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The Top 10 eCommerce Trends of 2020

Online shopping is catching fire. 

The size and significance of eCommerce retail are steadily moving upwards By 2021, it’s forecasted that eCommerce sales worldwide will surpass $4.9 trillion, up from just $1.3 trillion 6 years ago.

This astonishing 265% growth rate had driven the sector’s growing importance to the overall economy. Between 2018 and 2019, eCommerce jumped by over a percentage point in terms of overall retail sales, from accounting for 9.9% of total US sales up to 11%.

Despite these macro trends, the eCommerce sector is still highly dynamic. New trends, revenue streams, and innovation opportunities leave the door open for newcomers.

The key to success for eCommerce businesses is to be responsive, adaptable, and forward-looking. Online shopping trends gain relevance at unprecedented speed, and just as quickly lose it.

Standing still is not an option for retailers hoping for sustainability online; staying on top of trends is a must.

How To Use This List

Throughout this post, we’ll discuss the biggest current and emerging trends in retail eCommerce. 

What needs to be understood, however, is that not all the trends listed below will apply to all eCommerce businesses. 

Relevance

While we hope that you take inspiration from the trends we lay out, even those that apply to your specific industry or niche should be approached with caution.

Be sure to carry out your own careful analysis to ensure these trends suit your business model and can be applied in an effective way.

Let’s take drone delivery for example.

The increasing availability and decreasing costs of this exciting technology make it an attractive proposition for eCommerce brands hoping to save time and resources on shipping. However, it should only be used if it offers real value to consumers.

Ask yourself: 

Does drone shipping make sense for the items being delivered? Is speed the most pressing factor?

While delivering Valentine’s Day flowers via drone is logical, shipping kitchen equipment with this method does not make sense in terms of efficiency. 

Capability

If you’re using this list to find the next trends to engage in with your eCommerce business, you should also understand that many of the suggestions will only apply to you if you have certain capabilities in place.

Many of the trends presented here build on existing platforms.

For example, we can turn to social commerce.

While social media has become an ever-growing hub for online shoppers, it will only be applicable for brands that have already taken the time to build an engaged and enthusiastic following on social media.

With this in mind, it’s up to you to decide whether these trends will suit your products, service, consumers, or business structure.

With each listing, we’ll make it clear which type of trend it reflects, what kinds of business it’s applicable to, and how you can leverage it to the benefit of your brand.

1. Social + eCommerce = social commerce

iPhone with social media apps

A relatively recent eCommerce trend that has been eagerly adopted in a number of markets is social commerce.

At its core, social commerce offers users the ability to purchase products or services from a social media platform, without exiting to a separate online store.

Social commerce promotes an improved customer experience for consumers. More importantly, it also boasts potentially higher conversion rates than traditional eCommerce, thanks to the captive audience and a streamlined customer journey.

How it looks in practice

Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Shoppable posts have introduced social commerce to a western audience. However, it is in China and on the WeChat platform where the greatest potential has so far been found.

A full 18% of the mini-programs (i.e. applications) on the platform are focused on eCommerce. Over one billion users can be targeted with the WeChat Pay function allowing the seamless completion of purchases. 

The WeChat ecosystem creates “complete closed-loop transactions where [users] can discover, browse, and pay for items all without downloading an app or loading a page on a separate browser.

Is it effective?

The benefits in China and worldwide are the same: listings of products are highly shareable, eCommerce brands can utilize rich user data for targeted advertising, and consumers are easily within reach on a platform they spend much of their time.

Purchasing decisions informed by social referrals rather than traditional marketing alone consistently yield a higher ROI. 

How to utilize social commerce

As with all eCommerce trends, social media eCommerce is not a turnkey solution for all retailers.

To capitalize on its full potential, your brand will need to have established high levels of social media engagement with consumers. Creating the reach and trust for effective eCommerce sales is the cornerstone of this trend.

Retailers should also have a good understanding of and full access to the infrastructure which facilitates sales on social platforms. Understanding the complex customer journey and providing a personalized user experience is key.

When implemented correctly, social commerce holds the potential to increase sales and significantly cut down on digital marketing overheads.

2. Voice search

Amazon Echo ready for voice search

By 2025, it’s estimated that 75% of US households will have a smart speaker in the house. This forecast highlights the need for eCommerce retailers to make sure their products are available via voice search.

