2020 changed everything, which means that in order to be successful in 2021, merchants have had to adapt, anticipate, and act boldly. Many of the changes necessitated by the pandemic are here to stay. The good news is that some of those have forced innovation favorable to nimble brands and savvy shoppers. Here’s a list of eCommerce trends and topics that should be on the minds of everyone selling in 2021. It’s by no means exhaustive. You don’t have to have a solution or a plan for all of these points, but you and your team should be aware of them and familiar enough so that they don’t catch you by surprise.
Hopefully, some of these eCommerce trends will strike you as opportunities where you can capitalize and grow your business.
First and Foremost: Be Everywhere Buyers Are.
- Omnichannel Is Necessary: There’s no way around the fact that you need to be present and commerce-capable on your website, on marketplaces, in stores, B2B (if applicable), through social shopping, and anywhere else your customers may be. As if that’s not a big enough task, all of those channels need to be connected so that the customer experience is as close to seamless as possible.
- The Death of the Third-Party Cookie: This is a tracking game-changer. Take time to educate yourself about the information you currently collect and what will go away. How can you use other data to fill in the gaps while also respecting your shoppers’ privacy. Recommend Reading: Google Says It’s Confident About Alternatives to Browser Cookies That Track You for Ads and Google Reveals Its “Privacy-First” Online Advertising Overhaul for Post-Cookie World.
Convenience and Speed
- The Frictionless Shopping Experience: Think beyond contactless checkout and more like the entire Amazon Go Store experience. Granted, you don’t have Amazon’s resources and tech, but you do need to be focused on making every part of the shopping experience as easy and smooth (and safe) as possible.
- More Payment Methods: To satisfy the frictionless experience, payments of all types must be accepted. Cash, checks, and credit cards are becoming dinosaurs. In-app payments, digital wallets, and instant fund-transfer apps are all here and retailers would be wise to accept payments in all of these forms. More Info, Tips, and eCommerce Trends: Holidaily #3: Check On Your Checkout.
- BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up in Store) and Curbside Pickup: My boss Taryn is obsessed with BOPIS and not just because it’s such a silly word. For her, it’s the ultimate in convenience and sensible shopping while staying safe and getting out of the house a little. If you’re connecting this to omnichannel, well done, you’re thinking eCommerce trends in 2021! Some powerful stats:
- According to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,141 consumers:
- 24% had used curbside multiple times since the COVID-19 outbreak.
- 17% tried curbside for the first time.
- 14% said they plan to use curbside after shopping in stores returns to normal.
- According to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,141 consumers:
- Personal Shoppers/Pickers: A lot of businesses have had to close due to the pandemic and a lot of working people lost their jobs for the same reason. But shopping is back and stores have become more like fulfillment centers than places where one browses. For every order to be shipped, delivered curbside, or picked up in store, there are machines as well as human pickers and packers. Remember there are real people involved when you order 80 grocery items to be delivered. Support these folks and utilize them in your fulfillment operations. Recommended Reading: Walmart Will Add Automated Micro-Fulfillment to Dozens of Stores.
- Delivery (Often Same-Day or Next Day) Expected: The pandemic shifted all commerce to eCommerce, which put a huge strain on logistics and fulfillment. In some cases, demand downright broke the supply chain. Things are getting back on track but there’s still far too much demand for supply. Even though shoppers know this, they still expect rapid fulfillment which brings me to . . .
- More Private Logistics and Fulfillment Companies: Online shopping demand and the expectation of expedited delivery services such as Amazon Prime wreaked havoc on all carriers. Traditional delivery services like USPS, UPS, and FedEx are still running behind, which has created room for start-up delivery services. There are startup shippers, pop-up warehouses, and drivers galore. Probably the best example of this is DoorDash’s expansion into everything delivery instead of just restaurant delivery.
Choice and Personalization
- Subscription Services: We’re home all the time. We need entertainment, toilet paper, some actual complete meals in addition to our constant snacking, intense fitness courses to drop the snacking weight, and new sweats and pajamas because that’s all anyone wears. You can get all of these products and services online and on your repeating schedule. Winners: Netflix (I’m not even linking to it because you probably already have a subscription and may be watching right now), Who Gives A Crap USA (TP), Amazon Subscribe and Save, MeUndies (comfy clothes that were pandemic wear before the pandemic), and so many more. If your brand might be subscription friendly, consider going for it. It’s a great way to generate MRR.
- A La Carte Personalized Preferences: When the economy is challenged and challenging, businesses branch out. Cable TV providers have been on the wane in the last few years, but 2021 could be the year that most people switch from a cable package or tier to individual app-channels and their own line-ups. Offer customized bundles to your customers.
- Hyper-Personalization and Curated Journeys: With competition so fierce at the moment, brands need ways to differentiate themselves. Nothing works better than connecting on a personal level with a shopper. Whether it’s curated product suggestions or bonus content “just for you,” brands need to deliver in ways that make shoppers feel known and seen and valued.
