegradable packaging, 

3) Work towards a circular economy– i.e minimizing waste, using non-harmful materials, understand the life cycle of your product/ where does it go in the end? Check out UK company Finisterre, taking old wetsuits (destined for landfill) and making new ones- smart thinking!

Augmented Reality Improves User Experience 

eCommerce will never be the same again – augmented reality (AR) is one of the hot trends in the eCommerce industry, and it’s here to stay! With this technology, shoppers have the chance to really see the items they’re shopping for. With shoppers able to see, in greater detail the products you offer, there’s more chance they’ll feel positive about committing to the purchase. Think about it, one store has poorly displayed images that don’t give a true account of the product, the other store uses AR and provides a 3D experience, showing the product in all its glory.

COVID-19 has been a headache for so many retailers and accelerated the need for AR.  With stores closing nationwide and some retailers reporting 50% + losses, could AR be the solution? If you can’t visit a store then AR provides you with the closest thing to seeing the product in person. 

Data on AR is looking very promising too

  • AR increases user engagement by 66%. Why does this matter? The longer a customer spends on your website the more likely they are to buy your products. And even if they don’t buy then and there you’ll have started building a relationship that may pay dividends at a later date.
  • AR boosts conversions by 40%. As well as keeping people entertained and on your site for longer AR can increase sales. By giving more information than with standard 2D images, 3D images provide the knowledge shoppers require to make a purchase.
  • AR reduces returns by 35%. It makes sense doesn’t it, if you’re able to see the product better then there’s less likelihood of choosing something which is exactly what you want. Returns from eCommerce retailers are a staggering 5 times higher than from traditional brick and mortar stores.

And what do shoppers think about AR? Recent polling reveals that 35% of people say that do more shopping online if there could virtually “try on” an item before purchasing, with 22% less likely to visit a brick-and-mortar store if given the chance to view the same product with AR.

Improve Online Purchase Paths 

Improving online purchase paths is one of the top trends in eCommerce. With the advent of COVID-19, websites have become the primary (most of the time) purchase path for many businesses, rather than an additional option.

COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of eCommerce by several years. That means more businesses are fighting for space. As an industry, eCommerce has to evolve, embrace new technologies, and go boldly forwarded to provide ever-increasing levels of service. New technologies will give many a head start- if they choose to pay attention.

So how exactly do you improve your purchasing path, to keep up with the needs of an ever-expanding, ever-growing audience? 

  • Personalization at each contact point (on pages, search, in cart/ checkout, through marketing and emails).
  • Make use of powerful filtering services such as Algolia, Klevu, and Searchspring.
  • Fully equipped purchase information. With: improved size, guides, AR, and instant chat.
  • PAGE SPEED! We talk about this all the time, but a 1-second page delay results in a 7% drop in conversion.
  • Streamline returns, as order volume from home, is now higher you need a robust/ streamlined returns system.
  • Still have a bricks-and-mortar store. Make use of- buy online pick up in-store, and unified inventory management.
  • Make sure you’re ready to fulfill your fulfillment duties. With less stock in store, you need to be ready to ship.

If you haven’t tried some of the above, try them! Then pressure test them, see what’s working and what’s not.

AI Will Help You Learn About Your Shoppers

As far as retail eCommerce trends go AI is a big one. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning now enable businesses the opportunity to provide automated, personalized user experiences. By continuously collecting data on the behavior of shoppers, online retailers now have a better understanding of when, why, and how people search and buy products. Using this information retailers can concentrate their efforts where they’ll see the most impact.

With the rise, and rise of personalized shopping experiences, and the desire of shoppers to receive first-class user experiences, AI is the foundation on which all else to be built on.

Artificial intelligence has been around for a while, but it has recently gained a stronghold in the delivery of user experience. Some prominent experts are predicting that by the end of 2021 85% of user interactions will be driven by artificial intelligence (AI). That’s the kind of weight behind an idea that makes you take notice. Use A.I to understand your shoppers better, and provide them with the service which will make them lifetime customers.

Chatbots Elevate Shopping Experiences

User experience (UX) is very important, why? 88% of users are less likely to come back to a website after a bad user experience, and on the flip side 72% of shoppers who have a positive experience will tell 6 or more people about their experience.

And what does this have to do with chatbots? Chatbots make things easier. We’ve all been there, browsing a store looking for the answer to a question, struggling to find an answer. A store with a chatbot is the helping hand which often means a shopper staying with you or leaving. 