Rather than interfacing with desktop or mobile devices to make purchases, it’s expected that there will be a shift towards consumers using voice commands to make purchases.

While optimizing for voice search shares some similarities with traditional SEO, the keyword focus, targeted platforms, and user intent are different enough to make it a unique discipline.

How it looks in practice

As of 2020, Amazon reports there to be “hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices out there,” a figure that represents a doubling of the reach of Alexa over the course of just one year. 

This seems like a small number when compared to the estimated 1 billion devices equipped with Google’s voice assistant. However, with Alexa, consumers are making an active choice to purchase the voice search tech, rather than having it pre-installed on their devices. 

This sudden surge represents a shift in consumer attitudes towards smart speakers, and the beginning of a trend towards near-universal adoption. 

Is it effective?

In 2020, 54% of US adults had used voice command functions, with 24% using them every day.

With the prevalence of devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home increasing, current trends suggest that purchases via voice search will become more common.

An eCommerce brand pivoting their shopping experience to optimize for voice should be set up for the future.

How to utilize voice search

Since the major players in the smart speaker space are Google and Amazon, retailers hoping to capitalize on this eCommerce trend should set their attention on their marketplaces.

Refocus your marketing on keyword optimization for product pages. Make sure you understand how the voice customer experience deviates from traditional eCommerce. 

Don’t get left behind.

3. Personalization is still huge

Woman enjoying personalized experience

While personalization has been an important feature of digital marketing and eCommerce for more than a decade, it continues to be a central pillar of a successful online retail strategy.

The bare bones of personalization involve tailoring customer experience to an individual user’s interests. This particularly includes targeted advertising and using data to make consumer recommendations.

How it looks in practice

Amazon has long been recognized as the leader in user experience personalization. 

Their platform has evolved from making recommendations based on users’ individual purchase histories, to making predictive suggestions based on collective purchasing habits. 

In practice, this means that, instead of being re-targeted with products you already own, Amazon is now able to suggest products you’re likely going to want in the future.  

Is it effective?

Offering your customers a personalized online shopping experience has one of the best returns on investment of all eCommerce trends mentioned in this list.

Recent research has shown that an eCommerce business that implements personalized product recommendations, and develops a user-specific shopping experience can expect a 25% rise in revenue, with all other factors the same.

Offering personalized ads is particularly important for growing eCommerce stores that want to expand their customer base.

How to utilize personalization

There are plenty of off-the-shelf personalization systems out there, and most popular eCommerce platforms offer some forms of personalization.

Personalization requires a quality eCommerce platform like Zyro, good web analytics tools, and reliable hosting with one of the top-rated web hosting providers.

4. Influencing the influencers

Influencer marketers at sunset

Since retailers and brands began tapping social media users with large followings to promote their products and services, naysayers have accused the influencer marketing of being a bubble.

The truth is, the practice is going from strength to strength. 

A huge 320 new influencer marketing platforms and agencies popped up between 2018 and 2019, and the market is expected to surpass $6.5 billion in 2020.

How it looks in practice

A surprising master of influencer marketing is the car company, Buick. 

Recognizing that younger consumers do not make purchasing decisions in the same way as car buyers used to, they turned to Pinterest, where over 75% of users are under 45. 

Buick asked ‘Pinfluencers’ to create a board showcasing their personal style and passion. The winning board was then used as inspiration for the color palette and the décor of Buick’s new Encore model.

Is it effective?

Although some eCommerce retailers are intimidated by it, influencer marketing has proven to be a useful tool in the eCommerce arsenal.

Brands that have mastered influencer marketing can expect to see up to $18 in earned media value per dollar spent. This is a huge and useful return on investment for the development of eCommerce brands.

Investing in influencers serves also to improve a brand’s public image as well as its bottom line.

How to utilize influencer marketing

The obvious point of entry for small to medium size retailers into influencer marketing is through an agency. 

This brings in much-needed expertise and a network of influencers, plus it reduces the risks associated with the practice.

An agency will help you identify the influencers that have the best resonance with the audience for your brand.

5. Signal your values

Honest company value projecting cosmetics

Social responsibility is quickly becoming one of the key features consumers most highly value in an eCommerce business.

