The Future of E-commerce: 7 Trends for 2021

5 January 2021 • 10 min read

2020 might be a year many want to forget, but for online retail, it was a turning point. Last year’s events forced e-commerce into the forefront of the retail world. Businesses moved to an online-first sales model as brick-and-mortar stores closed. New e-commerce trends emerged as it took center stage in the retail world.

Every year e-commerce platforms are developing to integrate new features. As a result of last year’s events, a lot of features were fast-tracked to meet consumer demand. Features like being able to schedule deliveries and pick-ups are now an expectation for customers looking to reduce physical contact.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed consumer behaviour for good and it’s still changing. Likewise, e-commerce is ever-changing. So what’s new for 2021?

Here are our top seven e-commerce trends to look out for in 2021.

1. Customer Experience Becomes Essential

The pandemic forced customers to become very familiar with their devices and their user experiences. Some customer’s that only ever shopped in-store, were now forced to look at a website. Today’s consumers expect an easy-to-use, responsive, and intuitive experience when shopping online.

Customers want a seamless experience across every device. To do this retailers need to consider how they are delivering a multi-platform experience. Retail doesn’t start and end with brick-and-mortar stores, it’s now much more than that.

Retailers that have an omnichannel strategy succeed, and those that don’t typically fail. We need to think about our businesses from the viewpoint that we could lose any revenue stream – as we saw when lockdowns forced physical store closures. When something like that happens, you need to be equipped to take your whole business online.

Having your customer and product data aligned is the first major step in creating an omnichannel strategy. But there’s more to do with your webstore to deliver that seamless experience.

Delivering a great experience on your webstore is vital in 2021. Google is releasing a major algorithm update in May 2021 called the ‘Page Experience’ update. It means online retailers need to focus on creating great customer experiences in 2021. Otherwise, you risk losing out on traffic, page ranking, and online visibility. Prioritizing mobile shopping experiences by making your site responsive is critical for success in 2021.

Stay tuned for more on WebSell’s response to Google’s major algorithm change.

2. Customer Behaviour Continues to Force E-commerce Change

2020 saw many changes to the e-commerce landscape and that will continue in 2021. Meeting the needs of customers became a priority last year. So customers currently hold a lot of power in shaping the future of online retail.

We all wanted speedy and convenient ways to shop online in 2020. Delivery timing and customization were the focus of a lot of 2020’s developments in e-commerce technology. From Click & Collect, to customizing delivery times/methods, it was a necessity for customers looking to limit physical contact.

With the virus threatening more lockdowns, customers will again look for more digital ways to shop and browse online in 2021. As is often the case to see what the future looks like, take a look at what’s trending in China.

E-commerce is huge in China. 44% of the global e-commerce market is owned by 4 Chinese companies. How are Chinese people engaging with e-commerce brands and browsing products? Live streaming.

This live streaming is done by influencers and promoted on their social media channels. It’s seeing massive growth, but what is it? “It’s like Home Shopping Network, but with charismatic, trendy anchors” (Forbes).

It’s not limited to bigger brands either, smaller companies are getting involved too. While the productions are less professional, customers appreciate the effort and authenticity. It’s a whole new way for consumers to directly engage with brands they shop with.

Will the US and European markets be the next to embrace live streaming?

3. Fulfillment Becomes a Major Differentiator

As we mentioned before, fulfillment took center stage during the covid-19 crisis. Customers can be at their most demanding when they are expecting a delivery. It needs to be on time and perform to the expectations set out by the retailer.

Scheduling deliveries, click and collect, and curbside pickup all became huge factors during a socially distanced year. WebSell stores can now schedule times for customers to pick-up their packages. Giving customers more power and personalization during a difficult time is a great way to retain business.

Offering free shipping has long been a sought-after feature when shopping online. 75% of US customers now expect free shipping, which heavily influences online buying decisions. It doesn’t start and end with free shipping either. Customers now have even more aesthetic or personal expectations for their shipping.

Shipping in packaging that is environmentally conscious is important. We are more likely to buy sustainably packaged products. Zero-waste packaging is a new trend that isn’t going away.

Personalized and branded packaging is another big differentiator for brands. Providing a great unboxing experience is key due to the prevalence of social media. Here’s a guide we wrote on product packaging and how you can use it to beat the competition.

Fulfillment is important in 2021 as customers’ expectations for greater variety have increased. Offering curbside pickup and scheduled deliveries are vital for many online businesses to survive. With more uncertainty on the horizon for 2021, expect fulfillment to play an important role and for new solutions to emerge.

Note: If you’re a WebSell retailer that wants to offer curbside pickup or scheduled deliveries/pickups, get in touch.

