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Top 21 Ecommerce Trends to Look Out for in 2021

What the industry experts are saying about where the ecommerce industry is headed

What’s in store for 2021? Tokyo might actually get to host the Olympic games, Top Gun: Maverick will finally hit the big screen, and Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, might make his way to space.

The bad news: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to reshape the commerce industry. The good news: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to reshape the commerce industry.

Nothing could have prepared us for 2020, but what we learned is that we can adapt — even faster than we thought. With the world stuck at home, online shopping adoption went through the roof, and companies found innovative ways to stay ahead.

No matter what uncertainty lies ahead, brands need to be prepared for whatever comes next. So, we decided to take a look back on the lessons we’ve learned in 2020 and share some forward-looking trends that our commerce experts (we interviewed almost 70 eCommerce leaders in 2020!) have shared on the Up Next in Commerce podcast.

Enjoy these 21 trends that we are excited to watch unfold in 2021!

1. Opportunities Abroad

People shop differently all over the world, and there are lessons to be learned by looking at economic indicators from around the world. This is especially true when you look at metrics like the GDP per capita, eCommerce penetration, and global shopping trends. Anu Hariharan explained this when she dropped by the Invest Like the Best podcast.

“What’s fascinating about Latin America…Latin America has 650 million people, 70 percent internet penetration, and GDP per capita is the same as China, $9,750,” she said. “In fact, [in] countries like Chile, Argentina [it] was closer to $12,000 to $15,000…. But what’s the ecommerce penetration? Four percent. And the eCommerce penetration of China is twenty-two percent.”

4% eCommerce penetration?! Yes, we know that regulations and other factors may come into play here, but this seems like a huge opportunity for business owners to review their operations, move old processes online, turn storefronts into digital experiences, and find some new D2C opportunities.

Another factor we’ve been looking into lately is how adoption behavior varies so drastically on a country by country basis. According to Dylan Valade, the Head of Global eCommerce Technology at PUMA, the companies and cultures who are comfortable with change will be the ones to benefit most from the digital disruptions we are seeing play out today.

“What I see coming is a digital disruption, or eCommerce digital disruption, where the groups and countries or cultures that have more comfort with change or risk are going to be more successful at transitioning to a lot of these ways of working and buying,” he said.

Keep an eye out for the tech advancements and ever-changing consumer behaviors occurring in different markets, and see how your product, brand, or service could fulfill a need. Are the consumers leapfrogging certain technologies that are crucial to us (like certain parts of Asia did with Point of Sale machines and just went right to mobile)? Or are they using platforms in non-traditional ways (using social media platforms for payments, or payment platforms for community).

Keeping tabs on these trends will be key when it comes to keeping your business ahead of the curve. And beware, an upcoming podcast guest cautions that overseas opportunities my not last forever! Tune in on 1/21/21 to hear why!

2. Old-school strategies are cool again

There is no doubt that we live in a digital-first world. But just because so much of what we do happens online, doesn’t mean that old-school strategies are dead and gone. In fact, there might be more ROI than you think if you go back to the basics.

On this front, Renee Lopes Halvorsen, the VP of Marketing & eCommerce at Marine Layer, was a true advocate. Renee broke down why a print catalog is still one of the best ways to tell your brand story and drive conversions — even in today’s digital world.

“People think of [a catalog] as being super old school,” she said. “But when I look at what’s happening, on sites like Facebook, or within digital marketing generally, it’s the same things that the catalog industry has been doing for 30 years.”

“I don’t think the creative cost needs to be super big. It’s more about making sure that you have the breadth of assortment to support a catalog. In order to send something meaty out there that’s really going to drive results, you want to send out at least a 44-page catalog and you probably want about 100 different styles that you want to market in there.”

According to AP News, part of why catalogs are rebounding is because of Millennials’ deep addiction to nostalgia. Welcome back, vinyl records, flare jeans, and the catalog.

Another reason? People want to find the perfect product that connects with them, not just the practical product that suits a need. (Think of this scene in the classic film, Fight Club.)

In The Startup on Medium, Steve Daniels framed it this way:

“Print magazines are no longer about information; the ones that are have become a commodity that is easily replicated online. Today’s print magazines are lifestyle products.”

The hands-on experience of flipping through a catalog can’t be replicated online. Plus, with more people at home than ever before, the opportunity seems ripe for the picking.

3. B2B wholesale gets the attention it deserves

When talking about eCommerce, the majority of conversations are around B2C. But B2B eCommerce is actually growing twice as fast as B2C.