Although it’s early days, initial data on the use of chatbots is promising- Winnie a chatbot designed to help business owners choose the right hosting provider which first opened on Facebook Messenger has achieved a remarkable 72% Click Through Rate (CTR) of users clicking through to an affiliate provider. Furthermore, Leadbots (where chatbots engage with potential leads at the opportune moment ) can help drive conversion. Reward Stream took the Leadbot approach finding that within the first 45 days of its application 30% of converted leads could be attributed to the tool.

By the end of 2020, 80% of businesses were using chatbots. Shane Barker of the digital marketing and thought leadership blog https://shanebarker.com/bio/ has some predictions about the future of chatbots:

“Chatbots are all the rage for customer support. However, I think they’ll drastically change the way people shop online. They’ll become one of the most important marketing tools. In the retail space, self-checkout kiosks will probably become the norm and in-store marketing will increase”

Not only this, but chatbots have the potential to become more intuitive, personal shopping assistant bots will add great worth to the shopping experience, the personalized shopping experience that is. Using AI, chatbots will be able to lead the shopper through the sales process and all the while giving the shopper the tailored experience that they need. Chatbots have a great many uses the prevalence of their use and the tasks they’ll be used for will no doubt increase.

The Rise of Voice Search Technology

Smart speakers are now part and parcel of everyday life, consumers are getting used to posing questions to technology and receiving answers. Smart speakers also rely on voice assistants to complete daily tasks, and this is starting to extend to online shopping. Loop Ventures is predicting that a whopping 75% of U.S households will own a smart speaker by 2025. 

As the number of homes utilizing smart speakers increases, more and more shoppers will take up using voice search as common practice, from buying food and clothes to organizing their lives. Why is voice search so important for eCommerce? Answer- it creates the opportunity for online retailers in terms of content and keywords.

But why is voice search so appealing, why does it resonate? According to actor Tod Fennel “voice connects us like nothing else” with the actors back catalog covering everything from TV and film, to voice acting in videos games such as Assassins Creed, he should know a thing or two about how to use one’s voice “That’s why Zoom or even conference calls are preferable to group emails. We need voice now more than ever. Humans get lonely when they don’t hear other human voices”. 

And according to research conducted by Adobe, almost half of all consumers used voice search technology in the previous year to conduct “general web searches”. The majority of which took place on smartphones (85 %), with smart speakers in second place (39%).

Whichever way you look at it, the use of voice search technology is here to stay. Along with chatbots, it adds another level of support and customization which eCommerce retailers need to stay relevant and up to speed with the growing needs of their customers.

Mobile Commerce is Still on the Rise!

Mobile Commerce allows the shopper to make purchases from the palm of their hand wherever they are. Convenience is the name of the game and handheld devices allow shoppers to purchase what they want, when and wherever they may be. And they could be purchasing your products mobile, but only if your site is up to the task. 

If your site isn’t responsive, lags, or just doesn’t have that quality feel, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice, whilst losing potential earnings and discrediting your main site. Why is mobile commerce so important? According to Statista, by the end of 2021, 73% of eCommerce purchases will take place on mobile.

But can mobile commerce even be considered a trend? According to Nabeena Mali of BigCommerce, maybe not:

“I often find myself doing a double-take when someone refers to mobile commerce as “the next big thing.” For me this implies that mobile commerce is a trend, a passing fad that will soon be forgotten, or superseded by something else- it isn’t”

And apart from having a great mobile site that brings in revenue, what are the benefits of mobile commerce? 

1. Better overall experience for customers. eCommerce went and made shopping easier, mobile commerce took it to a whole new level, at the touch of your fingertips. 

2. It has crazy growth potential. 73% of sales and predictions of over 4 billion dollars in sales in 2021 alone. 

3. Mobile commerce is Omni-channel. Simply put, consumers want a seamless shopping experience, this means, across all devices and platforms. 73% of shoppers use multiple devices during their shopping journey, so make sure your mobile site is up to the task.

4. Payment options. With mCommerce came the ability to pay in different ways. We still have the classics- cash and card, but we now have online wallets, which enable speedy fuss-free checkouts.

Use Social Commerce to Connect 

Continuing with the theme of Omni-channel retail, and the provision of seamless shopping experiences across all platforms, retailers need to approach marketing from all possible angles, and that includes social media, in all its forms.

