If you’ve read it once, you’ve read it a dozen times: 2020 changed consumer buying behaviors in deep and lasting ways. According to McKinsey and Company, Ecommerce grew as much as it had over 10 years in just the first quarter of 2020. This, of course, was the product of COVID-19 quarantines and consumers spending more (or all) of their time at home. Meanwhile, economic hardships had consumers shopping less often and spending less when they did. Globally, the consumer focus also shifted to spending on health and well-being products more than the staple indulgences from “pre-COVID” life.
These and other social and economic factors have changed the landscape for brands as much as it has for consumers. Standard operating procedures developed over the last 20 years were turned on their heads, and the delivery of services and products forced immediate innovation or businesses would be left in the dust.
But businesses responded. Of those that tried to accommodate the new normal, however, many failed. In the U.S. alone, more than 97,966 businesses closed permanently by the end of the third quarter, according to the recent Yelp Local Economic Impact Report.
Still, more businesses survived than those that did not. Today, those remaining brands are trying to refine and reexamine the new processes they rushed into over the course of the pandemic to look for new opportunities they were too rushed to see before. Gearing up for 2021, the businesses who take a strategic look at key market trends will not only keep pace but thrive.
They just have to know which trends to watch.
Keep reading to learn the 5 ecommerce trends your business can leverage in the “new normal.”
Ecommerce Trend #1: More Social Commerce
With roughly half of consumers shopping regularly online for items they routinely bought in-store before, the looming permanence of ecommerce is clear. The real question is, what ecommerce channels are best suited for brands to sell their products on?
The reality for any brand trying to secure a foothold in ecommerce is that we are now in a multichannel world. A proprietary ecommerce storefront that’s fully optimized for growth is a complement to a presence on multiple marketplaces. Any brand that wants to succeed must also have a shoppable presence on social media.
Social commerce is a native shopping experience on a social media platform (like Pinterest or Facebook). Instead of clicking an ad to land on a third-party website, users can buy products right on the social app. With consumers spending twice as much time per day consuming content online in 2020 as they did in 2019, we know that more time than ever is spent on social media. The opportunity for your business is huge if you leverage the trend.
We should note that social commerce is generally a more passive shopping experience than going directly to a marketplace. Think of it along the lines of, “I didn’t know I needed it until I saw it.” Regardless, the opportunity there is enormous. The 2020 partnership between TikTok and Shopify tells us that ecommerce and social platforms see the opportunity, too. Snapchat and Facebook even have custom ecommerce stores offered now for brands.
Social media is also the ideal place to test products, which can help brands speed up their time-to-market.
Before you spend time diving into Facebook Shops or Snapchat’s Native Stores, it’s important to consider which social media platforms make sense for your business. This has become even more important as Generation Z has aged into the limelight of consumer spending on social media where they spend two to three times what the industry-average consumer does. Instagram and Snapchat are the primary platforms to reach this audience; but if your target customers are Generation X or Millennials, Facebook is your better bet.
Social commerce is an exciting space where your storefronts and your marketing collide. To ride this trend to more sales and deeper insights into your customers’ needs and wants, use KPI-based data and be ready to respond quickly to what you learn. Read more on how to use your data processes for better business growth.
Ecommerce Trend #2: Influencer Marketing, But from a New Angle
Not that long ago, influencer marketing was little more than selfies taken with a product, loaded to a popular profile with a carefully-constructed caption. The real hook for consumers was that a “real person” was behind the post instead of a brand or even a celebrity endorser.
Over time, consumers got wise to the influencer model of marketing, and influencer content had to get more creative to continue to come off as genuine. Influencers were given products to try out and endorse more sincerely. Their media became more “real” with raw aesthetics, and this trend came on even stronger in 2020. Audiences are putting more trust in brands that sound authentic, and overly-produced influencer ads from the “old way” can be spotted a mile away.
As influencer marketing has adapted, it has also continued to grow. It’s slated to grow billions more over the next two years, too (up to as much as $15 billion in the U.S. by 2022).
So, how do ecommerce retailers ride this wave?
Influencer content that will successfully promote a brand in 2021 must prioritize education and entertainment for users. It’s your job to figure out how your product can fit into content crafted to those ends. We’ll offer a helpful prompt: think about how online buying has changed the buyer’s experience and how hyper-interactive content could deliver some of what consumers miss from interacting with products in-store.