Retailers that are perceived to have a core of social responsibility benefit from campaigning on a specific issue, or dedicating themselves to sustainability throughout their business.

How it looks in practice

One prime example of the power of corporate values is the UK ethical food industry. This includes organic, fairtrade, farmers’ market, freedom farms, free-range, and sustainable products. 

Between 2008 and 2017, the sector saw growth from £5.04 billion to £11 billion.

As consumers became increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, brands addressing these concerns were able to enjoy growth. 

Is it effective?

According to a Statista survey, 87% of consumers are more likely to buy products or a service if they’re provided by a company they perceive to echo their values. 

In practice, this means advocating for an issue these consumers care about.

Not only can signaling your values boost sales in the short-term, it’ll help form a long-term positive public image around your brand. 

This is particularly true among millennial and Gen Z consumers.

How to utilize value signaling

The obvious first step is to identify a cause or issue which will resonate with your target market. 

For many brands, the environment is a go-to choice, but addressing a more niche concern could also help you stand out, especially if it relates to your industry.

Donating a share of your revenue to a relevant charity is the most straightforward means to signal your values. 

Tying these donations to sales, by donating a specific amount per sale, will likely be most effective.

6. User-generated content

LEGO user generated content

Some trends of eCommerce are evergreen in their relevance. Offering your customers a platform to share their own content and creations is one of these.

While only around 16% of brands encourage customers to create and share their own content, over 50% of consumers express a desire to do so. 

And it’s no surprise – this kind of engagement can prove incredibly valuable for eCommerce brands.

How it looks in practice

Toy and game brands like LEGO have benefited greatly from this approach to marketing and proved its credibility as a strategy. 

Their campaign LEGO Ideas created a space on their brand website for hobbyist LEGO builders to submit their own designs and plans for how to build them. 

Is it effective?

Pitched in the right way, ads designed around user-generated content can expect to receive 4x higher click-through rates than traditional ads, and cost up to 50% less cost-per-click.

In many instances, this strategy is almost free for eCommerce retailers, but can dramatically improve brand engagement.

How to utilize user-generated content

User-generated content based ads are all about using the engagement of existing customers to influence the purchasing decisions of new customers.

Since 93% of consumers report finding user-generated content helpful shopping online, the key is to use your existing marketing channels to give exposure to such content.

7. AR and VR

Woman using virtual reality

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are among the most well-publicized eCommerce trends of recent years.

The technology is increasingly used in marketing campaigns, and retailers like IKEA are using it to help customers visualize products and experience space transformations before they buy.

With the implementation of super-fast 5G networks, it’s estimated that 100 million shoppers will use AR or VR when making a purchase in 2020. 

The applications of AR and VR are theoretically limitless.

How it looks in practice

IKEA Place was one of the first apps to make use of Apple’s ARKit tech. The app lets customers virtually showcase IKEA’s furniture in their homes.

Users could select over 2,000 products to view in 3D renderings from various angles in their homes. This try-before-you-buy effort helped sales and engagement. 

Is it effective?

Whether using full virtual reality setups or apps on existing mobile devices, AR and VR offer retailers the opportunity to create a unified and personalized customer experience in-store, at home, or in the world.

The benefits of AR and VR are twofold. They can:

  • Improve your relationship with your customers
  • Helps transform people from ‘just-lookers’ to buyers

How to utilize AR and VR

Of all the eCommerce trends listed here, AR and VR is one of the trends with the highest barrier to entry in terms of price and expertise. For most purposes, unique apps will need to be designed and developed.

Once you’ve identified an application for the technology in your marketing, sales, or after-sales strategy, you’ll most likely need to rely on outside help to build the apps you require. 

Hiring pros should be done after careful consideration and research. You don’t want to waste your money, do you? 

8. Drone delivery is (finally) here

Delivery drone

After almost a decade of being discussed in the media, drone delivery is now available. Once a niche concept, major companies from Amazon to Pizza Express have begun to roll out the first drone delivery services.

Cutting down delivery times, and eventually reducing the cost of delivery, drone deliveries avoid traffic, and can provide products in record time.

How it looks in practice

An estimated 80% of all packages delivered by Amazon are suitable for drone delivery, given the current technology. 