Shopify strategic partnerships manager Alli Burg has noticed how online retailers have had to get creative with the way they engage with customers since the start of the pandemic. Burg believes that social media is carrying the torch when it comes to ways to engage and make sales with online shoppers:

“In 2020, we heard big announcements about Shopify developing deeper integrations with Google, Facebook, and most recently TikTok, and the idea of social commerce will be an exciting space to watch as these platforms continue to collaborate,”

A prime example of this is Facebook Shops, which enables brands to create a customized online storefront, helping their customers to search, browse and find products through the Instagram and Facebook apps, with checkout powered by Shopify.

At the same time, Instagram has unveiled its live shopping experience, which gives businesses the chance to show off their products in video, while customers can browse the illuminated products and purchase.

Provide Payment Options

New eCommerce trends come and go, providing quality payment options isn’t going anywhere. Shoppers want options when it comes to how they spend their hard-earned cash. Kurt Elster senior eCommerce consultant, believes that we will see more payment options than previously offered “

“Digital wallets like Apple Pay will be the default payment method, possibly overtaking credit card payments for the first time,” while “Financing solutions will become a must-have feature with more aggressive merchants running multiple financing options. We’ll also see cryptocurrency finally legitimized as a payment method suitable for more than just the dark web.” 

A common theme in the eCommerce world is the rapid advancement of technology to match the change in buying patterns inflicted by COVID19. Before the pandemic Chinese consumers already conducted 56% of online transactions via e-wallets, compared to 23% in the U.S, but as the pandemic has progressed we now see increased demand for these types of payments in every area.

With the growing popularity of services like PayPal, Square, and Apple Pay, shoppers are now able to checkout on a variety of different websites without needing to input all their addresses and payment details for each purchase. Remember convenience is key, and this simplification of the payment process can make a real impact on conversion rates.

Research by Bayard found 19% of shoppers who abandoned a cart said they did so because they didn’t trust their site with their card information. Further to this 8% said there simply weren’t enough payment options available.

Shoppers Respond to Video

Videos are a great way of engaging with shoppers, trying to sell ideas through text and images is fine, but speed is of the essence, shoppers want information quickly, and there’s no better way of doing this than using video.

Editor in Chief, of The Digital Outdoor Ron Smith, believes videos provide a vital tool in educating customers.

“I see the use of podcasting and short video content to augment the opportunity for buyers to learn about how an eCommerce brand’s products and services provide the solution to the opportunity, challenge, or problem a buyer is looking to answer. With these two forms of content development comes the technology to micro track a viewer’s engagement”

Videos have a huge impact, they can’t be underestimated. They’ll showcase your products better than images ever can, and where possible online retailers should consider using them according to research by Red Stag using videos can have a 144% in product purchases.

12. Quality Fulfillment Makes the Difference

In online retail, the sale is not the end of the customer experience! Omnichannel eCommerce means retailers must provide not just a great shopping experience, but also excellent fulfillment to complete the whole process, and ensure customer satisfaction.

According to the IBM paper “Deliver happiness: Engage, convert and fulfill your way to a differentiated customer experience–again and again.”

“At the heart of every customer experience is fulfillment. It’s not until the order is actually in their hands and they’re happy with the entire process—from beginning to end—that the essential emotional aspect of the transaction is fulfilled,” 

So what is that shoppers want when it comes to fulfillment? They want; sustainable, fast, free, and branded shipping. It comes down to the changing behaviors of consumers. Today, 

  • 72% of shoppers want brands to use sustainable packaging
  • 67% of U.S customers expect same-, next-, or two-day delivery. 
  • Whilst the majority of consumers from the U.S, U.K, China, France, Germany feel free shipping significantly impacts whether they will buy from a brand or not.
  • When it comes to packaging consumers want their purchased goods in minimalistic, branded packaging, with reduced packaging sizes.

And what’s the damage if your fulfillment experience isn’t so hot? Jeff Geoffroy, global product marketing manager for IBM has this to say:

“A poor fulfillment experience acts like a leak in a bucket. You pour in marketing spending on the front end, but you lose some of those customers because they’re not satisfied with the follow-through on the fulfillment end.”

However, a positive fulfillment experience sparks a virtuous cycle that enables marketing expenditure to become far more efficient. If a retailer can build trust and loyalty through quality fulfillment, the chances they will return and buy more is far more likely, and at the same time, customers are sure to tell their friends about the experience they’ve had. 

