Top 10 eCommerce Trends For Small Businesses In 2021
When it comes to online selling, the 2021 outlook can be summed up in one word: Good. Already favorable direct-to-consumer eCommerce sales trends accelerated their pace in 2020, and signs point to continued growth this year.
Don’t get too comfortable, though. Even in a continuing positive growth environment, eCommerce is an ever-expanding industry, with new players entering to compete with you every day and new technologies making it easier to connect with customers, if you adopt them. And new competition and technologies require new ways of marketing, selling, and fulfilling orders, if you want to maintain or grow your sales.
Are you ready?
We’re here to help, by delving into the major consumer and B2B eCommerce trends we’re seeing for 2021. We’ll explain each trend, demonstrate its popularity, and then give you some actionable steps to implement it in your own business model. Take advantage of these tips to stay up to date with emerging trends in eCommerce to ensure your brand is ready to stay on top of the eCommerce game!
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Top 11 eCommerce Trends You Need To Know About
Rapid growth was a top 2020 eCommerce trend. Looking ahead to eCommerce trends 2021, can we expect more of the same? If current predictions and market conditions hold steady, the answer is yes. Here are the eCommerce trends you need to be aware of in 2021:
1. Online Sales Will Continue To Grow
Once again, the most important trend of the year is the steady increase that we expect to see in online sales. According to data from Statista, eCommerce sales in 2020 increased by 17.75% compared to the previous year. We expect online sales to continue increasing, with total annual eCommerce sales projected to top $407 billion in 2021. That’s up from $374 billion in 2020, indicating that while growth may have slowed somewhat, the market is nowhere near its peak.
These are encouraging projections for online sellers! eCommerce sales have been increasing steadily over the years, and you want to make sure your business gets a cut of the pie. So, keep looking for ways to increase the impact of your online marketing. Test new promotions, invest time in mastering SEO terms and strategies, create motivating email marketing campaigns, and optimize your site for web traffic. For more recommendations on increasing online sales on your own store, try our article 7 Strategies To Increase Your eCommerce Sales.
2. Sales Of Household Goods Are Still Up
During 2020, the COVID-19 crisis introduced a massive change in the way people shop. Many customers began to express feelings of anxiety around even a simple trip to the grocery store, comparing preparations for the outing to suiting up for battle.
Many months into the pandemic, a significant number of consumers still prefer to avoid stores altogether, opting instead to order even everyday household products online. According to a study by Ipsos from July of 2020, nearly half of U.S. respondents (48%) said they were buying more of their household purchases online instead of in-store. While that number had dipped slightly to 42% by December 2020, a significant number of Americans still do the majority of their shopping online, with more than one-quarter of respondents saying they felt “afraid” to leave their home for necessities or for work.
The takeaway here is particularly relevant to those who already sell household products: If you haven’t begun selling online, now is the time to start. For those who do not yet sell household goods, you might consider stocking and advertising in-demand products that relate to your core product line, like cleaning products, care items, and other non-perishable goods. Make sure your customers know they can look to you for the products they would typically buy in-store.
3. Smartphones Are Becoming The Top Way We Shop
Since the moment smartphones met the internet in 2000, mobile devices have had a growing impact on eCommerce. However, in the years since, while customers would browse on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, they typically would return to their desktop or laptop computers to make their final purchase. In 202o, however, the percentage of sales made via mobile device inched toward the halfway line, and it’s quite possible that mobile purchases will outnumber computer purchases for the first time in 2021.
Mobile traffic has played a big role in eCommerce for years. As reported by Business Insider, mobile eCommerce is forecasted to total $284 billion when 2020 figures are finalized. That’s a whopping 45% of the total US eCommerce market. With that in mind, it is absolutely critical to assume that up to half of all online shoppers are browsing your site on a mobile device. If your site is built on one of the major shopping cart platforms, you’re probably off to a good start, because it’s probably optimized for mobile browsing already.
Still, no matter what platform you use, it’s a good idea to test out your site for yourself using a couple of different screens. If you discover your online store is not as mobile-friendly as you’d like it to be, act now to make it so, ensuring that each page of your site adapts to screens of all sizes. Start by ensuring your site has simple headers, search tools, and filtering features. Then keep looking for more ways to make your site more mobile-friendly.
