10 eCommerce Predictions for 2021, From the Experts

We can see the future. You're going to like it. Check out the top 10 eCommerce predictions for 2021.
With insights from:
With insights from: With insights from: With insights from: With insights from:
INTRO
2020 was a rollercoaster. What’s next for eCommerce in 2021?

For consumers and brands alike, the unprecedented events that took place in 2020 have brought about changes that will last for the long haul. The pandemic has accelerated innovation across the board; today, the eCommerce industry is two years ahead of where it was predicted to be a year ago.

So, what will 2021 — and beyond — look like for eCommerce brands and consumers alike? We reached out to experts from across the industry to learn their predictions for what’s to come and how your brand can be prepared to stand out from the start.

Table of Contents
01
Brands you wouldn’t expect will sell direct-to-consumer.
02
Brands will double down on connected commerce.
03
SMS marketing will become the top relationship builder.
04
Google Shopping will be a secret weapon.
05
Brands will shift from mobile-friendly to mobile-centric experiences.
06
Artificial intelligence will skyrocket conversion.
07
Marketplaces will replicate D2C marketing strategies.
08
Subscription models will become the new normal.
09
Personalization won’t be a buzzword. It’ll be your top revenue driver.
10
Loyalty programs have never been more important.
01
Brands you wouldn’t expect will sell direct-to-consumer.
02
Brands will double down on connected commerce.
03
SMS marketing will become the top relationship builder.
04
Google Shopping will be a secret weapon.
05
Brands will shift from mobile-friendly to mobile-centric experiences.
06
Artificial intelligence will skyrocket conversion.
07
Marketplaces will replicate D2C marketing strategies.
08
Subscription models will become the new normal.
09
Personalization won’t be a buzzword. It’ll be your top revenue driver.
10
Loyalty programs have never been more important.
Brands you wouldn’t expect will sell direct-to-consumer.
Chapter 01
Brands you wouldn’t expect will sell direct-to-consumer.

Though it seems hard to envision now, there will be a post-COVID world in the future. And, in that world, more D2C brands will emerge — and with the right strategies, they’ll come out on top. 

Sharma Brands

In 2021, brands that shift to sell direct will look to fellow D2C brands for collaborations. Nik Sharma, CEO, Sharma Brands, predicts a new level of partnerships between brands to drive cross-audience interactions and purchases. With the rapid increase in the cost of advertising through traditional digital channels, multiple brands across verticals are going after the same customers — revealing an opportunity for D2C brands to connect with their customers on an even deeper level by working together.

His advice for D2C brands as they look to build deeper customer connections? “Be ready to look into your analytics,” says Sharma. “Understand who your customer is, what else they buy, what they read online, what shows they watch, and more.” 

Common Thread Collective

With more businesses selling D2C to drive sales, the eCommerce landscape will become more competitive, says Scott Kramer, VP Revenue, Common Thread Collective

With more D2C brands entering the scene and vying for the attention of consumers, every business will need to get creative to establish lasting relationships. “Brands are going to need to really understand how to separate themselves from the pack to build a stronger relationship with their customers if they want to increase lifetime value and generate more revenue,” says Kramer. “Operating and marketing costs are going to continue to rise.”  

Statement Agency

According to Emma Phillips, Head of Group Marketing at Statement Agency, in-store retail and eCommerce channels will be two sides of the same coin; shoppers will continue to criss-cross between online and offline channels. In 2021, legacy retail brands that haven’t traditionally sold D2C will likely look to build out this direct channel to continue to drive sales.

As the pandemic declines, shoppers won’t fully revert to how they used to shop. They’ll maintain their new online shopping habits, and while eCommerce as a percentage of retail sales may decline slightly as shoppers return in store, it will remain a primary shopping channel for the majority of consumers. “We’re going to see more brands sell direct that have never done so before, like Heinz and Lindt,” says Phillips.

Brands will double down on connected commerce.
Chapter 02
Brands will double down on connected commerce.

What else is next for brands in 2021? The rise of connected commerce, or the seamless, interconnected brand experiences between channels.

Astound Commerce

Omnichannel has always been the future, but the rapid rise of COVID-19 has accelerated the need for a multi-channel marketing strategy tenfold. Building connections between your marketing channels (and strategically leveraging the data from each) will play a more important role in acquiring and retaining shoppers than ever before, says Andrew Liebowitz, VP Client Partner, Astound Commerce.