Here’s another mind-blowing stat. B2B wholesale is a $16T market. Yes, Trillion! And less than 8% of it is online — 49% of transactions still happen via phone or fax (we, too, are shocked that fax is still a thing). Clearly, there are opportunities to penetrate this market, and a few companies have been making a dent. One of those companies is Faire, which Co-founder and CTO Marcelo Cortes has helped build into a marketplace that serves a $670 billion B2B market.

The key to penetrating this B2B market, Cortes says, is always remembering that just because you want to bring these businesses and transactions online, those businesses still are operating brick and mortar shops and dealing with customers face-to-face.

“Even though we are online, our customers are not online,” Cortes says. “We are dealing with offline local retailers, and they love community. That’s one of the initiatives that we’re trying to build, to help them with community, to listen to each other’s stories, to learn from each other’s mistakes, and connect them more. It was especially important to launch it now. People need more information.”

Independent retailers are not going away, but they are trying to adapt just like the rest of us. And 2020 was the catalyst for B2B wholesale businesses to change and start taking eCommerce more seriously to help its retailers.

Wolseley Canada is a leading wholesale distributor of plumbing, HVAC/R, and waterworks products and earns more than $1 billion in revenue each year. Today, the company has one of the industry-leading B2B eCommerce sites, but getting to that point in their digital transformation hasn’t been easy. Gail Kaufman, the Vice President of Marketing & eBusiness at Wolseley Canada, explains how they got there.

“When we were talking about how to get your customers to engage with [eCommerce], when they do engage with it, you better deliver,” she says. “Your pricing has got to be right. They have to have the confidence that when I look online and I see that my branch has 100 copper tees, if I place an order for 50, they actually have them, someone’s actually going to pick up the order and they’re going to actually send it to me. In the early days when shopping online wasn’t that prevalent, there was a lot of, I would say, trepidation. It was kind of easy for customers to talk themselves out of it and just think, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. It sounds interesting, but I think I’ll just call my guy. That way I know I’ll get what I need.’.”

Finding ways to ease B2B customers into a new way of doing things may be difficult, but building up the trust and showcasing the reliability of the platform will put nerves at ease. And the silver lining of 2020? This past year may have just given customers the subtle push they needed that will make the transition that much easier of a sell in 2021.

4. One-Click Checkout Becomes a Real Thing

One-click ordering is the gold standard of frictionless checkout. Although some sites claim to have one-click checkout, in reality you’re still multiple clicks away from actually finalizing an order, especially when you’re visiting for the first time. But there are one-click solutions in the market, including one developed by Domm Holland and the team at Fast.

“Fundamentally what Fast is solving for is actually an identity problem, and payments is just one component of that,” Holland said. “How can we make it fast and easy for people to buy things? And how do we make it fast and easy for people to login? How do we make it fast and easy for people to securely use their data online? It’s a very different value problem and our product strategy differs because we’re out there trying to solve a consumer problem and most other companies aren’t.”

By solving the identity problem for the consumer and by batching orders on the backend for merchants, Fast created a solution that delivers a true one-click checkout experience across the internet. It can be installed directly on product pages — essentially taking away the biggest pain (and click) for customers.

“75 to 80% of every single checkout on Fast is from the product page,” Domm explained.

“So it is absolutely overwhelming the impact that it has to businesses….People are buying more things. So businesses make far more money, can increase their order values, can increase the average items per order, can decrease their shipping cost, can decrease their payment cost, and yet still be increasing conversion rate much higher than they are now.”

Does your eComm shop offer 1-click ordering? If not, that will be a feature you’ll want to add in 2021.

5. Supply Chains Go Vertical

Everyone is competing against the hard-to-match shipping expectations set by Amazon — but it’s not all about fast shipping. Processing returns effectively and managing every step of the supply chain so you are left with margins that actually allow you to grow are the areas that all retailers will continue to focus on.

For Helana Price Hambrecht, the founder of Haus, going completely vertical was the best way she could think to really control everything and ensure success.

“We had a hunch that being fully vertical would give us a huge advantage from a product development standpoint,” she said. “We could be super nimble, we could iterate every day if we wanted to based on customer feedback. We could launch new products quickly. We can kill them quickly. We had a lot of abilities that other companies wouldn’t have. And then we would also be prepared for any sort of supply chain curveball that comes our way.”

Vertically integrated supply chains have long been a force to fear and envy, and that will become even bigger in 2021 as merchants are still trying to recover from out of stock issues, logistical delays, supplier bankruptcies, and realizing they were too reliant on one supplier.