What’s more, your mobile checkout needs to work seamlessly, even on a small screen. A complicated checkout procedure could be costing you sales! According to one study by the Baymard Institute, out of a pool of customers who had abandoned an online sale in the last months, 21% had abandoned the purchase because the checkout process was too long or complicated. To keep it mobile-friendly, make sure your checkout asks customers only for the key information: name, email address, and shipping and billing information. It’s okay to create a membership/login process, but it’s vital that you allow people to check out as guests as well. Keep the full checkout process to as few steps as possible, and you have a better chance of snagging those mobile sales!
4. The Subscription Model Is Gaining In Popularity
Not that long ago, subscriptions were something associated with magazines and newspapers. Today, they’re one of the hottest trends in eCommerce. From Blue Apron to Imperfect Foods, from The Dollar Shave Club to FabFitFun, popular subscription box services are changing the way we shop online. Even pet supply companies like BarkBox and clothing suppliers like Stitch Fix are a part of the trend. It doesn’t matter if they’re filled with mundane, workaday items like fruit or razor blades; subscription boxes give customers something to look forward to in the mailbox.
The idea of a subscription box is to make customers feel like they’re “treating” themselves to something special. And it works. According to Fuel by McKinsey, it’s a market that’s worth about $12 to $15 billion.
It isn’t hard for your business to jump on board with this trend. In fact, more and more eCommerce shopping cart platforms are making it easy by enabling subscription sales. And many online stores are naturally suited to starting up a subscription service. If you sell wine, a wine of the month club would be a natural application. If you sell cosmetics or beauty products, try compiling your own themed subscription boxes. That can be a great way to introduce customers to new products, move some older inventory, and ensure regular purchases.
But even businesses that don’t sell glamorous products can benefit from creating subscription offers. I recently signed up for a regular delivery of one of the least glamorous products out there: dog poop bags! If you sell consumable products that customers purchase regularly — think toiletries, food, toys, natural cleaning supplies, or pet products — you may have a natural market for subscription purchases. Customers appreciate the automatic re-ordering process, especially if you give them the flexibility to start and stop shipments at any time.
One last thought: If you choose to set up subscription boxes as an option on your site, make sure you have a payment method with recurring billing features.
5. Ethical & Sustainable Consumerism Is On The Rise
Tracking along with a trend that has not yet reached its peak, online retailers should expect consumers to continue becoming ever more conscientious in their purchasing habits. Today’s consumers carefully consider their purchasing options, favoring products and businesses with ethical and sustainable practices. Remember those dog bags I mentioned buying a subscription for? I chose the brand because the bags are made primarily of cornstarch, not plastic, and they’re completely biodegradable.
The Environmental Defense Fund cites three areas of concern in its July 2020 analysis:
- Climate: Areas of concern include product sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal and how they affect the carbon footprint.
- Transparency: Younger consumers, especially, weigh their buying decisions against companies’ environmental footprint and commitment/contributions to social responsibility.
- Toxicity: Even though you’re probably not manufacturing the products you sell, consumers hold you accountable for their safety in terms of manufacturing impact and safe use.
As you consider implementing better environmental practices in your own business, I suggest you start by rethinking your packaging. How you package products and shipments can leave customers with a big impression, either positive or negative. Good environmental practices include using recycled plastics and cardboard, as well as packaging your products in the smallest boxes possible and using non-plastic tape. Shipping products in smaller boxes not only uses less cardboard but also takes up less space in a delivery truck, meaning it takes less gas to deliver.
Of course, it’s always good to be environmentally responsible, but in terms of improving your business outlook it’s only going to increase your sales if you let customers know how you’re reducing your impact. Whatever environmental and ethical practices you decide on, make sure you advertise that information.
6. You Can’t Escape Free Shipping
The words “free shipping” are every customer’s favorite phrase and every online seller’s biggest challenge. And it’s no longer seen as a nice perk but as an absolute necessity, thanks to retail giants like Amazon and Walmart that have made free shipping one of their top selling points.
The National Retail Federation reports that 75% of consumers surveyed said they expect free shipping, even on small orders (under $50). What’s more, 29% of interviewed consumers had abandoned a purchase because two-day shipping wasn’t free. That attitude presents a huge burden for online retailers, especially smaller ones. As all online sellers know, “free shipping” is never free, and offering free shipping on the wrong orders can completely eliminate your profit margins — or even mean you lose money on a sale.