AI and Tech
- Voice Search and Digital Assistants on the Rise: This has been on the “This eCommerce trend is about to blow up” list for a few years now and it hasn’t really materialized. Will this be the year that we finally ask Alexa for more than the weather forecast? Yes, but that interaction may be along the lines of “Alexa, how soon can I get a pizza delivered?” My point is that we may use these digital assistants with increasing frequency but perhaps not increased sophistication.
- Increasingly Intelligent Predictive Searches: We’ve gotten used to forms completing themselves once we start entering information. We’ve also gotten used to Google showing a list of possible queries once we start typing. After a few years of this and zillions of fields filled out, prediction has gotten scarily good and personal. Expect more predictive inputs, possibly better search results, and a number of laughs as you see what others have entered.
- AR/VR: For goods like clothing and jewelry, we all want to try before we buy. With that not an option given brick-and-mortar store limitations, the role of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) has increased in importance. This is especially true when it comes to luxury goods or non-returnable items. In the leadup to this Valentine’s Day, expect to see ads touting AR technology that allows you to see how that ring or necklace would look on that special quarantine someone in your life. Yes! eCommerce trend double-whammy covering AR as well as social: Pinterest Expands AR Try-On Experience to Eyeshadow.
- Mobile Everything: We’ve been hearing about why websites need to be responsive and mobile-first for a few years. Any site that hasn’t taken the leap not only looks dated but provides an unpleasant user experience. With the ubiquity of phones and tablets, mobile is a necessity. Take it a step further and consider whether or not it might be worth it to develop an app for your business.
- No “No Matches”: If you’re searching for something not listed in a product catalog or hidden because it’s out of stock or discontinued, expect to see plenty of recommended substitutes rather than “Sorry, your search did not match anything.” If you can’t deliver the exact item a shopper seeks, suggest a close-matching alternative.
- More Social Shopping: If you haven’t noticed, an increasing number of non-commerce social platforms are now integrating the option to purchase goods on-site and in-app. In 2021. almost everything posted or shared will also be for sale and the transaction may even take place on that platform, which brings us back to frictionless shopping and omnichannel presence. Expect more social networks and more shopping cart icons on them.
- SMS Marketing Throughout the Entire Customer Journey: Every marketing person I’ve spoken with, not to mention all of our expert partners, says that SMS (text messaging) is going to blow up in 2021. Read why they’re saying that and why you should get in on SMS now before it’s too late. Recommended Reading: 2021 Trifecta: Why Adding SMS Marketing to Your Social Media and Email Campaigns Is a Must.
- Social Proof from Real People (Influencers, Brand Ambassadors Employees, Customers): The importance of seeing real people and hearing them describe their experiences (with products and in their personal lives) has become a huge point of connection. This matters all the more when so many of us feel disconnected or isolated. Embrace influencers, brand loyalists, and employees as voices. Remember that what your customers say about your product and your brand (for better and worse) is more important than anything you could say about them.
- Livestreaming: 2020 forced us to minimize in-person contact, which led to maximum virtual contact. With social distancing still in place and an increasing number of experiences being in home or solo, sharing has become a critical part of satisfying our need for human contact. You may not be able to travel right now, but you can connect with someone in Hawaii filming herself surfing and sharing it live. For commerce, livestreaming is great for influencers, social proof, product demos, unboxings, explainer videos, and live Q&A.
- Standing for Something and Doing Good: Our friends at Google said it best when they contributed to our Expert Insights: What eCommerce Merchants Should START Doing in 2021 article.
“Start taking a stand for something. More than ever before, consumers want to support brands that connect to what those buyers believe in. Consumers (especially among younger audiences) seek out brands with strong social values. These shoppers now expect brands to stand for something and to publicize that cause and contribute to it. What cause does your brand support? Does it mesh with what your audience supports?”
- True Inclusion and Representation: Honor Black History Month and LGBTQ Pride Month all year by true inclusion in your outreach and advertising. While you may have a target demographic or buyer persona, don’t rule anyone out. Open your mind and your reach and you’ll open the door to new audiences willing to open their wallets. On the flip side, failure to be truly inclusive and representative is a huge turnoff for many shoppers who want to do business with brands that show their commitment to diversity. This, like the point above, isn’t so much an eCommerce trend as a best practice always.
- More Brand Collaboration and Partnerships: 2020 showed us that whoever and wherever we are, we’re all in this together. Whether that “this” is practicing social distancing, helping local businesses stay open, or rediscovering the joy of spending time outside, we all got a little closer by getting a little further apart. Getting through 2020 required sacrifices, behavioral changes, and cooperation. Brands understood that they, like individuals, couldn’t go it alone. They also understood that partnerships gave them access to new audiences and new capabilities. Businesses became more efficient and offered more value, customers appreciated easier shopping, bundled promotions, and increased innovation and creativity. Here’s a sweet example of a collaborative win where multiple businesses and species benefited: Pet Startups Are Striking More Retail Partnerships After Record Growth in 2020.
No one can know where 2021 will go, especially after 2020 turned everything upside down. But not knowing isn’t a reason not to prepare for what seems likely or even possible. Not all of the eCommerce trends and topics above will apply to your business, but many will — if not this year, soon enough. Find the applicable topics and trends, select what’s feasible and profitable, and start your 2021 work there. And remember, we’re here to help so don’t hesitate to contact us.