2020 is a year to forget. Although this year also brought positive developments. Especially for e-commerce, 2020 was the tipping point. Sales were “sky high” and even the last conservative laggards bought online this year. But what will 2021 bring us? Sorry, I’m not an expert on viruses and pandemics. But I’m happy to share my take on ecommerce trends in 2021.
Many websites have already paid attention to this topic. I am and remain a realist and base my list mainly on statistics and experiences. I remain skeptical about the impact of sustainability on consumer behavior. I’m not going to use cliché concepts such as omnichannel commerce and artificial intelligence. Will these make a difference in 5 to 10 years? Certainly, but not in 2021. I wish you a lot of inspiration and wisdom with my 11 ecommerce trends for 2021.
Contents of this article:
- Acceleration in online sales
- Further growth of (niche) market places
- Local favor factor: “Support your locals”
- Increasing trade in used products
- More delivery comfort
- Focus on fulfilment and return process
- Advent of social commerce
- Inclusivity as an increasingly desired brand association
- Featured snippets in Google
- Further SEA automation
- Dominance of mobile traffic and conversion
1. Acceleration in online sales
There was a time when experts claimed that clothes would never be bought online. After all, you couldn’t try on, feel and “hang back” clothes online. But times are changing. Corona also gave e-commerce a “kick in the but” in 2020. Brick and mortar stores are steadily losing sales, and we’re buying more and more online. In addition, consumer confidence in e-commerce has increased, further boosting online sales.
Thuiswinkel.org recorded as many as 800,000 new e-shoppers when people had to stay at home as much as possible during the first lockdown. Not only were there many more online buyers, the amount spent per buyer also increased significantly. Thanks to corona, the reluctant target group has discovered online shopping. I expect that at least 50% of this target group will continue to make online purchases.
I even expect the ROPO effect (Research Online, Purchase Offline) to become less applicable from 2021. Due to the pandemic, more and more consumers are experiencing the convenience of online shopping. It is expected that consumers will increasingly (and also more) order online. Only for experience products does a physical store continue to play an important role in the purchase process.
In B2B, too, there are signs that online is gaining the upper hand. According to research by McKinsey & Company, more than 75% of B2B buyers and sellers prefer online purchases and remote interactions with sellers, rather than traditional in-person sales interactions. This feeling has only really been reinforced after the lifting of the first lockdown. Only 20% of B2B buyers say they want traditional, in-person sales to return. The good news is that B2B buyers are willing to spend more when they make purchases online.
2. Further growth of (niche) market places
Market places are hot and have been mentioned as “the way forward” for several years. Many webshops clearly struggle to continue to respond to today’s expectations of consumers. On the other hand, companies like Amazon, Zalando, and Bol.com have the experience and infrastructure needed to satisfy these customers. Other niche markets like Etsy continue to grow to house new digital entrepreneurs.
More and more online buyers realize that shopping at a market place is easier and faster than shopping in multiple webshops. With the mental satisfaction of 2 to 3 days of shipping and free returns for most products, price is becoming a less and less big stumbling block. Market places also increase the expectations of consumers, both in terms of services and functionalities. In addition, these market places (due to their high marketing budgets and optimizations) also have very high market exposure and therefore traffic. The bar is constantly being raised.
We are also a strong growth in niche market places. Where platforms like Amazon show thousands of hits in searches, niche platforms often offer a better user experience (both in use and product information) as they specifically focus on the orientation and buying process within this niche. In 2019, we already saw niche markets emerge in healthcare. In 2020, even after stay-at-home orders were announced in March, Forrester predicted a rise of niche B2B market places. These online niche markets will also become more attractive in 2021.
3. Local favor factor: “support your locals”
If the pandemic has made us see anything, it’s the vulnerability of local entrepreneurs. We saw more and more creative initiatives emerge, often born of entrepreneurship or pure despair. It has also made us consumers more aware of our buying behaviour.
What already became clear in my previous point is that the big e-commerce fish are only getting bigger. Nevertheless, I think Corona has given us more connection with our “locals”. Perhaps “support your locals” is more of a sentiment than a trend, but it does offer a rebuttal to the great influence of popular marketplaces such as Bol.com, Amazon and AliExpress.
4. Increasing trade in used products
Recommerce seems to be back. Selling things online that get a second chance is back on the radar at major platforms such as Bol.com, Zalando and eBay. According to U.S.-based Coresight Research, Recommerce is growing up to five times faster than discounters and twenty times faster than the broader retail market. Generation Z and millennials embrace this concept and are more likely to buy second-hand goods than older consumers. According to GlobalData’s “Annual Resale Report 2019,” Gen Z has the highest growth rate, with people under 40 leading the way in buying second-hand bags, jewelry, clothing and shoes.