That’s why it’s important to be strategic about the ways you offer free shipping. You might choose to set order totals that customers must reach to earn free shipping (i.e. “Free shipping on orders over $50!”). Or you could offer free shipping on every purchase, and then raise product prices to include all or part of the shipping costs. Alternatively, you could offer free shipping as a limited-time promotion or as a reward when customers sign up for your newsletter or join your loyalty club.
Because no two eCommerce businesses are alike, there’s really no easy solution to the free-shipping situation. Keep looking and experimenting until you find methods that work for you and allow you to give your customer the fast, free shipping they’ve come to expect.
7. Pickup & Delivery Are Taking Off
If you haven’t heard of BOPIS, let alone considered adding it to your eCommerce strategy, you’re behind the curve. The letters stand for “buy online, pick up in-store,” and it means adding another delivery method to connect buyers to your products. By doing so, you put your products in customers’ hands more quickly — and you do away entirely with the expense and time delay of shipping. As a strategy, BOPIS is so popular among retailers that up to 90% of them will be offering it this year, according to a report by Retail TouchPoints.
Speed of delivery is a real consideration. The National Retail Federation reports that convenience is a top concern for online shoppers. They’re even willing to pay a premium price for convenience, especially in categories like groceries, clothing, electronics, personal care, and pet supplies, according to the NRF. Adding BOPIS to your delivery mix can help you capitalize on consumers’ need for convenience, and saving on shipping is just a bonus to the increase in customer satisfaction and repeat business.
To put a BOPIS strategy into play, you need local customers, a physical location for pickup, and an eCommerce platform that allows pickup as a delivery option. Fortunately, the top eCommerce platforms have been paying attention to this trend and are making it easier to include BOPIS on your online store. So if your online store is built on a platform like BigCommerce, Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, Square Online, WooCommerce, and others, nothing stands in the way of adding a BOPIS option to your checkout page.
Delivery options are similarly easy to implement, with integrations to third-party delivery providers becoming more popular. Whether your customers want delivery, in-store pickup, or curbside service, adding these options to your checkout page will cost you virtually nothing and could net you real gain in customer goodwill and satisfaction.
8. Shoppers Are Increasingly Influenced By Social Media Marketing
The past few years have delivered a continuous rise in the popularity of social media marketing. Instagram influencers, social media managers, and professional YouTubers have changed the game when it comes to online marketing. But is it a trend that’s run its course? Signs point to no, especially at a time when more people are staying home and turning to social media for entertainment and connection with others.
And that shift to social media has also made an impact on online sales. Now customers aren’t just learning about brands and products on social media —they’re purchasing on social media too. As Salesforce reported in October 2020, 13% of Americans have made purchases directly over one or more social media platforms. As a percentage of the buying public, that may seem a middling number. When you drill down and see that 63% of millennials reported having bought a product over social media during the pandemic alone, that’s a little more impressive. Overall, online purchases facilitated via social media have grown a very healthy 104%.
So if you haven’t started exploring social media as an arm of your eCommerce strategy, it’s time to get started beefing up your social media marketing methods! Look into selling on a Facebook store, via shoppable posts on Instagram, or through buyable pins on Pinterest. You should also define your brand, discover your audience, and consider hiring a social media manager.
9. Personalization Is A Must
Personalization is not new in eCommerce. For decades, online sellers have reaped the benefit of adding personalization to their email marketing campaigns. Research continues to show that emails with the customer’s first name in the subject line have a slightly higher open rate, and when they include a customer’s name in the body of the email, the result is a higher click-through rate.
eCommerce personalization is a newer but no less effective trend, and you can implement a personalization program simply by starting to collect data through your eCommerce platform. Knowing what time of day customers browse your site and what path they take to arrive at your online store (i.e., from Google, from an in-house email, or from a social media link) is a start. Knowing what items they put in their shopping carts and leave there without purchasing, as well as what products and categories they spend their time looking at, gives your more useful information. Combine that information with what you know about customers’ past purchases and how they’ve interacted with your email and marketing campaigns, and you know a lot about how to reach them — with what offers on which types of merchandise!
But how do you collect and access this type of data about your customers and their online shopping habits? The easiest way to start is by visiting the dashboard on your shopping cart platform and familiarizing yourself with the analytics section you’ll find there. If you don’t see the right kinds of information, adding a plugin like enhanced Google Analytics may be well worth the investment. According to data from Barilliance, sales from product recommendations alone account for up to 31% of a seller’s eCommerce revenue. That’s not a small amount!