6. Mobile Will be Everything

A few years ago, every chart was mentioning the rise of mobile. Now, it’s here. The majority of online discovery, browsing, and transactions are mobile. In fact, Caila Schwartz, the Senior Manager of Strategy and Insights, Retail and Consumer Goods at Salesforce, shared data from a recent Shopping Index report which clearly shows that mobile needs to be a priority for ecommerce business owners moving forward.

“Mobile is the number one driver of traffic and orders,” Caila said. “And we’ve seen over the past several years mobile really accelerate as the number one device for consumers. So as a business owner, if you’re thinking about what device to prioritize, creating a great mobile experience is going to be the top of your priority list.”

If that’s not convincing enough, BFCM were the biggest days for mobile shopping ever. There was a surge in first-time installs of mobile shopping apps in the U.S., which climbed nearly 8% on Black Friday to reach a new single-day record of approximately 2.8 million, according to early data from Sensor Tower. And the Adobe Analytics report had mobile sales making up 40% of total digital spend on Black Friday and 37% on Cyber Monday.

Now is the time to invest in your mobile strategy. Brands that fail to focus on a mobile-first approach will be missing out on customers and revenue.

7. Influencer Marketing Goes Even More Viral

Because influencer marketing has become so in demand, there are more strategies than ever to try to get the most ROI out of influencers. Understanding the attribution funnel of influencer marketing is a key when looking to determine the ROI of your efforts. Eric Lam, the co-founder of AspireIQ, says influencer marketing has become democratized, which has opened up a lot of opportunities for brands of all shape and size.

“…In 2015 and 2016, the industry kind of evolved to where everybody was trying to work with Kardashians. It was all about working with the biggest fashion bloggers, the biggest celebrities. The bigger, the better. And you’re thinking about these vanity metrics, like how many followers someone has, or how many likes they have, regardless of if they saw meaningful returns on investment. Those were the early cowboy days of influencer marketing. I think because a lot of the mainstream brands got involved there, you started to then see an evolution of how a lot of the DTC and ecommerce brands were starting to think about influencer marketing because they were kind of getting priced out of these big macro celebrities.

So, they started honing in on more specialized micro influencers who might not have as big of a following, but they were a lot more targeted, a lot more focused in the content they created, which meant they were a great fit for more personalized experiences and more authentic content in terms of the segments they were trying to reach among their customers. I think the second thing that was really interesting about the way this evolved is that these same ecommerce brands started using influencers for more than just trying to reach their audiences like in an advertising way, and they started looking at them as holistic content creators, because when you think about what an influencer is, they’re kind of like this studio photographer model all wrapped into one person, whose literal job it is to make engaging content for this generation.” — Eric Lam on Up Next in Commerce

The one thing that Eric wants you to remember? Authenticity matters.

“If you can find people that really match your brand values and are going to be true advocates for you, that really translates into the authenticity, both from what they’re saying, but also the kind of content they make because influencer marketing is pretty mature now and audiences can smell inauthenticity from a mile away.”

Micro-influencers will be big business in 2021, which Ad News investigated by getting the input of a number of industry players. One of the folks the outlet spoke to was Shivani Maharaj:

“My prediction for Influencer marketing in 2021 falls into two halves — the long term and short term,” Maharaj said. “Long-term brand building in influencer marketing comes down to: fewer, bigger, better. Marketers should explore partnerships and long-term commitments with a handful of key mega/macro influencers and content creators. It drives engagement, builds authenticity and lets consumers fully experience the brand….The second half is much more about the short-term impact and ‘buying’ influencers like you would a media buy, based on reach and frequency. Platforms like Tribe, Hypetap and Inca are well placed to deliver this with nano/micro influencers and content creators. I believe we will see a shift into more programmatic buying in this space where the results are the key focus as opposed to who the individual influencer is. For example, a brand might turn to 40 influencers delivering 2.3 million reach over a four-week period for a specific product launch.”

If you haven’t already, start building out your influencer network now with the ones that fit your brand best. These might be people on Twitter with a very engaged following, or Instagrammers who have followers that say things like “where can I buy that shirt?!”, or even on TikTok! Ps- We have had countless people on the show say that TikTok is where it’s at in terms of ROI and marketing arbitrage opportunities.

Want to read the other 14 Trends? Check out the entire post on Mission.org and for more of the best of what’s happening in eCommerce, tune into Up Next in Commerce every Tuesday and Thursday!

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Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce



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