Adroll

In addition, buyer journeys will become increasingly complicated, according to Jason Finkelstein, Chief Marketing Officer at Adroll. “With the continued rise of conversational commerce (chat and voice), connected physical retail experiences like AR, connected TV, new apps and services, and other touchpoints, consumers will experience more touches before they buy,” says Finkelstein. “Brands will need to focus on building more direct relationships with their shoppers.” 

Online and offline, brands will need to provide engaging experiences across every touchpoint — and that means leveraging robust data. 

LiveArea

In 2021, using marketing data to inform your connected digital strategy will drive sales, no matter the channel, says Chris Hogue, Head of Strategy and Product, LiveArea.  “With reduced traffic, customer health concerns, and behavioral changes in shopping patterns due to COVID-19, brands are re-evaluating the role digital plays in their customer experience, from acquisition to purchase and fulfillment,” says Hogue. “This has increased the number of competitors spending in digital so they can drive consumers into their own digitally powered purchase funnels.”

SMS marketing will become the top relationship builder.
Chapter 03
SMS marketing will become the top relationship builder.

SMS marketing is the fastest-growing channel for eCommerce brands. In 2021, we predict that growth to skyrocket. 

Yotpo

Already, SMS marketing provides a staggering 20% of revenue for our eCommerce brands. In 2021, brands will get more creative with SMS, and they’ll place a newfound focus on hyper-tailored and customized messaging, more comprehensive brand identities, and integrations with other components of a brand’s community, like their loyalty programs.  

This year, brands will continue to leverage this personalized mobile channel to build more connections with their customers. Until now, building these relationships was done through traditional marketing channels: email, social media, in store, or even through a customer service representative over the phone. While all of those channels are important, they don’t provide the same level of personal, direct, conversational convenience anytime, anywhere that SMS provides.

We’ll also look outside the US for growth in the SMS space; while the US is already using SMS to recommend products and offer discounts, we predict that EMEA will begin to do the same.

Listrak

While 89% of consumers want text messages from companies they engage with, only 48% of retailers and brands have adopted this valuable channel to reach their customers — revealing a vast opportunity to drive adoption and usage, says Leah Beitler, Senior Strategic Partner Manager, Listrak.

Google Shopping will be a secret weapon.
Chapter 04
Google Shopping will be a secret weapon.

In 2021, don’t sleep on search as a powerful revenue channel. In fact, optimizing a Google Shopping strategy will be the secret weapon for eCommerce brands in the coming year.

Yotpo

With the increased turn to online shopping paired with the ever-shrinking consumer attention span, it’s the early touchpoints in the customer journey — like search and Google Shopping results — that will convert new and returning customers alike. 

It’s increasingly important to capture shoppers’ attention as early as possible with more reviews — and higher quality reviews. “We expect brands to take their Google Shopping strategy a step further next year,” says Olivia McNaughten, Product Marketing Manager, Yotpo. 

By working to optimize your brand in Google Shopping results, you’ll drive more traffic. “When shoppers do land on your site, you want to ensure that you’re displaying rich, informative, and thoughtful reviews,” recommends McNaughten. “In 2021, leverage AI in your review requests to ask smarter questions and suggest relevant topics for your customers to write about, helping you collect more high-quality reviews that convert.”

Focus on collecting Google site reviews in addition to product reviews. This will help to optimize your products at these early touchpoints, and in 2021, it’ll become an even more important revenue channel.

Brands will shift from mobile-friendly to mobile-centric experiences.
Chapter 05
Brands will shift from mobile-friendly to mobile-centric experiences.

From native apps to social shopping, consumers have made the switch to mobile — for everything they do. In fact, over 27% of consumers’ waking hours are now spent on a mobile phone. Yes, that’s more than a quarter of our days spent on a device.

Because shoppers are spending more time than ever on mobile, brands will need to update their experiences to keep up. Mobile-optimized shopping, SMS marketing, social commerce, load speed, and functional UX (just to name a few) will become pillars of a foundational, mobile-first marketing strategy for eCommerce brands. 

