Ecommerce changes a lot from year to year, evolving to match the needs of an increasingly digital world. It’s a trend that businesses rely on like clockwork.

And then 2020 showed up, forcing most of the world’s population into our homes under quarantine. 

But that also made eCommerce an absolutely essential part of business. Companies that didn’t already have online purchasing options had to pivot or go under, while companies that had already invested in eCommerce doubled down on that side of their business.

In other words, how we do business permanently shifted. So as you start to look forward to 2021 and beyond, let’s try to break down all of the ways that eCommerce has changed in 2020.

Record-breaking Growth Rates

Let’s start with some big statistics. According to Business Insider, retail sales in the US fell by 3.4% in Q2 this year because of COVID-19 and quarantine. Compare that to eCommerce sales, which skyrocketed 44.4% during the same time period (compared to 13.9% in 2019).

That in itself is a change worth noticing, and a good reminder that eCommerce is the future of retail. But if you’ve spent any time in this corner of the market, you know that building a successful eCommerce business is anything but easy.

It’s more than building a website and a social media presence. In some ways, succeeding in this market is even more difficult than physical sales. You aren’t just competing with local businesses — you’re going head to head with online retailers and vendors from around the world.

2020 has turned everyone into an online shopper, which drastically improves the amount of eCommerce business. But that means you also have more competition than ever before, which forces you to rethink your ad strategy and how you position yourself in this growing marketplace.

It’s an important change worth remembering because it’s going to change how you do business online. Or, more particularly, how you strategize and position your products and services to make sure you stay successful.

Personalizing Shopping Experiences

To separate themselves from the competition, successful companies are leaning more into personalized content. We’ve all seen dynamic ads and pages, but 2020 has pushed that idea to new heights…and it’s only going to increase in complexity moving forward.

People want to be pampered and catered to. Not all the time, and not to an outrageous extent. But everybody likes to feel noticed and valued — it’s a major reason why “brand loyalty” exists, and why customers make purchasing decisions based on the quality of customer service.

By creating unique shopping experiences for customers, you’ll be able to personalize your relationship with every person who interacts with your site, store, social media presence, etc.

As eCommerce becomes a more established part of how we interact with our favorite brands, the idea of personalization shifts from “trend” to “expectation.” Ecommerce removes the human-to-human interactions, and that means you’ve got to replace that somehow.

The good news is that this personalization leverages the data that you are already collecting. Social media ads, SEO trackers, and heat maps will all show you how an individual person interacts with your site and your brand as a whole. That can help you shift focus a bit and start to craft a unique shopping experience to get that person back on your site

A survey from earlier this year showed that 48% of customers spend more when their shopping experience is customized. This sort of brand-customer interaction does more than just win someone’s business — you’ll earn their trust, and that has a direct impact on their long-term loyalty and their willingness to advocate your products to friends.

Shifting Focus To New Areas

We’ve all gotten used to the idea of product marketing, or letting our services do the talking for us. Talking about the things you offer is traditional business advertising, and there are a lot of companies that swear by this tactic.

It’s easy to think that if someone comes to a specific product page, they’re getting close to a buying decision and consider that item a solution to their problem. But more than 30,000 new products hit the market every year, and a whopping 95% of them fail

The transition to eCommerce shopping has created smarter, savvier customers. How you advertise your brand (and present your products) has to change, even going beyond the need for personalized experiences. 

Another growing trend is the shift to feature marketing. This tactic drills down on a specific feature of a product, highlighting what makes that unique or compelling.

Innovation drives business, and in a lot of cases, evolving an established (and successful) product or service is an easier gamble to make compared to creating something completely new. Feature marketing is how you present that information in a way that generates some interest in that product, even if it’s something people are already familiar with.

For what it’s worth, the leading alternative to feature/product marketing is brand marketing. (And while it’s not a trend unique to 2020, it’s built enough of a reputation to at least deserve a mention.) 

While feature marketing leverages the unique aspects of your products or services, brand marketing looks at what is unique about you. In the same way that people want a personalized shopping experience, they also want to support brands they respect and agree with.

And if you aren’t sharing why you do what you do or why your company matters, customers won’t have any particular reason to want to build a relationship with you. It can be a challenge to tell that story or give a company “personality,” but it’s a fast way to build trust.

Again, there’s no perfect system here. It’s even possible to dabble on both sides of the “product vs. brand” battle. But the goal is the same, no matter which way you go: Win over a person’s trust, whether that’s in your product or in your company. Either way, you’ll also win their business.

Connecting With Brand Representatives

Another way eCommerce has changed in 2020 is the push for “brand representatives.” You’re probably more familiar with the other name for this: influencer marketing.

Celebrity endorsements have played a role in advertising for as long as marketing’s been around. From Super Bowl spots to billboards to social media plugs, you basically can’t escape influencer marketing these days.

Current predictions show that companies could spend as much as $15 billion on influencer marketing within the next two years.

While that might seem like an absurd amount of money, think about this: The average ROI on influencer marketing spend is $5.20 per dollar, and that’s just on average — some brands made as much as $15 on every dollar spent.

To paint an even clearer (and more tangible) picture for you, 80% of people who click to a product page through an influencer ad make a purchase.

This also lines up with the push toward social media marketing. According to a survey by Linquia, 97% of marketers planned to partner with influencers on Instagram — which happens to be the most popular home for influencers in 2020.

So, in other words, influencer marketing has become a trend because it works consistently. And that means there are clear paths to follow if you want to start incorporating this into your own strategy.

Out of these four major changes to eCommerce in 2020, influencer marketing might just be the most complicated option to integrate. Networking with influencers on any channel can be time-consuming, and negotiating contracts might be a source of future nightmares. 

You’ve got to remember that most influencers don’t have backgrounds in business or marketing. But it’s also the clearest line between “industry change” and “solid ROI,” so that might make all of that effort worth it in the end.

Planning For The Future

These four changes might sound like a considerable shift in the path to eCommerce success. And if you haven’t integrated these new strategies, you might worry that you’re falling behind the competition.

But there’s good news. 2020 has been the most ridiculous year your customers have experienced, and the same is true for your market. We’re all still settling into a post-COVID world, and that will buy you time to investigate eCommerce trends and determine which ones work for your business (and serve your customers).

You also need to remember that these aren’t the only changes to take note of — they’re just the biggest ones that seem to affect the most businesses. If you’re not sure how to create personalized experiences or how to connect with influencers, that’s alright. Maybe you can find another area to adapt and grow.

At the end of the day, you know the eCommerce industry. You’ve spent enough time and done enough market research to feel confident in yourself. After all, your company has survived 2020 so far, and that means you can continue to find success.

Ecommerce can be a fickle market sometimes, and it’s always evolving. 2020 in particular has brought a lot of change, but don’t dwell on all the things you can’t do right now. This year is just creating more opportunities for you to fine-tune your process and keep exploring new ideas to set you up for success in 2021 and beyond.

Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a company that produces resources, like storyboard templates, to help businesses improve their YouTube monetization.

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Published: October 19, 2020