4. Personalization & Human-Centric Approaches

Marketplaces like Amazon and eBay play a huge role in e-commerce sales and discovery. However, these marketplaces often fail to deliver brand messaging or marketing goals. Your products are discovered and bought, but it does little to sell your specific store to potential customers.

That’s why businesses will need to ensure they differentiate themselves in places they can fully control, such as their website or social media channels. More than a company that happens to stock a specific set of products, customers now expect more personality from brands. Most Amazon searches do not include a brand name, so marketplaces are more functional. Your website, for instance, is where you can tell your story.

Creating an online destination that delivers an experience is what customers are looking for. With Google’s algorithm update in May 2021, customer experience is crucial for online success this year. Here are some ways you can deliver on a better, personal, and branded experience in 2021:

To discuss your e-commerce marketing options, get in touch with our team.

5. Focus on Retention as Acquisition Costs Soar

Paid search and digital acquisition costs increased in 2020 and it doesn’t look set to slow down. While e-commerce businesses should always have a paid acquisition strategy in place, retention is critical in 2021.

Email remains the best way to communicate with your existing customer base. Taking it a step further could be a good use of your marketing time in 2021. Personalizing or branding your emails gives your customers a seamless experience. Design your emails to be an extension of your e-commerce site. That way your brand and site become ‘sticky’ in their minds.

Email marketing is just one of the ways WebSell can help your business with your marketing needs. You can find out more on our marketing services page.

You can also retain customers with rewards or loyalty programs that encourage repeat purchases. Creating loyalty tiers can incentivize customers and gamify the shopping experience.

You should also consider selling your products on a subscription basis. Are customers consistently ordering the same item at the same time from you? Help them save time and money by selling items on a subscription basis. It also wins you future revenue to keep your cash flow stable. WebSell is developing a product subscription service that will allow retailers to sell their items on this basis. Contact us or stay tuned for more info.

6. Voice Commerce

Purchases by voice search are becoming more frequent and it’s making some progress. What are the benefits of voice search?

Voice search and commerce also has an impact on SEO and where our sites rank among the competition.

The referencing of websites is going to take a turn, thanks to voice search. The use of longer keyphrases (long-tail) and interrogative sentences are becoming the norm. The implementation of enriched data targeted for voice search is something to look out for this year.

Voice commerce consists of offering e-commerce products through voice searches. The nature of voice research is to use the spoken language to interact with search engines. You are probably already familiar with the two pioneers of voice search: Google Home and Alexa.

Smartphones are naturally the most prevalent device during a voice search user’s journey. After announcing their request vocally, the user will use her smartphone to navigate on the site they have chosen. You therefore need fast pages, a mobile-friendly site and quality content.

User experience is key when talking about voice search in e-commerce.  The consumer needs as many details as possible to reassure him or her that their buy is justified. This involves optimizing product pages, which must be complete, clear, and effective. They must offer consumers the most complete description of the product possible.

Voice search marks a change in the way we interact with our devices. We are witnessing a “discussion”, a game of questions and answers. Queries are now more natural, so your tone of voice can be conversational when talking about products.

7. Digital Payment Options Dominate

Having many means of payment has democratized e-commerce sites. 50% of the world’s population have made an online payment at some point.

The new methods of payment on e-commerce sites are diverse and varied, making purchases easier, efficient, and secure. Two of the cornerstones of the modern digital wallet are Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Google Pay is the universal payment solution offered by Google on Android devices. They store bank details in a secure and encrypted way in special data centers. The smartphone stores a virtual identifier created from these details, corresponding to the registered bank card. It is this identifier that is transmitted to the payment terminal, without the merchant being able to see the original banking information.

The only contactless payment service compatible with the iPhone is Apple Pay. It’s also a service exclusive to the smartphone since Apple Pay is not compatible with Android devices. Apple will store an identifier corresponding to the bank card data in encrypted form on a secure chip. No information is stored on Apple’s servers and identification is done with Touch ID or Face ID before any transaction.

Apple Pay and Google Pay users in millions between 2018 and 2020 (Source: Statista)

The best way for WebSell retailers to offer Apple Pay and Google Pay on their store is to switch their payment gateway to Stripe. We identified Stripe as the best payment gateway for e-commerce in our recent post. If you’d like to switch to Stripe, get in touch.

Closing Thoughts

The list above identifies some key trends to watch for in 2021, but there are many others. It should be remembered that e-commerce is booming all over the world due to covid-19, so brands need to adapt to this increased demand.

Our advice is to stay abreast of the new trends as there’s no guarantee what 2021 will bring.

How will 2021 play out in the world of e-commerce? What are your key trends to watch out for?

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