Klarna

Shoppers already seek style and beauty advice from their friends, family, and peers online. Rather than look to catalogs and runways to understand latest trends, says David Sykes, Head of US, Klarna, shoppers are spending time on social platforms and with friends — and what they shop for is being driven by those around them.

Digitally-native and D2C brands are leading the charge with social shopping. They know how to speak to today’s consumer, who is increasingly looking for authentic interactions with the brands they shop from. By existing on social platforms in organic ways, eCommerce brands can meet shoppers where they are. 

Shopify

As eCommerce continues to grow, fostering an online dialogue between merchants and customers will become increasingly important. After a deep dive into their internal data, Shopify found a few trends that are likely to stick in 2021, especially those that primarily focus on convenient shopping experiences

Features like fast and free shipping, conversational commerce, and shoppable social media help independent retailers achieve convenience and reliability, reports Shopify. In 2021, younger online shoppers in the UK, Spain, France, Canada, and Germany will continue to be more likely to make a purchase via social media compared to older age groups.

Yotpo

We predict that social platforms in particular will double down on commerce. We’re seeing Facebook and Instagram building out their marketplaces, and TikTok is now giving ad credits to Shopify merchants. 

So, in 2021, not only will brands look to reach new audiences by selling on social, but social platforms themselves will continue to focus on building out infrastructure to facilitate commerce. 

Tapcart

This past year was all about “couch commerce” and handheld retail. “For the first time, we saw brands seriously thinking with a mobile-first mentality, and not just a “mobile-friendly” one,” says Gabrielle Wooden, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Tapcart

Mobile app usage grew 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020, and consumer spending in apps hit a record high of $27 billion in the second quarter. This is largely credited to the pandemic — with folks on lockdown, mobile usage has been up overall. “As we head into next year,” says Wooden, “we expect to see that trend continue to rise as it has in Q3 and now Q4.”

Statement Agency

As commerce goes mobile, it will become increasingly important to be able to accommodate growing user expectations

Between one-step checkouts, speedy load times, intuitive experiences, personalized product recommendations, fast delivery and an omnichannel experience, there’s a lot hanging on hitting your user’s expectations on the head, says Phillips, Head of Group Marketing at Statement Agency.

Artificial intelligence will skyrocket conversion.
Chapter 06
Artificial intelligence will skyrocket conversion.

We know this isn’t quite new news, but artificial intelligence is still on the rise, now more rapidly than ever. The pandemic has heightened the need for creating personalized experiences that hook shoppers and keep them engaged throughout their shopping journey. 

Justuno

Consumers’ online shopping habits have increased, and with that rise also comes higher user expectations. It’s no longer enough to simply direct all of your traffic to a single landing page, or to send an email only differentiated by a name in the subject line. 

Consumers demand personalization; by leveraging AI to improve conversion rate optimization and create personalized web experiences, merchants will be able to see the results of their marketing efforts much faster and with a broader impact on their overall growth strategy, according to Jane Serra, Director of Marketing, Justuno.

In 2021, that will look like smarter on-site experiences, tailored recommendations sent via a shoppers’ preferred channels, personal checkouts, automatic loyalty redemption, and more.

If your brand is still attempting to market to your customers without the help of AI-powered algorithms, 2021 is the year to step into the light.

Marketplaces will replicate D2C marketing strategies.
Chapter 07
Marketplaces will replicate D2C marketing strategies.

In 2020, the D2C model shined through as a beacon of hope. Retailers that hadn’t previously opted for direct channels looked to D2C as a way to better understand their shoppers preferences and pain points, and as a result, they refreshed their brands to reflect these needs. Rather than adopt fully D2C models, many merchants added a D2C channel or a D2C sub-brand to reach their shoppers that prefer to shop direct.

In 2021, marketplaces will focus on providing these D2C-style experiences. What is a marketplace? A retailer, either online or in a brick-and-mortar location, that sells products from a wide variety of brands. 

Astound Commerce

Most shoppers don’t realize that they’re shopping in a marketplace. When people are buying products online from Best Buy or Home Depot, they think they’re buying products directly from these brands, but they’re actually shopping in a marketplace and receiving goods from another company.  This is a good thing, says Andrew Liebowitz, VP Client Partner, Astound Commerce, because it means that these marketplaces deliver on customer needs and it’s a seamless experience.