Understanding How Covid-19 Has Changed Retail 

It’s been over a year since the world change forever, as some countries start to open borders, and ease restrictions, it’s important to recognize the impact Covid-19 has had on online retail. 

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, 10 years of eCommerce growth happened in just 3 months! With eCommerce sales reaching an all-time high of 16.4%, with purchasing increases across the age groups. And according to a global survey by Shopify 84% of consumers made purchases online during the pandemic. 

And as Covid-19 took hold, with the ability to purchase goods in-store becoming impossible, competition in the online space became fierce.

A key takeaway from this is understanding that with this increase in competition there is an increase in opportunity for shoppers. Shoppers want first-class user experience, sustainable packaging, speedy delivery, and quality products- what this lead to was consumers diverting from long-held family favorite brands to new ones. 

Consumer surveys show that these shifts are likely to stick. OF the 75% of shoppers who said they had tried different brands during the pandemic, 60% expect to integrate the new brands into their post-COVID shopping routine. Following the trends laid out in this blog are some of the best ways online retailers can ensure that consumers find you and stay with you.

Build a Brand that Challenges Marketplace Dominance 

Marketplaces have begun to take over, when shoppers search it is often unbranded, building a recognizable brand has never been more important, and more challenging. With half of all global eCommerce sales happening on marketplaces, it’s incredibly hard for brands to compete. 

Of the top 100 marketplaces 2 trillion dollars is spent annually, and it’s not like the trend is slowing down with Walmart scaling up its marketplace, target launching its new marketplace, and Google reeling in merchants on Amazon. And that doesn’t consider the big Chinese players, such as Taobao, Tmall, and JD.com who represent the biggest share of the market.

If you want to scale, and you want to do it quickly virtual marketplaces are one of the fastest ways of doing it. They also work well in helping smaller businesses fulfill orders more efficiently. However, brands often perceive markets as a necessary evil, on the one hand, they drive sales on the other they pressure margins. And this isn’t the only concern, brands are concerned about how data is being used by marketplaces-with Amazon recently accused of using its own seller’s data to release competing lines. But with the volume of transactions taking place on marketplaces, brands understand the need to make their stake.

So what’s the answer? Provide experiences not available on marketplaces.

With technology fatigue setting in, many have been left feeling the need for human connection and interaction whilst concerned about the role technology plays in their lives. What is very clear is how consumers are increasingly rewarding organizations that humanize the shopping experience. Online retailers need to personalize their shopper’s experience, this means using everything from dynamic website content, to helping people customize their purchase journey anything that allows shoppers to feel human again is the panacea to the marketplace problem.

Acquiring New Customers is Costing More

The cost to acquire new customers is rising, and so it’s never been so important to retain customers. Although overall ad spend is predicted to decrease 20%, digital ad spend is predicted to increase by 13%. The plunge in customer acquisition costs caused by the pandemic was a mere blip, costs on Facebook have risen again to at or near pre-COVID highs. 

With the acceleration of brands to the eCommerce world, competition is fierce, and this in turn is accelerating digital ad growth. Furthermore, this increased spend is not exclusive to ad growth; paid search, social, and connected TV spend is also on the up.

With all this expenditure on advertising, it would make sense to prioritize your existing customers. We all understand the extra cost involved in acquiring new customers so why not make your existing customers more valuable?

The ultimate goal is to increase the lifetime value of an existing customer. Start by recognizing your most important customers. This enables you to focus your energies on the journeys that lead to a better quality customer base.

By mapping your customers’ journey, and learning; how long it takes them to make repeated purchases, which items they’re choosing, and what they’re willing to spend, you’ll have the knowledge that enables you to speed up those purchases with calls to action,  cross-sells, and upsells.

It’s all about loyalty!

Every smart business needs a loyalty program that ensures customers are engaged and keen to buy more. Customers who are enrolled in a loyalty program are 47% more likely to complete a second, third, fourth purchase. And how do you create a successful loyalty program?

  • Build loyalty tiers that offer increasingly valuable rewards as purchases increase. 
  • Promote top customers to become brand ambassadors, with referral programs.
  • Rewards points need to be redeemable immediately- don’t keep customers waiting, particularly when they want to spend money!
  • Exclusivity and VIP access give that special feeling to customers which makes them feel valued.
  • Have a cut-off date on rewards. Yes be generous, but don’t be silly. Create urgency with time-limited points and discount codes.

