8th February 2021 - 10 minutes

How SMEs Can Adopt The Latest 2021 Ecommerce Trends

PureClarity’s ‘2021 Ecommerce Trends’ blog discussed the following, mobile shopping, voice commerce, social media commerce, video commerce, the importance of user experience and ecommerce personalisation. In this blog we will discuss these ecommerce trends further, plus some added extras, and how SMEs can adopt these trends to have a successful 2021.

With the UK in lockdown until the end of February, at the earliest, we can predict that the rise of the ecommerce industry will continue to boom throughout 2021.

“Ecommerce outputs are at an all-time high. Lockdowns, travel bans, and retail closures have forced the consumer online, and the world’s largest retailers soon followed, in some cases selling direct to consumers (DTC) for the first time,” Says Shopify. “But not all ecommerce newcomers had the infrastructure in place to deliver a world-class customer experience.”

Although it is difficult to say when the disruption of the pandemic will end, it is certain that the way we shop will have changed forever. Trends have been sped up by 5 years and SMEs need to quickly adapt to ensure their place in the market.

Western Europe ecommerce sales throughout 2020 have risen by 17% and will continue to rise throughout 2021. It is not just the younger generations that are driving ecommerce sales, older generations have also converted to online.

According to a global survey across 11 markets by Shopify, 84% of consumers shopped online during the pandemic.

It has been evidenced recently by big brands that resisted the shift to online have suffered. The Arcadian group is a recent chain of brands that is currently suffering – and Asos, a huge ecommerce brand, is now considering buying some of the Arcadian brands for £265 million.

Businesses are no longer seeing online as an option, but rather as a necessity to survive.

For SMEs to ensure their survival, they must adapt to the latest ecommerce trends. Below is an in-depth discussion of the 3 main trends that we believe SMEs need to consider long term.

An omnichannel approach

The global pandemic has had a huge impact on what customers buy and how they buy it. The main challenge now faced by businesses is to try to accommodate to the ever-changing consumer wants and needs.

The ‘omnichannel approach’ is a consumer-focused strategy, implemented to maximise customers’ experiences and improve the overall performance of the business regardless of where and how a customer buys.

It can be best described as an approach that provides an integrated and seamless user experience regardless of the purchasing channel. For instance, businesses can create content and sell via an online store and a physical store. They can also integrate this content into other channels, such as apps, social media, printed documentation, radio advertising, podcasts – the list is endless. 

Integrating multiple shopping channels means that you can meet the customers demand both offline and online. The purpose is to be able to sell wherever your customers are.

Shopify articulates, “to capitalise on the ecommerce boom and overcome fierce competition, you need to optimise commerce across channels like online marketplaces, social media, retail, and wholesale.”

They continue, “That also means building—or buying—a technological foundation that frees your team to create immersive, unified experiences wherever your customers are. The business benefit is resilience, allowing your business to quickly shift efforts and resources from offline to online, and back again, based on customer demand.”

How SMEs can implement this approach:

1. Optimise your site for mobile devices

Mobile commerce is the future of online shopping. The majority of people now have access to a smart phone or handheld device. The technology of today allows you to perform practically any online activity in the click of a button – online shopping being one of the most popular.

According to Statista, 72.9% of all ecommerce sales will be made via a mobile phone by the end of 2021. Therefore, it is crucial that businesses optimise their online stores to facilitate mobile commerce.

Some brands are going for a mobile-first approach when designing their website infrastructure. This means that there is a stripped-down HTML version of their website that loads instantly.

Bigger SME businesses could consider creating a progressive web app. Applications are becoming more popular as they offer an optimal user experience. They load faster and live on the homescreen of customers’ devices as a constant reminder to visit your store.

2. Get to know your customers

Your business and marketing strategy should be centred around your customers. You need to question what their likes are, dislikes, interests, shopping behaviours – everything.

Checking the analytics of your website, through the help of Google Analytics or social analytics, will allow for better insight into your customers behaviours.

Conduct your own market research. Create a short survey that can be distributed across all your channels. This will help you to connect with your customers and understand their needs better.

When conducting market research, always be mindful of ethics and customer privacy. The sole purpose of the research should be to improve the user experience of your customers when visiting your channels.

3. Manage product and customers data

To provide a consistent experience to customers across all online channels, you must implement a single view of your customer and product data.

Shopify recommends to, “build your business on a single platform that connects workflows and data sources, allows you to manage all your sales channels in one place, and integrates with third-party solutions.”

4. Retargeting

Retargeting is best described as a method used to target people that have interacted with one of your channels. It is a common strategy used to re-engage with customers that have already shown some interest in your business.

If a customer adds a certain product into their basket and then exists before buying, you could then use retargeting methods to create an ad that will appear for this exact product, when they are browsing through social media or other ad platforms.

5. Automate processes

By automating as many business processes as possible you will eliminate the opportunity for human error and reduce distribution time. There are many kinds of software technology that can allow you to automate your content.

For instance, Hootsuite is a common social media content scheduling tool. Mailchimp, Zymplify and SendInBlue are popular email marketing automation tools. Adopt POS card readers to make transactions easier too.

