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7 eCommerce trends to watch in 2020 and beyond

In 2010, consumers had just started to explore mobile shopping on their brand-new iPhone 3GSes. Today, they can order products with just a few taps through Instagram—an app that didn’t even exist until the second half of 2010—or a conversation with a smart speaker.

That’s just a microcosm of what a decade of rapid change it’s been for eCommerce. Online purchases accounted for around 16 percent of U.S. retail sales this year (up from 7.2 percent in 2010), and the eCommerce bus shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, a study by FTI Consulting predicts that U.S. eCommerce sales will top $1 trillion (a whopping 21 percent of the retail market) by 2025. (PDF)

It’s a great time to be an online retailer—but it’s also important to keep looking ahead at how the industry is evolving and changing so you don’t miss out on opportunities or get left behind.

Here are seven eCommerce trends to keep an eye on in 2020 and the years to come.

1. Sustainability matters… or, it’s close to mattering

Environmental consciousness is nothing new, but it’s becoming more and more widespread as temperatures continue to rise and garbage creation keeps growing. A GlobalWebIndex survey reports that the majority of consumers say they’d pay more for sustainable products.

This trend is especially relevant to online retailers for two reasons:

  • The people most willing to pay up for sustainability are millennials, who are the largest generation of Americans ever and make 60 percent of their purchases online.
  • eCommerce has the potential to be less environmentally friendly than in-person shopping because most products require individual packaging and transport. (Though studies on this have been inconclusive, depending on factors like shipping speed and assumptions about whether people carpool to brick-and-mortar stores.)

Big eCommerce outlets are leading the sustainability charge. Amazon introduced recyclable mailers this year, and Etsy has gone carbon-neutral by purchasing carbon offsets for its shipping emissions.

But… as much as customers say sustainability matters, for now, there are hints that it may be more idealistic than realistic. A Harvard Business Review study found that although two-thirds of consumers say that they want to buy from sustainable brands, only 26 percent actually do. In other words: Sustainability is on people’s minds, and it’s important for businesses to pay attention to their environmental impact as citizens of the world—but switching to things like recyclable mailers may not lead to an instant boom in business. That, however, could change as people become even more environmentally focused in the years to come.

2. Same-day shipping is becoming widespread

For many customers, convenience is king. According to a PwC survey, 88 percent of customers are willing to pay more for same-day or faster delivery on their online orders—a trend that directly contradicts the desire for more environmentally friendly eCommerce.

In fact, in some circumstances, shipping speed can be the single biggest factor governing someone’s choice to buy (or not buy) online. After all, one of the biggest advantages brick-and-mortar stores still maintain is that a customer can walk in looking for a product and walk out instantly with that product in hand. Same-day shipping makes eCommerce an option when a customer needs a product on a tight schedule. 

Three major retailers—Amazon, Target, and Walmart—began significantly expanding their same-day shipping programs earlier this year, and it looks like the practice is here to stay. More than ten million Amazon products are already available for same-day shipping, and, according to a McKinsey study, same-day shipping will make up a quarter of all package deliveries by 2025.

Smaller companies may struggle to offer the same fulfillment options as these retail juggernauts, which have invested heavily in shipping. (Amazon’s shipping infrastructure is so robust that it has taken over market share from FedEx and UPS.)

Darkstore offers fulfillment options for smaller companies.

However, smaller retailers may find solutions as startups begin to address the shipping needs of the eCommerce market. For instance, a startup called Darkstore provides one-hour and same-day delivery solutions for eCommerce businesses in more than 40 U.S. cities.

3. Market with micro-influencers

Believe it or not, social media is still gaining in popularity. This year, for the first time, U.S. adults spent more time using mobile devices than watching TV—and social media apps are some of the most popular to use on mobile devices.

As social media’s ubiquity grew over the course of the 2010s, companies began marketing through social media influencers. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to stop—brands are on track to spend more than $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022.

