2020 was a year filled with unexpected curveballs in the world of retail — to say the least.
The pandemic pushed ecommerce usage forward by as much as a decade when brick-and-mortar stores were shut down for weeks. As a result, brands within the ecommerce space were well-positioned to step up and play a key role in selling items to the millions of consumers stuck at home.
In April, ecommerce companies delivered groceries and puzzles to our front doors.
In May, they sent us looser pants and loungewear.
In June, they brought us outfits we hoped to wear when life returned to “normal.”
But by July, it became clear that whatever “normal” ended up looking like moving forward would include more ecommerce.
In fact, even after initial lockdowns ended, ecommerce revenue was up by more than 75% for more than 100 ecommerce companies across Europe and North America, according to Searchnode.
As we say goodbye to a year for the record books, let’s look forward to 2021.
Here’s what to expect from ecommerce in the new year. Learn how your store can stay on top of these future-facing trends and meet customers' evolving expectations.
Necessity accelerated a growing consumer desire for convenience in 2020, making innovative delivery services not only a differentiator — but a requirement.
Now that consumers have had a taste of the convenience of same-day delivery, curbside pickup and more, expect these methods to become staples in 2021. Same-delivery, in particular, is likely to become a standard method by the end of 2021.
Even smaller stores are working on figuring out how to do it efficiently. Eric Jones, CEO of online dress store Couture Candy, says his team is striving to offer a same-day delivery method in 2021 as he “expects a very good return” from speedy delivery. The company has been working to simplify its internal processes and outline a strategy for international shipping.
He’s not wrong to focus his efforts here: Amazon’s addition of single-day shipping has contributed to its rapid uptick in sales over the past two years.
However, last spring brought home the need to diversify channels to remaining holdouts. Suddenly, even heritage brands discovered the importance of their own direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce channels.
As historically retail-only brands like Clorox began to explore their DTC options and invest in an omnichannel experience, they learned the value of using influencers and digital ads to sell directly to their customers.
“I used to learn about a covetable jewelry brand from a woman behind a counter at Saks,” said Rachel Gerli, principal at retail PR agency Right Hand Brands. “But I now see that brand doing collaborations with Instagram influencers and driving consumers directly to its site.”
Translation: Thanks to the rise of omnichannel shopping, brands no longer need to rely solely on retail stores to drive sales. In fact, brands are learning that multi-channel customers average a 30% higher lifetime value than customers who only purchase from a single channel.
2021 will see many long-standing brands (not just newer ones), shifting focus to owned channels rather than leaning fully on retail and wholesale partnerships.
SMS marketing messages were successful in 2020 and are set to replace email marketing as the channel with the best ROI. Data shows that at the beginning of 2020, SMS was already averaging a whopping 2,755% ROI for ecommerce marketers — not too far behind email’s ROI of 3,800%.
Truthfully, SMS has pulled great outcomes for brands in the last few years: In 2016, Seattle Sun Tan found great success with text-based marketing. The company implemented an SMS campaign offering discounts to customers, and within the first month, 4,750 people opted in — this drove $196,000 in new sales and a 500% increase in spend from their regular clientele.
“Text messaging via shortcodes offers the perfect opportunity for ecommerce businesses to engage in two-way text conversations with consumers,” said Cliff Holsenbeck, senior director of product management at iconectiv, an administrator of the Short Code Registry. Plus, there are over 275 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone — a wide pool of potential customers.
This year, we can expect brands to fine-tune their SMS efforts and increase engagement via this medium. In fact, in 2021, 54% of ecommerce sales are expected to happen on mobile devices.
2020 taught us that customers value a flawless experience rather than technological bells and whistles. After innovating the basics, ecommerce brands are now focusing on improving the customer experience by further personalizing it.
One area ripe for personalization in 2021 is delivery and returns. According to Julia Henry, post-purchase manager at parcelLab, brands can reduce churn by offering a personalized delivery and returns experience. “This can be accomplished with an on-site tracking page and personalized communications like a delivery notification,” she said.
Customer video calls will become a popular method of personalizing the customer experience as well. Vanina Schick, co-founder of Popular.coffee, an ecommerce coffee shop, says that video calls are essential for her brand’s success.
“A friendly face is often what keeps customers coming back. Good retail is personal," says Schick. "We offer free 15-minute chats to anyone who wants to discuss home brewing. We want to offer the same quality of interaction as a physical store."
With the abundance of low-cost video conferencing software available, expect more brands to take this service on to connect with their customers.
You can expect the environment to continue to play a big part in consumer purchasing decisions.
“Consumers of the 2020s are more informed than in any previous decade, and they are aware of their power of choice,” says Taylor Daniel, a former merchandiser for Levi’s and product management consultant at FOMO agency.
Brands see this shift and will be reacting to it in 2021.
Seventy-five percent of businesses plan to take at least one action to increase their overall sustainability in 2021. The number one area ecommerce brands plan to address is improving or changing their packaging. After that, companies also plan to focus on improving their shipping methods to reduce emissions.
Daniel says that ecommerce companies should expect good returns from investing in sustainability. By putting sustainability front and center, companies can set themselves up for a long and successful brand legacy, and cultivate loyal brand advocates in their customers.
Exciting things are set to happen in the ecommerce industry as brands begin to recover from the 2020 whirlwind.
As the fallout settles, we’re likely to see our favorite influencers hawking unexpected heritage brands, while newer ecommerce-only brands start putting down physical roots. And future-focused companies will try to provide a personalized experience across all channels.
This is the year that long-time email marketers learn the ropes of SMS marketing. And by the end of 2021, sustainability may be a non-negotiable focus for ecommerce companies.
Start implementing the changes you can now, and your store will be in a better position to succeed throughout the year.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer specializing in ecommerce content. She also contributes to publications like Forbes and Vogue Business on topics around fashion and retail.