It is key to remember that although automation is a great tool, all content should appear or be personalised to the individual for optimal results.

6. Adopt ecommerce personalisation

Ecommerce personalisation technology allows you to create seamless shopping experiences for each individual customer. This can be shown in many forms such as, personalised content, product recommenders, plus many more. Ecommerce personalisation is described in further detail below.

An AI-driven (artificial intelligence) ecommerce personalisation software will update your content in real-time. Whether this is the analytics, to provide real-time data on your customers behaviours, or the product recommenders adapting and moulding to the way the customer is interacting with your site. This in turn is proven to create a better user experience, increase conversions and improve online sales.  

Ecommerce personalisation can be a great tool to use for tracking customers encounters with your site’s content. It is also can automate content so that everything your customer sees is relevant specifically to them.

Find out more about how PureClarity, an intelligent AI-driven ecommerce personalisation solution, can help you achieve online success in 2021 >

Focus on user experience (UX)

Covid-19 has affected the way we do most things – including shopping. People are still, a year on, confined to restrictions which has led to a lack of human interaction. This has then increased the need for a ‘human touch’ when shopping online.

The today’s customer has an expectation level greater than ever before. They expect easy-to-use and interactive digital experiences that are tailored to their individual needs. This expectation is extended across all channels (website, social media, mobile applications etc.) and devices.

Interestingly, Shopify recently reported that digital-first brands and businesses that are new to ecommerce are more capable of performing on customer experience. Adobe reports that only 38% of bigger brands are meeting the needs of their customers online.

Smaller and independent businesses now have an opportunity to focus their efforts on delivering the best possible customer experience, so that they retain these customers.

How SMEs can implement this ecommerce trend:

1. Conversational commerce

Conversational commerce is a great way to incorporate digital ‘human interaction’. It is a system of direct communication between the business and the customer. It is done through direct messaging.

Many brands are already using this method through social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger. 

Installing software that allows you to include a live chat bot on your website and mobile site will allow your customers to communicate directly to an employee. Most live chat systems allow for automated responses, if it is not always possible for an employee to respond.

Live chats are great for recommending products, connecting with customers and monitoring past customer interactions.

To advance on this, voice commerce is a new form of communication within ecommerce. The Digital Marketing Community describes voice commerce as “a non-visual shopping experience”, where customers have the ability to select their desired product by providing a verbal description and/or instruction of the service or product they desire.

2. Augmented reality (AR) & Advanced Images

Augmented reality (AR) is a piece of advanced technology that mirrors a real-life shopping experience. AR allows customers to view a product by overlaying it on themselves in their homes. The purpose is to provide customers with a better idea of size, shape, and detail of what the product looks like.

Jordan Knapp, Shopify head of new markets, says “augmented reality for larger items, especially home goods, becomes increasingly more relevant in the future.” Jordan continues to say, “retailers need to get creative to reduce returns because returns can destroy a business.”

Rather than implementing AR, many brands have now started to incorporate 3D modeling or versions of their products to also show size, shape and detail. Allowing customers to how a 360-degree view of the products simulates the in-person shopping experience.

Though AR has the wow-factor, sometimes this option can be pricey. If you want to advance your site’s appearance 360-degree images of your products are the way forward. They offer a greater level of interaction, are easy and cheap to create

3. Improved checkout experience

Customers are very much used to the recent invention of contactless payments. It is fast and easy. Checkout experiences that mirror this interaction are the ones that will receive the least amount of checkout abandonment.

To upgrade your checkout experience, incorporate things such as register or sign in options. This way you can save their personal information and payment methods for future sales. Moreover, this allows you the chance to capture their email address to add them to your mailing list.

Another big trend in ecommerce now is the option for accepting new payments. Apple Pay and PayPal are common transactional methods that eliminate the need for entering in card details.

Brands are now using options such as ‘buy now, pay later’. This newer form of payment allows customers to purchase the products and then pay for them within instalments at a later date. Popular brands include Afterpay, Zippay, ClearPay and (most recently) Klarna.

4. Provide fast, sustainable and free delivery

One of the main differences between bigger and smaller businesses is the ability to meet the fulfilment needs of their customers. People want an easy checkout experience that then leads to a fast, sustainable and (in most cases) free delivery.

NRF’s study shows that 65% of consumers check to see if the site has free delivery options before browsing the site.

Though free delivery for all purchases may not be possible in most cases. Some brands have experimented with the option of ‘free delivery’ when a customer has spent over a certain amount. This then encourages the customer to then spend more.

This could be triggered through a popup that appears in the basket. ‘Spend an additional £10 to receive free delivery’ or offer free shipping to loyal customers.

One great thing about Amazon is the ability to order something and receive it the next day. Many SMEs may not be able to facilitate this level of fulfilment, however local delivery, ‘curbside pickup’ and ‘click and collect’ options are now becoming more popular.

During the pandemic 6,500 UK brands have adopted a curbside pickup option to compete with the next day delivery demand.

Many stores are left vacant due to the pandemic. Options to collect from the store could be made available to improve the fulfilment needs of the consumer.