A few months ago, Bol.com as well as Zalando and eBay Germany announced new initiatives that focus on second-hand, refurbished and remarketed products. Definitely an e-commerce trend to keep an eye on in 2021.
5. More delivery comfort
Offering additional shipping options is becoming increasingly important. As stated earlier, price and trust are no longer the only important criteria in the shopping journey. Consumers today are increasingly looking at the delivery time promise and services. Next day delivery, pickup services, delivery time choices, evening delivery, international shipping and even carrier choices are not uncommon services offered.
In 2020, dropship has taken off. With this trend, we also saw a large increase in problems and complaints. As a result, consumers are increasingly aware that “ordered today, delivered tomorrow” is not always the standard. E-commerce companies that promise and deliver on fast delivery times therefore gain customer trust and loyalty and will reap the benefits in the long term.
6. Focus on fulfilment and return process
Research shows that more than half of all 1-star reviews on Trustpilot have been attributed to delivery or return issues. I already highlighted the issues surrounding dropship earlier in this article. Across the board, “post purchase” is an underexposed part of the online customer journey. I expect that further automation of the order processing process and more focus on return processes will therefore be an important point of attention in 2021. In the field of returns, you can think of a customer-friendly (low-threshold) return request and tracking service, a pick-up service and the use of dropoff locations.
7. Advent of social commerce
In addition to market places, social media channels are working the road. Social media is no longer just a channel through which people come into contact with each other. Social media has evolved as a marketing tool, allowing brands to expand their audience.
Google has now launched “Buy on Google”, where the purchase from Google Shopping search results takes place entirely within the Google domain. Facebook is developing the same functionality on Instagram, and TikTok recently partnered with Shopify. The presence of “smart home” applications, such as Google Assistant and Alexa, will only accelerate this trend is my expectation.
8. Inclusivity as an increasingly desired brand association
My expectation is that inclusivity will increasingly become a cornerstone of brand identities. In recent years, we have seen more and more communication expressions where attention was paid to diversity. More and more brands are taking a strong stance towards interconnectedness. Communication expressions therefore show the greatest possible diversity of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation (and the list goes on and on).
According to Accenture, this cultural shift is already impacting buying behavior: 41% of shoppers “have moved their business from a retailer that doesn’t reflect how important identity and diversity is to them.” The same survey found that 29% of consumers are willing to completely change brands if they don’t show enough diversity.
9. Featured snippets in Google
For many years, online marketers have been busy achieving that coveted “position one” in Google. Since the arrival of so-called “featured snippets”, we seem to be adding an extra goal within SEO: getting “position zero”, the featured snippet. A featured snippet is a search result in Google in which an answer, or other result on your search query, is shown.
You will usually find such a featured snippet at the top of Google’s search results page, but sometimes they also appear in the second or third position in the search results. More importantly, it also shows additional, relevant information with the attempt to answer the user’s question without them having to click on it. Google Assistant also reads featured snippets aloud, something that is a nice by-catch.
10. Further SEA automation
We are gaining less and less control over the platforms in which we conduct paid campaigns. This trend has been going on for a while now, but for the coming year it is expected that automation will quickly play an even greater role within SEA campaigns. If we are to believe Google, it is only a matter of time before everything switches to Smart Bidding, Smart Shopping and Smart Display.
In 2020, many steps have already been taken towards the use of, for example, automatic bidding strategies. The results are much more in the hands of machine learning and are automatically controlled on various factors in the search behavior of people online. Previously, everyone was a bit more reluctant to do this, but the results show that the machine learning techniques are getting smarter and it is certainly advisable to make use of them. After all, these strategies focus on many more signals in search behavior than marketers can manually.
11. Dominance of mobile traffic and conversion
The increase in mobile shopping is no surprise, but it is developing faster than expected. Mobile commerce sales are up 15% by the end of 2021. In addition, mobile sales will comprise 73% of all ecommerce sales. Just by looking at these metrics, it’s easy to see how important mobile shopping will be for ecommerce businesses in the coming years. What be honest: how many organizations really work according to the “mobile first” principle when designing, optimizing usability and campaigns?
To better understand the increase in sales through mobile shopping, you need to look at how mobile devices have fared in the past year. Mobile devices have flooded the market in recent years, leading to an increase in the number of people using them. And mobile users use mobile devices not only to shop, but also to research products before deciding to purchase one.
A direct result of this trend is the discussion around “progressive web apps” (PWAs) vs. “native apps”. PWAs are delivered over the web and they are designed to work on all mobile devices and systems. Native apps, on the other hand, are made specifically for Android, IOS, and other operating systems. PwAs therefore offer the advantage that companies only have to create and maintain one generic app (this leads to cost savings). They are further developed web apps, where local functionalities (camera, microphone, GPS, push notifications and background synchronization) can also be used. In my opinion, PWAs can also be labeled as one of the e-commerce trends of 2021.