Loyalty programs aren’t the only way to retain customers. Consider which products could be sold on subscription, you’re helping customers with their already busy lives by automating the purchasing process. Streamlining billing is also a big move, consumers won’t wait around so keep them happy by streamlining the billing process. Finally in the fight to retain customers is personalization,

The Growth of B2B

If you’re wondering whether B2B is still something to keep in mind, it is. According to Statista Global, retail eCommerce sales for B2B are predicted to rise to 1.1 trillion dollars by the end of 2021. 

When it comes to millennials (who will account for half of all adults) and GEN Z, both these groups want to be easy to research what they need without conversing with salespeople. B2B eCommerce brands are there to help according to Connie Wong Marketing manager at Silksoftware:

“The days of orders needing to be placed through fax order forms or phone calls only are shrinking. More and more businesses are beginning to see the value in servicing their customers online. By automating these tasks through their eCommerce site, teams are moving away from spending the bulk of their time on processing order entries from email spreadsheets or hard copy forms. Instead, they are shifting their focus towards what matters most: engaging with customers, providing them with an excellent customer experience, and establishing ongoing client relationships.”

And some distinct trends are appearing in the B2B world:

Up to 50% of B2B companies choose blogging as their go-to marketing strategy, and another 40% like to utilize email newsletters and social media content. What was once print ads and brochures has now been replaced by digital methods of content writing, the use of social media is important as today’s consumers are searching for brands across multiple platforms. 

B2B buyers are clear in the digital efforts they want from online retailers

  • 38% seek Augmented Reality.
  • 45% want personalized portal content.
  • 44% are looking for a simple-to-use ROI calculator.
  • 33% look for video chat options.

If you’re looking to keep up and even stay ahead of the competition you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse. Many of the trends to consider mirror that of the B2C world.

  1. Businesses are embracing B2B mobile eCommerce trends.
  2. There’s a growing expectation of B2B personalization.
  3. Multi-channel and omnichannel systems for B2B.
  4. Increase demand for first-class B2B fulfillment.
  5. B2B loyalty programs on the rise.

How Do You Know if a Trend Makes Sense For Your Business?

Remember leopard print pants- just because there’s a trend doesn’t mean you should jump on the bandwagon. Yes, some will add huge value to your company, while others might not fit your audience or might be out of price range, when considering ROI.

Understanding your customers is the key to knowing which trends will fit, as well as knowing your competitors inside and out. Here we detail some clear guidelines for knowing how to evaluate if a trend is right for your business.

Pay attention to up-to-date industry trends and research. Knowledge is power, or so they say. Change is inevitable, and with eCommerce change happens at a rapid pace, staying up to date with reports and research can mean the difference in getting ahead of the competition. Make sure you follow and use research from credible sources, and don’t settle on second-hand information. 

Follow industry publications and influencers. Make sure you follow blogs and related news on eCommerce trends to know what’s hot and what’s not. Focus on influencers and publications relevant to your industry, and if you wish expand from there to include other markets to gain a broader understanding.

Use analytics and digital tools to understand your customer’s behavior. A trend might work well for one sector or business, but will it work for yours? Using information from your customers, allows you to understand their behavior and needs. Picking up on trends and knowing your customers means you can decide on what’s going to have the greatest impact on your business.

Ask your customers what they think. Successful businesses ask how they can improve. You’re there to serve your customers, and the best way of knowing what they want and how you can help is to ask, they’ll be sure to provide you with feedback which you can then take forward and use.

Know the competition. The online retail space is becoming more and more competitive, it would be foolish not to work out how your competitors are approaching the same problems as you. Observe your competitors! You might find out that you’re way ahead of the competition, or you might find out how you can better compete, either way, pay attention. 

Conclusion 

So there we have it, a jam-packed list of the current eCommerce trends we feel are worth knowing about. Retail is constantly changing, and with the events of the last year, things have started to move at an increasingly frenetic pace. From ethical consumerism to personalized shopping experiences, to fulfillment that delivers (excuse the pun!), shoppers are as demanding as they ever have been. Sure the market is becoming more and more crowded, but if your products are up to the task then following the trends, and knowing what your customers need, there’s no reason why your business can’t make the most of the online retail boom.

If you want to know more about eCommerce trends, or how you can optimize your online presence Ecomitize has a team of experts ready to assist.

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