5. Retain more customers

The fact that it is eight times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one shows the commercial importance of retaining each of your customers. Each customer must be treated differently depending on how they interact with your store.

For instance, segmentation of customers is a great way to connect better with them. First time buyers could be greeted with ‘welcoming content’ and returning customers could be rewarded with discounts and VIP offers.

One important factor of retaining customers is to capture as much personal information about them as possible. Capturing an email address will allow you to reach out to them later with marketing emails. This could be done through a popup. More importantly understanding that their preferences are, what they like and dislike, budget levels, location and behaviours on site will go a very long way to providing a tailored experience.

Another trend  now is subscription items and purchases. Items that can be brought on a monthly subscription is both beneficial for companies and consumers.

Agento Support suggests that the benefits for the customer comes in the form of things like personalisation, cost savings and convenience. For companies, subscription-based services help save time, manage inventory efficiently through reliable forecasting and retain high quality customers.

6. Ecommerce personalisation (AI-driven technology)

Ecommerce personalisation is a software that can be implemented into your ecommerce store to deliver personalised shopper journeys for each individual visitor. It allows you to connect with your customers on a deeper level, by providing them with relevant content tailored to their individual interests, needs and preferences.

Shopify  articulates, “what’s clear is that consumers are increasingly rewarding organisations that humanise the buying journey. In response, brands are prioritising personalised experiences that can’t be found on marketplaces.”

They continue, “from dynamic website content powered by real-time behavioural analytics to helping people customise their purchase journey, offering personalised experiences with a human touch is the antidote to marketplaces.”

With the aid of an award-winning software, like PureClarity, ecommerce personalisation can be made simple, affordable and flexible to your business needs.

See how PureClarity can help you prioritise the needs of your customers >

Digitise your business

As I have explained above the customer’s expectation is higher than ever. Customers want more than a good shopping experience, they want to feel a connection with the brand. This can be done by implementing the above ecommerce trends; omnichannel, UX centred methods and personalisation.

How do you stand out from other SMEs within the same industry?

Below are some strategies that SME could consider implementing, to stand out from the competition, when digitising their businesses:

1. Build a brand your customers can relate to

Create a sense of community. Produce content that your customers would engage with.

For example, if you are a fashion retailer you could create video content around ‘the five must have clothing items this Spring’. Or a monthly guide on the latest fashion tips. Be expressive with your opinions on topics relevant to your industry.

Social media groups, such as joining or creating Facebook groups, are a popular trend at the moment for businesses. Customers that are in these groups could receive special discounts, VIP access to certain sales or exclusive access to newly released products.

2. Adopt social media commerce

Social media has become an important tool for everyday life and businesses – not only can businesses utilise social media to market products, connect with their customers and build their brand awareness but also to sell from them too now directly.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have recently added the ‘buy’ button. Meaning that you can directly purchase products from businesses social media pages.

Shoppable posts on Instagram allows you to click on an image and see where each product is from. Each of the products can be tagged with the url to the webpage.

Many brands use influencers, these influencers will then post images of them using or wearing the products. This then encourages people to buy the product. Instead of having to search for them before, the influencers are using the shoppable posts option to tag the items and their urls.

TikTok, the new kid on the block, is currently the latest social media sensation. The 2016 Chinese video sharing platform has recently become a global hit with the younger generation and business owners throughout lockdown – with 800 million active users worldwide.

This quick paced form of video commerce has quickly been recreated on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram – who have created ‘Instagram reels’.

3. Provide inclusivity

Inclusivity is another growing 2021 trend that businesses need to consider when producing products within the retail industry. According to Accenture, 41% of online shoppers shift business away from retailers who don’t reflect inclusion and diversity. 29% are willing to switch completely if inclusivity is inadequate.

Ecomdash suggests that inclusivity is particularly important “in fashion and beauty industries, consumers want to see more diverse representations — including beauty products for men, one of our top growing ecommerce niches of 2021.”

Gruum, a skincare, hair-care, and shaving solutions brand, are particularly good at showing inclusivity. On their homepage they advertise that their products are ‘for everybody’.

“Our products are effective for all ages and genders. For every bit, of everybody.”

4. Be eco-friendly

Whilst some may argue this is not a new trend, global warming is still very much a problem, meaning more brands need to consider more eco-friendly options.

53% of global consumers prefer to buy products that are sustainable and less harmful for the environment. Adopting disposable packaging, reusable products and more sustainable distribution options is something that SMEs could consider for the sake of the planet and their consumers’ life choices.

Though using sustainable packaging can be more expensive, some brands have found alternative ways to contribute to helping the environment. They have committed to donating a portion of their proceeds to environmental causes. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, we hope that you have found this blog useful and try to implement some of the ecommerce trends above within your own SME.

It is clear, that the main challenges that SMEs have for 2021 and the future is grabbing the attention of their customers, retaining it and standing out from the competition.

In a time of isolation and digitalisation, businesses need to focus on investing in a human touch.

If you would like any further information on how to provide your customers with a great customer experience time and time again then contact PureClarity.

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