A laptop computer on a desk showing an online shop for furniture

9 eCommerce Trends Driving Online Growth in 2021

A laptop computer on a desk showing an online shop for furniture

We get it, we’re sick and tired talking about 2020 just like everyone else. But hear me out: As the world shut down, companies unprepared to sell virtually rushed to bring their products and services into digital spaces. As a result, Shopify, like many other eCommerce CMS (content management systems), saw massive growth, increasing revenue by an unbelievable 89%. This translated to a mind-boggling $2.9 BILLION dollars.

If you recognize your own eCommerce business as part of the above trend, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your online store to see if it’s adhering to best practices and staying up to date as we move further away from 2020 (cheers to that). We put together this guide to help identify areas of growth for your eCommerce revenue in 2021. 

eCommerce Trends

1. Mobile: where shoppers are spending. 

79% of smartphone users have made a purchase on their phone in the last six months. That says it all, doesn’t it? It’d be nice to tidy up this section with two sentences, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Online shopping continues to move more to a mobile-dependent space. In 2016, mobile commerce sales totaled at $0.97 billion globally. That figure is projected to be $3.56 billion in 2021 – over 3x growth in five years. In addition, it’s estimated that up to 73% of eCommerce sales will take place on a mobile device in 2021. Why such a large increase in such a short time frame? 

Mobile commerce has skyrocketed for three main reasons: convenience, accessibility, and increased screen time. 

In the US, mobile device users are spending 24% more time on their smartphones daily than they were in 2016. Social platforms and ad networks have adapted, prioritizing ads so that they’re served on mobile-friendly websites and incentivizing advertisers to have a mobile-friendly experience. 

Mobile shopping isn’t only about purchases online though. With the rise of BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store), users are spending more time reviewing products online to make informed purchasing decisions. Also, over 80% of shoppers said they have used a mobile phone inside a physical store to look up product reviews, or compare prices. Mobile commerce is more than a trend. It’s a movement. If your eCommerce site isn’t designed mobile-first, you may want to re-evaluate. 

So, the question is: does your site have a beautiful mobile experience? If not, get your booty to UpWork and find yourself a UX designer yesterday.

2. Subscriptions: not just for binge watchers. 

A screenshot of Fuego Box's subscription options.

The subscription movement may have started with Netflix, but it sure didn’t stop there. Subscriptions themselves have transformed from a service or product subscription in niche categories to a more practical auto-renewal subscribe-and-save program. By locking in users for auto-recurring orders, brands often reward users with a discount.

This helps eCommerce businesses tremendously; they can pay more to acquire customers because the LTV (lifetime value) of a customer increases tremendously when their purchase auto-renews. This practice largely started because of Chewy.com’s Autoship program, but CMS such as Shopify and Woocommerce are adapting to allow apps and plugins to do the same thing for smaller online stores.

Is your service or product rife for subscription? Have you found success?

3. Social commerce: the real scroll stopper.

Social commerce broadly references a user’s ability to purchase products directly within social media platforms. You’ll see this most often in Instagram—a platform with over 1 billion active users per month. Of this massive number, 130 million tap on shopping posts every month. That’s a lot of volume.

Instagram has been slowly introducing their social commerce platform over the last year and a half, adding tagged products to posts so users can browse catalogs within the app, and now, Instagram Checkout allows users to purchase products without ever leaving Instagram. 

Instagram is putting theory into practice: the fewer clicks, the more likely a purchase. Shopify has been quick to respond by rolling out updates to their marketing channels to allow product catalogs to directly sync with Instagram and Facebook. Since so much of eCommerce user acquisition happens on social channels, this will drastically affect paid social campaigns in 2021 and beyond.  

What’s your best selling product on social? Are you putting enough firepower into activating its full potential?

4. Headless commerce: leaving Shopify out of it. 

For large-scale brands, headless commerce promises to be an early disrupter. This API-driven approach uncouples the front end of your site from a back-end eCommerce platform. Instead, systems communicate via APIs. 

Why do this? For starters, it allows for customization far beyond standard eCommerce CMS. As great as Shopify, Woocommerce, and Magento are, for large scale companies like Nike, Overstock, and more, their needs far outweigh what most CMS provides. 

Additionally, the usage of APIs allows for content management beyond the eCommerce site. Headless commerce can allow for the easy distribution of mass data between the data source and marketplaces like Amazon, Ebay, and Walmart. For large-scale companies distributing their products across multiple platforms, this is a transition that provides scale.  

Even if you’re not an Overstock or a Walmart, understanding the future of eCommerce can help you plan for your business’ future: what are you doing to adapt?

5. DTC growth: not just a COVID phenomenon.

I know I already mentioned that we’re all sick of talking about COVID, but this is the last time I’ll bring it up. I promise. 