By the way, even if you’re not ready to go all-in on your online store’s personalization techniques, be sure to list recommended products on your site, whether those recommendations are based on your customers’ browsing history, past purchases, or the items currently in their shopping cart. Personalization can make a big impression on your customers. Do your best to personalize your shopper experience in any way you can!
10. Chatbot Customer Service Continues To Evolve
A chatbot is an artificial intelligence program that is designed to answer common customer questions within a chat window. And despite some bumps, chatbot technology continues gaining ground as an option for businesses to easily handle large volumes of customer inquiries. In fact, as chatbots evolve along with advances in AI technology, expect them to play a bigger role in eCommerce.
What are the benefits of adding a chatbot to your online store? Studies compiled by SmallBizGenius show that chatbots can lower your operating costs by almost one-third. That’s a good incentive for business owners. But the benefits flow both ways. The best benefit of chatbots, according to 64% of internet users surveyed, is the ability to access customer service 24/7. Up to 37% of online users say they’ve used a chatbot to get a quick answer when they need it most.
For many small businesses, creating a chatbot may seem like a complex and overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are many software add-ons available that can take away the technical hassle of creating a chatbot. And social media sites like Facebook are making it easy to use the Facebook Messenger chatbot option.
Most shopping cart platforms, such as Shopify, make it easy to add on chatbot software apps to create your own solution. For example, a subscription software called ChatBot lets you create question-and-answer flowcharts you can easily turn into a chatbot’s programmed responses. Chatfuel lets you create a chatbot for your Facebook Messenger, and Kik also allows you to build your own chatbot (although Kik does require you to work with their API to do so).
Fortunately, building your own artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be hard. There are many options that you can use to simplify the process of setting up your own customer support chatbot. Studies show that chatbots are able to answer up to 80% of customers’ standard questions. Even if you have to pay a subscription cost to add a chatbot to your website, it may be the cheapest route to customer satisfaction you can find.
11. Augmented Reality Hasn’t Hit Its Peak
Augmented reality is a type of virtual imaging software that allows you to overlay pictures and videos of reality with a digital image. You may know augmented reality from games like Pokémon GO, where a digital creature seemingly appears right in front of you. Did you know you can use similar technology to create augmented reality (AR) on your website, allowing customers to “place” your products in their own homes, walk around to view them from all sides, or even to “try on” accessories and cosmetics?
AR is more than a gimmick, says Invesp, with more than 61% of shoppers saying they prefer to buy from sites that offer the technology. And with 22% saying they’d switch from brick-and-mortar shopping to online stores offering an AR experience, another way to compete with traditional stores is opening up to online retailers. More than two-thirds of customers surveyed said they’d appreciate a simple AR function: previewing variations like color and style differences.
Think about how you could apply AR to your eCommerce business. You can use AR to let your customers view your rugs or throw pillows in their homes, get their hands (virtually) on a new laptop, or try on a pair of earrings or scarf. Fortunately, doing that doesn’t require a big effort on your part. Shopify users can take advantage of the new Shopify AR, which uses Apple’s AR Quick Look to enable AR experiences for Safari users. Sellers on other platforms should look into AR tools like Augment or Marxent 3D Commerce. These apps do the hard part of creating an AR experience. Often, all you have to do is import multiple product images to get started!
Which Trends Should Your Business Adopt?
In an ever-evolving industry like eCommerce, it can be difficult to keep up with the new developments and trends in the market. However, this year you can keep up with the competition by taking the steps we’ve outlined in this post.
As you tune up your eCommerce approach for 2021, think about the steps you’re already taking to stay in line with current trends. Where are you racing ahead, and where are you falling behind? Of course, it’s best to make sure your site is up to date with all of the current best practices before you try to get on the cutting edge of online selling. So make sure you have all the eCommerce basics covered, then start the new year right — and continue to make steady improvement throughout the year — by picking one or two areas and start improving there.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there, review your current practices, and see which of this year’s eCommerce trends you want to tackle. You’re going to do great!
Here’s a quick reminder of how to get started:
- Review your online marketing strategy
- Look into selling household goods
- Make sure your site works seamlessly on mobile
- Create subscription products for your store
- Consider sustainability in how you package and ship products
- Offer free shipping when you can
- Give customers the option to pick up their orders
- Sell on social media
- Use product recommendations to create a personalized shopping experience
- Program a chatbot with add-on applications
- Use an augmented reality tool to help customers envision your products