Cutting delivery times as low as 30 minutes, with costs as low as $1 per delivery, the tech could save Amazon and customers more than $50 million in delivery charges. 

Is it effective?

Realistically, drone delivery has not been rolled out on a large enough scale yet for its efficacy to be fully assessed.

This said, the drone market, in general, is set to be worth $1.20 Billion in 2022 and $29.06 Billion by 2027, with retail shipping expected to make up the majority of this growth.

In the short term, moving into drone delivery is a novel marketing statement to interest customers. 

In the long term, it could be a wise investment for the future of logistics.

How to utilize drone delivery

While there is a lot of hype surrounding drone shipping, it should be noted that it is only applicable on a large scale for certain types of retailers. Even Amazon has been hesitant to roll it out fully.

The most effective use of drone delivery for the majority of eCommerce brands will be as part of a one-off PR campaign.

9. AI and chatbots

Man interacting with AI chatbot

Artificial intelligence-driven platforms and chatbots have been growing as an eCommerce trend for some time now. 

In 2020, however, more retailers than ever before are using them for marketing and customer service purposes.

Allowing customers to interact with brands at any time of day, and increasing in complexity for the inquiries they’re able to address, an AI chatbot service could revolutionize communications for your business.

How it looks in practice

Language learning app and software company Duolingo was among the first to recognize the value of AI chatbots for their needs. 

Far from being put off by communicating with a robot instead of a human, language learners actually prefer an AI chatbot.

This removes the element of ‘looking stupid’ while learning a new language.

Is it effective?

Using AI-powered chatbots is about far more than just saving on human resources. In 2020, chatbots are expected to drive an average of $15 revenue per user from messaging apps.

Some retailers have been hesitant to use chatbots under the belief that their customers prefer to speak to a real person. 

In reality, the majority of millennials have had their perception of a business positively altered by interactions with chatbots.

How to utilize chatbots

Implementing chatbots is relatively easy, as compared to some other eCommerce trends. 

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions you can apply to your brand quickly. Many eCommerce platforms offer AI chatbot integrations.

The relative ease and affordability of this type of service makes it a low-risk experiment for any online retailer.

10. eCommerce is dead. Long live re-commerce.

Recommerce of vintage clothes

Among all of 2020’s eCommerce trends, this one stands out as an antithesis to eCommerce. 

Second-hand selling between consumers has been on the rise in recent years, and the market is set for further growth. 

Re-commerce is seen by many to be the logical development of eCommerce. 

And while this trend might appear to threaten existing online shopping solutions, businesses that can adapt to this trend stand to gain from it.

How it looks in practice

Sports and activity wear company Columbia has created a popular ‘pre-loved’ items section on their brand website, where customers can pick up secondhand gear in good condition. 

Not only does this bring secondhand sales under the company’s purview, it also telegraphs the high-quality of the brand’s clothing, which can be used again and again. 

Is it effective?

The second-hand market is expected to more than double between 2018 and 2023, from $24 billion to $51 billion. 

The usefulness of re-commerce as part of an eCommerce business depends on how it is incorporated.

Audience is also an important factor. Women are more likely to purchase second-hand, at a rate of 64%, while millennials and Gen Z are 2.5x more likely to buy second-hand than other age groups.

How to utilize re-commerce

If a retailer can act as a reseller of second-hand products, they should. 

It does not have to be the entire focus of the business, but offering a re-selling platform for products is a relatively low-cost additional revenue stream.

You might consider combining re-commerce with community-building campaigns that encourage customers to share their love for particular products. 

The bottom line

Moving with the latest eCommerce trends in 2020 should not be looked at as a choice by businesses, but a necessity. 

The trends laid out in this post may only be emerging now, but will soon become standard. Failing to incorporate them will see businesses left behind.

Deciding which new features to bring into your online store and marketing will depend on your products or service, the target market you serve, the size of your business, and the kind of shopping experience you aim to provide.

Drone delivery and virtual reality might not fit neatly into your business structure. 

However, most online retailers should at least be considering providing a personalized shopping experience and product recommendations, AI chatbots, and voice search optimization.

A new reality of online shopping is on the horizon, and you need to get ready now to meet it.

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