Instagram is at the core of influencer marketing. Its rate of consumer product discovery has nearly tripled in two years, and the recent launch of Instagram Checkout—which lets users buy products directly through the app—makes influencer marketing easy to monetize.

However, as marketing has taken over social media, more consumers have grown skeptical of influencers’ authenticity. (And it doesn’t help when, from time to time, very prominent influencers forget to delete the instructions from an ad agency.)

As a result, some retailers have gravitated toward advertising via micro-influencers—who are less expensive than mainstream celebrities or big time influencers but appear more authentic and have smaller, more engaged followings.

Instagram comment rate versus followship.
Via: Markerly.

Because it costs less to work with a micro-influencer, brands with smaller marketing budgets can take advantage of the benefits of influencer marketing. Here are some tips for working with micro-influencers:

  • Hire a fan. Try looking through your followers to find a micro-influencer who is already excited about your company and in your target demographic.
  • Advertise over the long term. Followers will be more interested in your company if it seems like it’s a consistent part of your micro-influencer’s life.
  • Trust your micro-influencer. They know best how to communicate with their followers. As much as you believe your sparkling marketing copy is the best way to present your product, trust your micro-influencer to put their pitch in their own words.

4. Voice shopping is bigger than ever

Smart speakers have been the most quickly adopted technology since smartphones, with 112 million Americans having used a voice assistant at least monthly in 2019. OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts that voice commerce sales in the U.S. will total $40 billion by 2022.

Currently, most voice purchases consist of digital goods, inexpensive, everyday items, and products that consumers have ordered before. However, according to a Narvar survey, only 22 percent of voice shoppers actually buy things via their voice assistant; the most common voice shopping activity, by far, is product research.

Voice usage by product.
Via: Narvar.

To attract voice shoppers, be sure to optimize your website for the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, the two most widely used virtual assistants. Voice searches are worded more like conversations than typical queries, so you’ll want to adjust your SEO keywords—in particular by adding longer-tail keywords and “trigger words” like “what” and “can” that typically begin a voice query.

If you want voice shoppers to be able to interact directly with your eCommerce site, consider incorporating conversational commerce into your arsenal. With conversational commerce, you use AI and NLP (natural language processing) to create an automated customer service associate that guides customers through the shopping process.

5. Personalization is now the norm

Today’s consumers expect you to know and anticipate what they want. 65 percent of customers “are more likely to buy from a retailer if they are recognized, remembered, and receive relevant recommendations,” while 33 percent of customers who cut ties with a business do so “because personalization is lacking.”

Facts about personalization.
Via: Growcode.

The benefits of personalization are clear: in a Forbes survey, 40 percent of eCommerce executives said that incorporating personalization into their websites led to a direct increase in sales. (At Jilt, we’ve recognized the power of personalization and offer tools that help eCommerce stores personalize and segment their emails in advanced, targeted ways.)

Also consider adding elements to your website to give customers a more personally tailored shopping experience. For example, the bra and underwear company ThirdLove has a personalized homepage that guides customers through every step of the purchasing journey, from taking the “Fit Finder” quiz to selecting their perfect bra.

ThirdLove's fit finder.

This personalized messaging increased ThirdLove’s average revenue per user by 23 percent.

6. Automated content creation is here

Watch out, eCommerce writers—a computer may be gunning for your job.

Artificial intelligence-driven writing is spreading fast—Washington Post, Bloomberg, the Associated Press, and other major news outlets have collectively published hundreds of articles written by AI.

As of now, there is no publicly available AI that can create content marketing articles like this post—at least not with the same wit and charm (wink, wink)—but major online retailers are still using AI writing to their advantage.

Last year, Alibaba released an AI copywriting tool capable of generating 20,000 lines of product description per second. According to Alibaba, merchants on its affiliate sites have used it over one million times in a day.

