A Look at the Future of E-Commerce

E-commerce business is booming. It’s also changing as quickly as it’s growing. These 10 trends are predictions for what online retailers might see in 2021.

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E-commerce businesses celebrated the largest day of online sales in history on Cyber Monday 2020. Adobe Analytics data reported holiday shoppers spending $10.8 billion. Despite being nearly $2 billion less than the firm predicted ahead of the holiday season, it's proof online shopping plays a pivotal role in retail success.

E-commerce growth is happening quicker than some online retailers can keep pace, due largely to the coronavirus pandemic. Rapid growth fuels continuous change in an ever-evolving industry.

Consider these 10 trends as part of your e-commerce strategies for 2021.


1. Personalization

Selling online means you may never meet your customer standing face-to-face, but they expect a personalized shopping experience nevertheless. That can be as simple as giving them the choice for online purchasing with in-store pick-up, curbside delivery, or dropshipping.

Giving shoppers the option for customization in the checkout process is a good place to start. Website analytics and data gleaned from customer carts and social media platforms can give you many clues to buyer preferences. A CRM system that collects the data across all your online channels allows you to customize the shopping experience for each customer.


2. Subscriptions

Every e-commerce business owner’s dream is to build brand loyalty and repeat customers. Use subscription models to convert single-purchase orders into returning customers that benefit your business by influencing ordering, forecasts, and sales.


3. AI and AR

Shopping online is convenient for customers, as simple as a swipe or click of a button. The downside? It eliminates the chance of trying on clothing or interacting with a product. In March 2020, 88.05% of online shopping orders were abandoned, according to Statista.

Shoppers abandon their cart for many reasons. However, online retailers can help consumers decide on products they can’t physically interact with through artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).

AI uses purchase history to identify and recommend similar items of interest. AR helps shoppers overcome the lack of interaction by giving them a chance to “see” how a couch will look in a specific room of the house, or how a piece of clothing will look on them before finalizing the purchase.


4. Payment options

Smart online retailers make it easy for shoppers to pay. Debit and credit cards are standard options, but it's cumbersome to enter lengthy card numbers, CVV, and expiration codes. Many e-commerce businesses offer payment through PayPal, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and others to make online purchases. These options streamline the checkout process and give customers options.

Some online retailers now accept bitcoins. Online giant Overstock is just one major online retailer that accepts Bitcoin to give buyers greater flexibility.


5. Mobile will rule

Three years ago, e-commerce growth was projected to reach $3.56 trillion dollars and eMarketer estimates that mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) would make up nearly three-quarters of those sales.

How mobile-friendly is your online store? Not sure, test it out with the Google Mobile-Friendly Test. Make your online store as easy to use on a mobile device as a computer. It's the key to cashing in on sales made with a single tap or swipe.


6. Sustainability

Millennials say they want eco-friendly products and brands with a greater purpose. Up to 65% of these shoppers claim sustainability as a shopping priority, but only 26% of consumers buy on those principles alone. Retailers using e-commerce platforms can find it frustrating to emphasize sustainability when sales don’t follow, but it’s one e-commerce future trend to watch.

The key is to be authentic. Savvy consumers see through empty promises and buzzwords just to grab their attention. Consider this approach.

  • Think about what you want to do related to the environment and sustainability.
  • Decide what you can do to support these initiatives.
  • Include your actions on your website and in communications with shoppers.

7. Watch, like, buy

Retailers have long relied on strategic product placement in television shows to drive interest and sales. But that approach relied on the customer finding the product online or in a store.

In April 2019, NBCU’s ShoppableTV introduced ads that display a QR code during a show. Viewers can access through a mobile app and buy what they are seeing on TV in real time. Following NBCU’s lead, smart television manufacturers are likely to incorporate the technology into smart televisions.


8. Pop-up shops

Selling online is booming. E-commerce growth trends are already catching up to sales at traditional brick-and-mortar shops. However, shoppers aren’t ready to totally abandon the in-person shopping experience. Especially, when excitement can be generated around a limited-time opportunity.

That makes pop-up shops, interactive kiosks, and multichannel shops important strategies for online store marketing. E-commerce giant Amazon has jumped on the trend with its Amazon Go Grocery. The popular pet subscription service BarkShop.com embraced a chance to bring its internet shop to life with a popup shop called BarkShop Live.


9. Voice-controlled shopping

Hey, Google, find me a recipe for chicken parmesan.

Alexa, play my favorite song.

Smart home voice-controlled devices have made it even more convenient to check the weather, the latest sports score, and even control the thermostat. Retailers are tapping into the power of smart home assistants for e-commerce opportunities.

E-marketer anticipates 30.7 million (13.4%) of US shoppers will use speaker commands to buy. The group projects it will continue to grow less than a percent in the next two years. Others predict smart speaker shopping will jump to 52% by 2023.

Whether the trend grows slowly or explodes, it’s clear voice-controlled shopping will be a part of the e-commerce future.


10. Post-purchase experience

The sale is only part of the equation. Customer service through the delivery and return phase is central to keep customers coming back. Sales transactions are the most celebrated piece of the transaction for online retailers, but what happens after the purchase is the most important to the customer.

Research by Metapack revealed that nearly 70% of shoppers globally say, “The ability to track an order is one of the top three considerations when buying a product online.”

Online retailers and traditional retail locations are always faced with returns. The same research by Metapack showed that 57% of shoppers globally are “somewhat more likely to shop with a site that made the returns process easier.”


Finding focus

The 10 trends highlighted are simply predictions. Others will emerge. It's overwhelming to follow and implement them all. The potential each trend holds for your business is exciting, yet sometimes overwhelming. Rather than try every new “shiny” toy, narrow the list to a handful that makes the most sense for your business model.

Know the trends so you can connect with customers and deliver on products or services that eventually (hopefully) lead to repeat business more efficiently.

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