It’s safe to say that 2020 was a massive disruptor to eCommerce trends not just in the United States but all over the world. Businesses closed, workers lost their jobs, social distancing rules shaped how we interact with businesses and friends, andstay-at-home orders meant a virtual end to many for in-person shopping and the opening of the floodgates for eCommerce. While a return to normal may be in sight, many of these trends are carrying over into 2021. Savvy managers can capitalize on changes in eCommerce trends and put into place new standards and goals that will help them ride through 2021 ahead ofthe curve and the competition. We’ve compiled a list of 8 crucial eCommerce trends you need to know about and plan for to make it through 2021 and be at the top of your game. Here goes:

1. AI will be less artificial and more intelligent

Artificial intelligence is moving into the mainstream, with many consumers now happily comfortable interacting with chatbots and, in some cases, preferring them to live humans. Advances in machine learning will continue to improve how AI cangrow your brand, from making product recommendations to customers to assistance through voice search. You can put AI to work in several ways, with more coming online all the time:

  • Product and content recommendations
  • Marketing messages and email
  • Visual search and product combinations
  • Predictive analysis
  • Product layout

2. Green consumerism will continue to grow in popularity

Sustainability has fully entered the mainstream, and any eCommerce managers who are not taking advantage of this are well behind the curve. Recent weather and politics-related headlines have only cemented the sustainability message for consumers, and the majority of consumers now say sustainability and green practices factor into their buying decisions. And it is not just the product itself — the backlash is growing against retailers who unnecessarily over-package products, don’t promote their own green messages, and fail to champion green causes in their community. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to take advantage of this mainstream trend. For example, you can analyze your current products to see if they were manufactured sustainably or with green materials, and you can easily spotlight green products on your eCommerce pages with an icon or a separate grouping as well as in product description titles. To go a step further, you can also analyze your packaging and shopping practices and encourage customers to recycle their products. Did you make a change that results in less waste or fewer emissions? Don’t hesitate even one second to promote that in your content! 

3. Influencers will become brand partners

Celebrities have long been put to work selling everything from sports cars to dish soap, and that trend is hard at work in social media, though it is influencers who are doing the heavy lifting now. Why? In general, it’s much cheaper to contract with an influencer to promote your products, and influencers have often gained highly devoted, highly focused following around specific activities. With a small amount of homework, you can find an influencer no matter what segment you are selling in, from vegan cupcakes to long-distance mountain biking. How you work with an influencer can depend on who you are, who they are, and what you are selling. A good tip is to build a relationship, promote their page, provide them with free merchandise, and give them the freedom to create contentaround your brand as they see fit. 

4. Customers will do their shopping in marketplaces rather than eCommerce stores

Everyone who is anyone is selling online now, but consumers have always and will continue to favor ease and convenience, and while even your corner barbershop offers online shopping now, online marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart will continue to dominate the online shopping experience. There are several reasons for that, with choice and convenience topping the list. A quick look at product pages on Amazon, for example, shows you that those stores sell not only their own products, but products from thousands of vendors. Other giant retailers, like Best Buy, have followed suit. This creates for the shopper a single destination where they can compare products, prices, and services on a huge range of items — something your corner store simply can’t do. Meanwhile, the satisfaction of two or three-day shipping and free returns makes the experience that much better.

 Local vendors who want to compete for the need to find their niche by boosting their backend infrastructure, offering same-day    or even same-hour delivery, and offering unique products and services not found in the national chains. The most crucial thing to focus on is customer convenience. Meanwhile, local vendors can become sellers on their industry’s top marketplaces, taking advantage of high traffic counts, fast shipping, and overall elevated shopping experiences. Beware: your brand growth may be limited when you pivot to online marketplaces since the marketplace, not you, collects and owns the shopper data. 

5. Online buying will not be limited to B2C products

Shutdowns and stay-at-home orders did not just mean that consumers went online to buy coffee beans and sweatpants. This is another area where the market was severely disrupted in 2020, which saw everything go on sale online, from sofas to mixed drinks to go. It’s possible these changes will slow down and this trend might retrograde somewhat as people rediscover the convenience of in-person shopping and resume their regular routines, but it certainly won’t stop. Businesses can adopt new strategies to take advantage of this trend almost no matter what industry they are in. Just about any product you sell can be bought online, and almost any service you perform can be purchased, paid for, and scheduled online. The secret is to make it convenient for the buyer — and more convenient than what your competition is offering. UX can play a role here by creating an online catalog and content to match, plus a user-friendly buying experience that drives conversions. 

6. Social media will start promoting shoppable video ads

2020 showed the continuing power of social media as a selling platform, and with new options coming online seemingly every month, this will continue to be a powerful commerce platform in 2021 and beyond.

 The power of social media as a selling tool came about thanks to the growing use of social media platforms and the creative ways those platforms and vendors used ads to sell. TikTok and Instagram have proven especially powerful tools for online selling, as video is a great platform for showcasing products and services. Now, Gen-Z can make buying decisions from their social media fees, with videos bringing products, places, and services to life, while the adjacent comment section acts as a sort of informal information desk. To take advantage of this trend, you can partner with social media platforms with paid deals, or simply upload your own videos selling products. Ideas include tutorials, explainers, and even unboxing videos. 

7.Analytics will dominate decision making

The easy availability of data is reshaping how merchants tailor marketing campaigns and products, but in some cases, that data can feel overwhelming. The standard metrics will still play a huge role in how you market, from bounce rates to click-to-open rates, and these can paint a detailed picture of your marketing success. But new analytics offer even more granular detail, and will soon be able to identify price sensitivities, full-price payment likelihood, and even cart abandonment likelihood. eCommerce sites can begin by ascertaining just what data they have access to either immediately or through a service upgrade. Look for data that segment your audience by demographic data and channel, then identify impactful content and integrate it all with your CRM and CMS for a broad view of your eCommerce business. 

8. Omnichannel shopping will become hugely influential

Omnichannel marketing is viewing an experience through the eyes of your customers, orchestrating the customer experience across every channel so it is seamless, and consistent messaging no matter the platform. For merchants, this not just optimizing user experiences across mobile, tablet, and desktop, but also optimizing that same experience through every channel that you use, from social media to email marketing to bus stop banners. Several tools have emerged to help retailers structure these new relationships, including Amazon, Pinpoint and Amazon Personalize.

 Remember: You don’t necessarily have to be optimized on every channel and everyplatform — only those that your customers are on. Focus on the channels whereyour customers go the most and sell to them there. The takeaway: No, 2020 won’t soon be forgotten, but some of the eCommerce trends born from it are here to stay. Savvy eCommerce managers can position themselves now to take advantage of these trends to extend their brand, hone their message, broaden their appeal, and pad and protect their bottom line. Behind all of these eCommerce trends is one word you should keep in mind: flexibility. The flexibility to reposition your brand, represent your products, and reassess your practices can be the dividing line between those who succeed in 2021 and those who don’t. 

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