CrewMachine and Textual provide similar AI copywriting services to independent online retailers. These AIs search through clients’ websites for outdated or incomplete product descriptions, scour the web for the most relevant and up-to-date information about each product, and write a new description for each one. Humans are still involved in the content-creation process: they edit the machine-generated product descriptions before publication. (The AIs, however, learn from every correction, so they may not need human supervision for much longer.)

While you may not be ready yet to hire a copywriting Terminator to handle your product descriptions, the technology is worth keeping an eye on—by constantly updating and refining product descriptions, these AIs can help your website rank higher in Google searches and ensure that your customers have all the information that they need.

7. eCommerce is growing outside of North America 

As many people in developing economies are gaining access to better technology, the worldwide eCommerce market is growing. The U.S., which made up 22 percent of global eCommerce sales in 2015, is projected to account for only 17 percent in 2020.

Smartphone usage is surging in Asia, where China and India are predicted to have more than 800 million smartphone users by 2022. eCommerce sales in Asia are increasing accordingly, at a projected annual growth rate of 11 percent.

Revenue growth in Asia.
Via: Statista.

Latin American economies are finally experiencing substantial growth after a recession earlier in the decade. 155.5 million Latin Americans are expected to make eCommerce transactions in 2019 (up from 127 million in 2016), and sales are projected to hit $80 billion in 2019 (up from $50 billion in 2016).

If you want to enter any foreign markets, you’ll have to make your shopping experience as convenient as possible for local customers. Offering local payment methods is a must, and so is ensuring that everything associated with your brand—website, social media, customer service, and any printed materials that may arrive with your product—is localized for non-English speakers.

Shipping to certain countries can be expensive and complicated, especially when customs is involved. If you’ll be doing a lot of business in a certain country, consider streamlining the process by finding a third-party logistics coordinator or renting a local fulfillment center.

Occasionally, a thriving international business may find it cheaper just to open another production facility. Such was the case for Printful, a California-based print-on-demand dropshipping company that gives its customers the opportunity to sell their products out of both U.S. and European fulfillment centers to save a fortune on international shipping.

If you are based in the U.S., you can even try to offset expansion costs by applying for a federal grant, which are awarded to American companies seeking to establish themselves in another country. 

Key takeaways

eCommerce grew from $165.4 billion in U.S. sales in 2010 to $517.4 billion by the end of 2018—a 313 percent growth in revenue over the decade. Worldwide, eCommerce sales were $572 billion in 2010 and will hit $3.46 trillion this year. And… the market just keeps growing.

With that in mind, it’s important to keep up with the trends and developments in the eCommerce world to make sure you’re well-positioned for 2020 and the years to come. Here are seven of the biggest trends in eCommerce to watch for.

  1. Many consumers want sustainable shipping, but it’s still unclear how much this concern actually influences their purchasing behavior… for now.
  2. Big chains are investing heavily in same-day shipping, which is a major selling point for consumers. Watch for startups and new solutions to help smaller retailers keep up.
  3. Micro-influencers, who have smaller but more dedicated followings than celebrities, can be the best way to get authentic endorsements for your product and sell through social media—especially on Instagram, where consumers can buy directly through the app.
  4. Even if voice shopping still rarely culminates in expensive purchases, it’s too pervasive for you to ignore—and has become a popular way for customers to do research. Make sure the Alexa and Google Assistant can comfortably navigate your website by properly optimizing your keywords for voice search.
  5. Personalization drives customer retention, both on your eCommerce site and through your email marketing.
  6. AI content creation is a cutting-edge way to create product descriptions that stand out to both your customers and Google’s search algorithms.
  7. eCommerce outside of North America is growing wildly. To get in on the action, you’ll need to create a localized version of your brand and consider how to manage international shipping.
Zach Quayle
Zach Quayle is a writer who has worked at production companies, an Ivy League classics department, and the world's largest hedge fund. A Philadelphia native, he likes his sports fans angry and his cheesesteaks from Dalessandro's.

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