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5 Ecommerce Trends You Need to Know for 2021

Wilson Lau

Sr. SEO Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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If you're a marketer for an ecommerce brand or a business owner hoping to grow your enterprise this year, it's critical to stay informed on the latest ecommerce trends that are shaping the world of online retail. Audience expectations evolve almost as fast as the industry itself, keeping brands on their toes and always hunting for new ways to engage audiences and provide exceptional customer experiences. From automation to social selling to new payment options and beyond, there's no shortage of new tactics to test on your ecommerce business.

Let's explore some of the most exciting ecommerce trends for 2021.

Major Ecommerce Trends in 2021

Trend 1: Installment plans and subscriptions

Ecommerce is growing fast — sales expanded by over 40% in 2020 from the previous year — and customers are looking for ways to have their needs met by brands. Brands have responded by widening their options when it comes to payments, integrating solutions that aim to increase the potential pool of consumers by decreasing the financial barriers to purchase.

Many major ecommerce brands and physical retailers are now offering installment payments online and in stores. Typically, this gives customers the option of paying for purchases over an extended period — usually several monthly payments. This mini-financing option makes it easier for customers to buy what they need when they need it. This benefit has the secondary effect of making brands seem more flexible and accessible, improving customer trust.

Other brands have created payment solutions that deemphasize individual purchases in favor of a subscription style. Exact terms vary between brands, but generally, customers can select a product or set of products to have shipped to them at regular intervals. This is both convenient for customers and helpful for brands trying to retain customers and encourage repeat purchases.

Trend 2: Omnichannel selling is here to stay

Brands today realize that the most important thing they can provide to consumers is a positive customer experience that feels personalized to their needs. With so many ways of searching for products and finding new brands, companies have adapted to provide a complete, seamless experience. That means selling on virtually every marketing channel, or at least as many as possible.

It starts at the brand's digital storefront, which many brands are trying to improve with progressive web apps and mobile-first design. Beyond the brand's website, most sellers have built storefronts inside social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. The omnichannel selling wave has also reached email, with brands often sending promotional messages that double as in-client shops for particular products targeted to individual users. The customer can complete a transaction in their email window without even visiting the brand's site.

Omnichannel selling now often appears in rich content formats, as well. That includes tapping into customers' desires for video content by offering ways to buy while a video is playing, highlighting featured products, and providing direct-purchase links.

Trend 3: Shoppers start taking sustainability and environmental responsibility seriously

As worldwide concern for the health of the environment grows, so has consumers' desire to make sure their shopping choices reflect their beliefs around sustainability. Nearly two-thirds of ecommerce shoppers today report they prefer to buy from brands that take steps toward more sustainable practices and reducing their environmental impact. 

This lends a clear advantage to sellers that have made sustainability a core part of their brand. Many brands have reduced the amount of packaging required to ship their products, while others have focused on supply-chain sustainability. Still, others have committed to "green pledges" or donating a portion of profits to environmental nonprofits.

The key here is avoiding the greenwashing trap. As customers' interest in environmental issues has evolved, so too has their ability to recognize when a brand's sustainability messaging is all fluff without substance. To do that, brands must find ways to illustrate concrete actions that fulfill environmental values.

Trend 4: Ecommerce meets B2B

It's easy to think of ecommerce as B2C-only, but that's no longer the case. A major ecommerce trend in 2021 will be the expansion of online selling by B2B brands. Younger digital natives from the Millennial and Gen Z demographics are fast moving into the workforce, meaning that they'll increasingly be responsible for making business decisions for their employers or enterprises. For people raised with the ability to order and receive products with a few clicks, the prospect of going through traditional B2B sales channels may be undesirable.

Instead, these decision-makers and shoppers for business services are likely to prefer investing in B2B brands that make it exceptionally easy to make a purchase and set up a business relationship. That means using D2C and B2C ecommerce tactics to sell B2B products. Expect to see more digital storefronts selling B2B products this year.

Trend 5: Analytics teams up with AI to boost customer value

Data and ecommerce have always gone hand-in-hand, but in 2021, that relationship is more important than ever. As software like AdRoll's ecommerce marketing platform makes it easier to integrate large data sets and artificial intelligence into their marketing operations, more and more brands will take up this ecommerce trend.

As most marketers realize, personalization is one of the most crucial aspects of branding in the ecommerce world. Artificial intelligence makes it possible for brands to deliver a higher level of personalization without sinking endless hours into creating audience personas and manually tweaking campaigns. AI can sift through data much quicker than a person can, and with greater attention to the subtle nuances of how customers shop and navigate the internet. The result is more precise targeting and retargeting that can present customers with hyper-personalized ads and content at a level that simply can't happen with human management alone.

Wrapping Up

The major ecommerce trends for 2021 cover everything from improved checkout experiences to artificial intelligence and environmental sustainability. Keep yourself informed and make sure your marketing strategy reflects the latest ideas.

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