2020 brought about an unprecedented number of changes in the retail industry, none more so than the acceleration towards eCommerce.
U.S. eCommerce sales grew approximately 40.3% in 2020, accounting for 21% of total retail sales, up from 15.8% in 2019.
2021 looks to build on this incredible momentum, leveraging the tools and trends that defined a monumental year for online shopping. The brands and retailers that adapt will not just survive a rapidly changing retail landscape but set themselves up to thrive for years to come.
Here are 5 eCommerce trends that will dominate in 2021.
1. Video shopping will explore
It’s no secret video shopping took off in 2020. Look no further than China, the fastest growing ecommerce market in the world, for proof.
37% of online shoppers in China purchased through video shopping last year, accounting for $74 billion in sales during Singles Day alone. By 2022, Bloomberg estimates that an astounding 20% of all online shopping in China will be through video.
As 2021 kicks off, major markets around the world, including the U.S. and Europe, are taking note, looking to China as an indicator for the impact of this powerful shift.
In 2020, leading brands such as Levi’s and Herman Miller made video shopping a key component of their retail strategy, offering online shoppers the opportunity to connect with local store teams for an IRL shopping experience.
In 2021, expect brands—big and small—to lean heavily into video shopping, using the medium for everything from 1-on-1 virtual consultations to Instagram Story-style shopping.
2. Customers will shop with purpose and entrepreneurs will rise to the occasion
A widespread call to support Black-owned businesses emerged in 2020 as one of the most effective ways for people of all backgrounds to stand in solidarity with the Black community.
This message soon spread to other social justice issues, causing brands to reevaluate their wider mission as customers looked to support businesses whose cultural and social messaging reflected their own. In 2020, customers were 4-6x more likely to purchase, protect and champion purpose-driven companies, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Expect independent retail brands in particular to make their cultural positioning heard as platforms like Shopify help a new generation of socially-minded entrepreneurs reach like-minded customers.
3. Authentic content will shape how brands reach customers
Standing out in a sea of social media content remains one of the retail industry’s toughest challenges.
Towards the end of 2020, new mediums emerged that put control back in the hands of brands, empowering them to create and present authentic content across their own eCommerce channels.
For instance, one-to-many video shopping used by brands such as size?, Faherty, and HAY tapped into the seismic growth of stories as the world’s favorite way to consume authentic video content on social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
In 2021, expect an increasing number of retail brands to adopt one-to-many video shopping and greet eCommerce visitors with tailored product recommendations just like they would in real life, using this authentic content as a gateway to a far more personalized shopping journey.
4. The role of the sales associate will evolve
Store teams are vital to the success of retail brands: 90% of consumers are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate.
In 2020, brands that offered customers the in-store experience through virtual shopping supercharged their sales across the board. Accent Group, the Australia-based retailer and distributor of performance and lifestyle footwear with over 500+ stores, delivered 5x the level of conversion compared to online sales without virtual shopping, with an average order value increase of +20%.
In 2021, associates will continue to guide customers along their shopping journey through text, chat and video, greatly expanding their sphere of influence beyond the four walls of the physical store. It won’t end with a single purchase, either.
With virtual clienteling through text, email, and WhatsApp, associates will cultivate valuable relationships, turning them from one-time shoppers into lifelong customers.
Beyond their pivotal role in the overall shopping experience, associates will become bonafide micro-influencers as they star in authentic eCommerce content, becoming the face of brands as retailers feel the impact of one-to-many video shopping.
5. Store will go "dark"
Among the most prescient trends accelerated by the events of 2020 was the rise of “dark” stores. In light of sweeping shutdowns, retailers turned physical locations into warehouse-like spaces where online orders could be packed for pickup or delivery.
As virtual shopping bridges the gap between the in-store experience and the convenience of online shopping, “dark” stores will become commonplace, giving retailers an extra use case for their physical presence.
While some retailers will choose to convert certain locations to “dark” stores permanently, others will find creative reasons for going “dark,” such as peak trading season when associates and gig workers will be tapped to fulfill online orders past general operating hours.