The pandemic – and its associated lockdowns and stay-at-home orders – have caused ecommerce to rise to an all time high. And with the increase in direct-to-consumer sales comes a strain on shippers and retailers to meet the growing expectations of consumers who want their orders fast, cheap, and environmentally friendly. 

Yet, even as communities open up, consumers that are happy with their online shopping experiences are likely to continue shopping online at higher levels than they did pre-pandemic. Brands that adapted to selling their products online will need to be prepared to support both online and offline shoppers moving forward, in order to ensure customer retention and continued success. 

Ecommerce at an all time high

The COVID pandemic resulted in 10 years of ecommerce growth in just a few months’ time. Stay-at-home orders and retail closures forced not only younger consumers to purchase online, but older shoppers as well. Brands that already have an omnichannel strategy in place that prioritizes the importance of the digital experience for online shoppers are better capable of competing in this environment. 

The best thing that retailers can do to prepare for the future of ecommerce is to build a technological foundation that allows them to shift focus from offline to online, and back again, based on the demand of the moment. Product information and inventory needs to sync between online and brick and mortar sales, so you’re confident that your information is accurate for your consumers, regardless of where they are shopping.

For those consumers shopping online, brands need to make sure their sites are responsive and can offer up the best experience based on whatever platform is being used, paying the most attention to mobile. This is not only true of those products commonly purchased online in the past, but also new-to-the-trend categories such as groceries, health and hygiene products, and home essentials. The easier these items can be found and purchased from a retailer’s site, the more likely users will return for repeat business.

These new customer shopping habits may be here to stay

Whether these ecommerce trends will continue as communities open back up depends on how satisfied consumers are with the experience. Convenient shopping experiences paired with fast direct-to-home deliveries make it more likely that users will continue to shop online, even after the necessity to do so is gone. Businesses will need to adapt to support both on- and offline shoppers, or risk becoming irrelevant. 

Ecommerce best practices for 2021:

  • Ensure fast and easy online checkout experiences 
  • Offer product or service subscriptions at a discount
  • Include local pickup as well as direct-to-home delivery 
  • Bring your brand to life for online shoppers by offering new ways to view your products – additional product imagery, 3D imagery, video, even virtual fittings and tours

Ecommerce fulfillment becomes more complicated

Brands are having to put more thought into fulfillment practices than ever before as the demands of the consumers rise, with most expecting same-day to two-day shipping, for free, while using sustainable packaging. Retailers that can are creating fulfillment centers that are closer to their consumers as a way to keep costs lower for themselves and make shipments faster, thus improving customer satisfaction. 

Added to the desire for fast, free shipping, environmentally conscious consumers are looking to brands that use recycled materials, reuse packaging where possible, and use the minimal amount of packaging for each shipment. 

As consumers demand more, shipping costs rise, creating a tough spot for retailers to find themselves in. Shippers are operating at peak levels, requiring more drivers, more trucks, and longer hours. As costs for shipping rise with those needs, it becomes harder for smaller brands to offer the shipping perks of larger brands. 

What brands should do to improve their ecommerce fulfillment strategy:

  • Outsource fulfillment operations to a Third Party Logistics partner
  • Automate inventory management to avoid running out of product
  • Streamline the return process to keep consumers coming back
  • Offer local delivery to customers in your immediate area

Virtual marketplaces as a necessary evil

Virtual marketplaces offer a fast way to scale globally and help smaller brands compete in the ecommerce space, but many brands see them as a necessary evil. They help drive sales, but put pressure on profit margins. Additionally, users on virtual marketplaces are not looking for specific brands, but for solutions to problems. Search functionality is now the driving factor in purchases, rather than branded ads. 

The challenge for brands is to get customers from a marketplace to their own platforms so they can build a relationship with that customer and thus create brand loyalty. 

What brands should do:

  • Enrich the environment both on marketplaces and off
  • Personalize the consumer experience with your brand using algorithms and data
  • Invest in human interaction – great customer service will go a long way
  • Automate what you can, so you can spend more time with the consumer

Customer retention is the top priority

As a result of increased online shopping, more retailers are turning to ecommerce, creating greater than normal competition in paid search and paid social ad costs. This competition has accelerated ad growth and made reaching new customers more expensive. Smaller brands, or those new to ecommerce, find it increasingly difficult to compete and as a result, customer retention is more important than ever. If paying to acquire new customers is out of reach, businesses should focus their efforts on retaining buyers and building brand loyalty.

What brands should do improve customer retention:

  • Examine customer lifecycles to better understand how consumers are finding you and what encourages repeat purchases
  • Offer subscriptions, loyalty programs, referral programs
  • Create personalized email campaigns to communicate directly to your existing customers

To prepare for other changes in 2021, read about how to navigate in a cookieless world.

If you need an ecommerce expert on your side, contact us