DTC (direct to consumer) sales skyrocketed during the start of COVID-19, and continued throughout the end of the year for an increase of 24% annually in the US alone. Direct to consumer eCommerce places an emphasis on users going directly to the brand for purchase, rather than relying on a national marketplace, such as Amazon. 

This affects international brands who are shifting to a hybrid approach to sell direct to consumer as well as retail and marketplace sales. It also affects small businesses who likely can benefit from direct to consumer acquisition instead of paying platform fees to marketplaces or service providers. 

That’s not to mention supporting local businesses, a focus that was sharpened throughout the pandemic married with an increasing dissatisfaction with the way Amazon does business. But that’s a blog post for another day. 

The short story: we all want to better support local. What’s your company doing to help us help you?

6. Pay options: dollar bills are a thing of the past.

A screenshot of QuietKat's homepage advertising a pay overtime option.

Have you noticed that a lot of eCommerce sites have banners promoting buy now, pay later options through third-party services like Affirm, Klarna, or Paypal Pay in 4? Payment flexibility within eCommerce platforms has introduced a new wave of users who finance larger purchases that they wouldn’t normally make. Breaking a large purchase up into four monthly payments, while still allowing for the vendor to be paid immediately, sounds too good to be true – but it isn’t! 

It doesn’t stop with financing options – digital wallets allow for quick and easy payments on eCommerce platforms. Online shopping becomes even easier with one click payments such as Apple Pay, or PayPal checkout. Ease of use, coupled with additional payment options allows users to pay however is convenient for them, and opens up a new market of potential customers.

Don’t have a payment plan installed on your site? You’re missing out on beaucoup revenue!

7. AR/VR: more than just for gamers. 

Augmented and virtual reality is becoming a powerful tool in the customer experience. One of the major complaints about ecommerce is that users don’t  have the ability to test or visualize how products will be in person. Augmented reality changes that and allows users to see 3D models of products for a much better idea of what they’re actually buying. 

Virtual reality goes even further and allows users to place items in the world virtually so you can see how a vase looks on your counter, or a photo on your wall. 35% of users say they are more likely to purchase a product online if they could virtually “try-on” a product before purchasing. This also helps cut down on return cost and potential customer dissatisfaction, building brand loyalty. 

Plus, it’s pretty damn cool. Where does AR or VR fit into your customer experience?

8. Personalization: making your customer feel like you only have eyes for them. 

When advocates or politicians talk about the need to have privacy online, rarely is it ever discussed how data creates a personalized web experience. Certainly there is a need for increased privacy for users, as well as better data collection practices, but this should not come at the expense of a personalized web experience. It’d be bad for advertisers, it’d be bad for users both to have a non-personalized ad experience on social platforms, display networks, and more. In short: there’s a more nuanced way to approach this. 

Even more so, personalization is incredibly important for eCommerce businesses. Personalization for eCommerce can be as simple as having recommended products based on the user’s browsing history within your site. It can be as complicated as dynamic content based on acquisition source and A/B testing user flows for a multi-touch personalized experience. 

Personalization is such a fascinating concept because it’s an easy way to increase conversion rate, average order value, and engage recurring customers on your site. AI powered personalization has produced many fascinating results, showing that revenue lift can be directly tied to a personalized user experience within your eCommerce site. 

Let’s get personal with your customers. What does this look like for them?

9. eCommerce content marketing: welcome to Tuff’s world.

A screenshot of a Tuff content strategy Trello board

Many eCommerce growth agencies are using paid acquisition channels like Facebook, TikTok, Google Shopping, Instagram, and more to generate revenue and acquire new customers. The problem with paid acquisition, however, is that it can be difficult to acquire users at a ROI that makes sense for your business. 

Tuff has seen success with organic eCommerce content marketing for multiple brands. Ranking for non-branded keywords pertinent to your product can help reach users organically in a much more cost effective way for the long term. We recommend balancing paid acquisition with content marketing so there’s a healthy approach to short-term wins, and long-term gains that can drastically increase the number of online shoppers coming to your eCommerce site. 

Know you need juicy content but don’t know where to start? Let’s talk! 

Conclusion

It’s too soon to tell whether or not all of these trends will be here to stay. That said, it’s likely that many of these eCommerce trends in 2021 will persist long after this year is over. When eCommerce trends stay they turn into best practices for a holistic eCommerce business to implement. Three years ago, Instagram was criticized for its implementation of IG-story advertising, and now it continues to be one of the hottest ways to market to users on social media. 

eCommerce marketing is not as scary as it may seem, but it’s nice to have help. As a growth marketing agency, we’ve partnered with over 50+ brands in the last 4 years to couple eCommerce trends and growth marketing techniques for scaling eCommerce businesses.  Want to learn more? Download a sample growth proposal today