To ensure they can deliver top-notch experiences, brands need to ensure they have a good handle on their catalog and supply chain logistics. Brand loyalty and expectations are the same, even if it’s not on their brand’s eCommerce site, so brands will need to make sure they can deliver the same expectation on all channels. “Test the waters with marketplaces,” recommends Leibowitz. “Use marketplaces to test products, pricing, and messaging.” 

No matter the product, marketplaces will look to deliver frictionless experiences that continue to build connections with customers, even when they’re not selling their own products.

Subscription models will become the new normal.
Chapter 08
Subscription models will become the new normal.

In 2020, we saw explosive growth toward subscription models from eCommerce brands. The onset of the pandemic required brands to look for ways to drive incremental revenue over time, and subscription-oriented plans were a new way to do just that. 

As we move into 2021, the number of eCommerce brands leveraging subscription models will rise, and these models will become more heavily integrated and optimized throughout marketing channels. 

ReCharge

“While it wasn’t under the conditions that any of us would have wanted, 2020 was a massive growth year across virtually all verticals,” says Chase Alderton, Growth Marketing Manager, ReCharge. “Our belief is that building in structural means of repeat orders and customer engagement will be a major way in which merchants will build predictability and scalability in 2021.”

As more and more brands enter the subscription ecosystem, they’ll need to find ways to differentiate themselves from competitors, says Alderton. Creating a membership model is one way to stay top of mind with your merchants by offering benefits of staying subscribed month over month.

Personalization won’t be a buzzword. It’ll be your top revenue driver.
Chapter 09
Personalization won’t be a buzzword. It’ll be your top revenue driver.

Personalization: You’ve heard it over and over again, and your brand has probably taken steps to create personalized experiences for your shoppers. In 2021, you’ll need to step up your personalization game even more. 

Adroll

Your shoppers now not only prefer that you anticipate and deliver based on their personal preferences — they expect it. And, if your brand can’t provide this level of connection, they won’t think twice about moving on from your brand. 

In 2021, there will be way more online shoppers with smaller attention spans who’ll experience way more touches before they buy, and it’ll be harder for brands to reach them without relevant messaging and a pre-existing relationship. “There’s no way around it,” says Finkelstein, CMO, Adroll. “eCommerce marketers must get more sophisticated.

Justuno

The increase in online shopping means brands will need to double down on creating personalized experiences across their owned media channels. “Personalize every step,” says Jane Serra, Director of Marketing, Justuno.Use your audience profile information to give visitors personalized product recommendations. Track customers’ experiences cross-device to ensure they’re getting the same curated experience at all times.” 

Leverage deeper customer data to  build more direct and impactful customer experiences on every single channel — this will enable your brand to maximize every opportunity to own and understand the entire customer journey.

Loyalty programs have never been more important.
Chapter 10
Loyalty programs have never been more important.

In 2020, consumers were switching brands more often than ever. In 2021, brands will have to fight to maintain loyalty from their new shoppers by doubling down on their D2C brand experiences, supporting causes their customers care about, and expanding loyalty programs to go beyond simple transactions.

Yotpo

The pandemic has shifted consumer behavior in a way that has challenged customer loyalty as we know it. “There’s been a certain ‘shock’ to loyalty,” says Katie McKeever, Product Marketing Manager at Yotpo. “With the rise of economic challenges, consumers have been increasingly focused on value and convenience, and they may pick a brand because it’s cheaper or easier to access.” 

With an influx of new shoppers comes an opportunity to retain, and it will be essential to prove to every new consumer that your brand is worth sticking with. Your loyalty program can provide that stickiness by building emotional bonds that put the customer first, online and offline.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 30% of consumers have become more loyal to brands because they feel more connected to them, so showing that your brand has something special to offer has never been more important.

To keep a loyalty program engaging to new customers, focus on an agile strategy. Gone are the days of simplistic, one-size-fits-all loyalty programs who perks go unchanged year after year. Instead, brands should look to dynamize their loyalty programs — run campaigns that optimize shopping seasons and holidays, and keep shoppers engaged with time-sensitive perks and offers, even if they only last a weekend, a day, or even an hour.

 

To learn more about how your brand can spark long-lasting customer relationships with Yotpo in 2021, request a demo.

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