The content that goes with influencer advertising is an example of the rich product data that has to be managed with these marketing campaigns. The photos and videos associated with products have to be stored somewhere, and your inventory list in your ERP doesn’t have the content-rich capacity to take that kind of product data on. The software designed to store and manage all your product data (including product content) is your PIM, or product information management software.
Ecommerce Trend #3: AR-Enhanced Shopping
Augmented reality (AR) is no longer a thing of science fiction. Along with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), these technologies have quickly moved from experimental applications to the consumer world. Augmented and virtual reality now help consumers get through their day-to-day—including in how they assess products for purchase.
Examples of AR in retail often bridge the gap between the digital and the physical. It’s understandable that this became more relevant in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends in AR by as much as five years, according to the U.S. Retail Index, and brands like Home Depot and IKEA now offer proprietary AR-powered shopping experiences.
With Shopify’s recent move to AR-powered 3D shopping, now it’s not just the big brands that can use AR in their customer journey. (It works like a dream, too. Shopify reported that user interactions with AR product content had a 94% higher conversion rate than products without.)
If AR doesn’t seem like the space you want to focus your energy on yet, this trend is still an open invitation to think seriously about your product data. Product information in ecommerce—specifically your product photos and videos—have to live up to a new standard of the experience they deliver. If you enrich your product data to meet that standard, you can build a more memorable user experience and avoid the flat buyer journey that leads to so many brands’ collapse.
Ecommerce Trend #4: Clearer Brand Identity
Ecommerce has picked up in such an overwhelming way this year that any brand selling online suddenly faces harder competition than ever. Some of the factors leaving so many landmines in the way include the sudden saturation of sellers, local sellers who are now selling across borders, and the reality that many brands selling online only recently dipped into ecommerce. There’s a learning curve that thousands of businesses are trying to climb in one enormous mass.
The key to making your online presence a more memorable and better branded one is consistency. Your brand must be represented with the same voice and the tone and look of content across all channels, or you’re essentially throwing spaghetti against the wall.
Brands selling on marketplaces might wonder, how is brand consistency achieved if you don’t own the platform? You can’t personalize your Amazon product pages in the same way you can personalize your Magento storefront. The good news is that shopping experiences are being refined all the time, especially by the bigger online marketplaces. Taking the Amazon example, and look at new branding trends you now have access to:
- Product videos in sponsored brands
- Custom product images in sponsored brands
- Brand “Stories”
- Amazon posts
Yes, this does mean more product content. They used to say “content is king,” but content in 2020 is even more powerful—something like the Marcus Aurelius of ecommerce. To ride this trend to better branding, think of your product content as equally important as your product specs, and your listings will take on a new and more coherent look and feel channel to channel.
Ecommerce Trend #5: Purchasing, Loyalty, and Switching
Consumer behavior trends in ecommerce have ebbed and flowed in interesting ways when it comes to loyalty and channel-switching. Loyalty used to be tied to the convenience of a physical store location or the customer service received there. In the “new normal” of ecommerce, that kind of loyalty has taken a nosedive. Consumers no longer have the same degree of interactions with brands, and the ease of price comparing online is too tempting not to bounce from one marketplace to another in search of the best deal.
As a result, consumer loyalty has been disrupted in a big way. That said, consumers are starting to pick favorites of the channels they shop online. An increasing number of buyers start at Amazon by default, for example. Others prefer purchasing a brand’s products directly on their ecommerce site because it feels “safer.” So, what’s the secret sauce to buyer loyalty online? A recent study published on ScienceDirect broke down the new e-loyalty factors as:
- Contact interactivity
The first and most direct path to increasing your consumer e-loyalty is to consistently apply your brand on all channels, just like we discussed above. Other key e-loyalty factors can be taken care of by offering easy service engagement options like a chat on your website, and customer-centric practices including your shipping, returns and more.
Successfully stirring up some e-loyalty will also have a positive impact on word-of-mouth promotion of your site or products, since recommendations continue to be one of consumers’ favorite ways to get the scoop on what to shop.
Wherever there’s disruption, you’ll also find opportunity. 2020 has been a banner year for ecommerce, and 2021 will continue the trend. The new year could be a profitable one for any brand riding these ecommerce trends with a mindful eye on what’s to come and with the agility to respond to more change as these trends grow.
The following blog was written by guest author Alex Borzo, a content contributor at Amber Engine, a software company passionate about eCommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.