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  • Anna-Louise McDougall

The 7 Biggest eCommerce Trends in 2021

In retail, the age-old rhetoric goes: the customer comes first. And 2021 is no different.

This year’s eCommerce trends are heavily fueled by the consumer’s newfound desires and expectations surrounding online shopping. Your beautiful product and slick eCommerce website won’t cut through the noise for your customer, without an immersive, personalised, and interactive experience - every time they shop.

Your beautiful product and slick eCommerce website won’t cut through the noise for your customer, without an immersive, personalised, and interactive experience - every time they shop.

According to Shopify’s Fashion and Apparel Industry Report, the worldwide eCommerce revenue is estimated to rise from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion by 2022. A figure that has only emerged post-pandemic.

As well as increasing online access through smartphone technologies, emerging markets outside the West, and, Millennials being the majority of eCommerce fashion brand customers - there are 10 key themes that are influencing the apparel industry and driving 2021’s trends.

McKinsey’s State of Fashion Report, states these are:

  1. Continued disruption of the pandemic on the global economy

  2. Diminished demand

  3. Further increases in digital shoppers

  4. Customer-driving ethics and sustainability

  5. Reduced travel

  6. Decreases in production as there is a shift from fast to slow fashion

  7. Opportunistic investment

  8. Deeper supply chain partnerships

  9. Improved store-level retail ROIs

  10. Continued evolution to remote work

So, how can you weather the storm of the burgeoning eCommerce space, maintain brand integrity and bolster your bottom line? By keeping up with the times, of course. Here, we break down the seven biggest eCommerce trends to keep across now, and well into the future.

1. Headless Commerce

If you’re tired of hearing “omnichannel” as you explore new ways to reach that monthly budget, well, get ready to hear a lot more of it.

The omnichannel customer is here to stay.

Omnichannel selling is not new, particularly to bricks-and-mortar stores, but online eCommerce brands should consider shifting significantly to become an omnichannel brand in 2021. That doesn’t just mean selling offline, it means varying your channels online with a customer-centric mindset.

That doesn’t just mean selling offline, it means varying your channels online with a customer-centric mindset.

Before you point out that all your marketing efforts are customer-centric, consider if you hang out where your customer hangs out. Are you amalgamating your customer and product data to create a personalised shopping experience? Are you offering efficient, fuss-free mobile shopping? Are you visible on third-party marketplaces?

“Headless commerce” is designed to offer brands the flexibility that allows them to extend shopping into any customer experience.

Notice how they interact with your campaigns and how they’re already shopping with you - then meet them where they are. Be where they like to be, sell their favourite products where they like to buy them.

Having a robust omnichannel strategy will enable you to seamlessly respond and interact with your customers, with the brand message that resonates best.

2. AI & AR

ICYMI, AI (artificial intelligence) is the future of your product being discovered online. The trend is rapidly gaining traction, along with AR (augmented reality) mainly through the following areas:

  • personalisation (and hyper-personalisation),

  • segmentation, and

  • chatbots

Most businesses, especially fashion retailers, already use product recommendations and emails that are delivered by machine learning.

Cher was ahead of her time really.

Consider the cut-through you can gain from the combination of hyper-personalisation and AR. In the step-up from eComm video, Gucci lets you take a look at how their sneakers will look on your feet from your very own home, and ASOS brings you the complete collection with Avatars to model for you. Wonder what Cher Horowitz would think of that one?

It’s no surprise that 46% of customers prefer live chat to email or phone for support. So, using a chatbot to help facilitate your live chat provides instant answers without overloading your support team.

Despite the big budgets some brands are lucky enough to work with, you can also harness this power to create personalized PPC campaigns, or opt into programs like LimeSpot and Optimonk which hit your customers at every touchpoint.

3. Flexible Payments For All

Even luxury sites are getting in on the buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) model because at the end of the business day the more ways your customers can pay for your product, the better. Once perfect for at-home Millennials scrounging their pocket money, BNPL is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 13.23%, reaching $680 billion of transaction volume worldwide by 2025.

And guess what? Millennials have jobs now, and there has been a significant increase in luxury brands and luxury resellers offering delayed payment options to consumers. More customers prefer the BNPL option over credit cards for making luxury goods more affordable. And most of the customers probably have never had a credit card before. And, why would they need one?

Newer, more popular payment options are key to improving your online store’s abandoned cart rates

Newer, more popular payment options are key to improving your online store’s abandoned cart rates and heavily influence the overall customer experience.

4. DTC is King

It’s no secret that the direct-to-consumer model is the modus operandi of many fashion labels, with the promise of lower prices, higher margins, and intimate customer relationships. Why not cut out the middle man?

DTC is particularly advantageous to the fashion industry as you can gain hands-on control over the entire product cycle. However, gone are the days where you launched with one product and scaled via paid advertising.

DTC in 2021 looks more like customer relationships than anything else. Consider Nike’s DTC campaigns that touch on human emotion rather than the product itself. Brian Garofalow, VP of Marketing and Ecommerce at Igloo told Common Thread Co, “People buy DTC (even if they’ve never heard of it) because of the product first.”

“They come back only when that product feels bigger than a product. It’s always going to be about relationships,” he said.

And yes, the future of DTC is omnichannel.

Selling the feels, Nike is all about the human emotion.

5. Sustainability Sells

Sustainability wears many faces when it comes to fashion, but this doesn’t mean you should skimp on the detail of your considered offering. Consumers want answers, your customers want to put their money where they can feel good about it, and they’re demanding total transparency.

Over 1 in 3 consumers think about the environmental impact of their fashion purchases, and over 30% believe that it’s important to buy clothing made from someone paid a living wage.

If you’re a brand that ethically sources its materials, does this extend to the unboxing, the delivery process, and your factory workers? Customers will see one hole in your sustainability strategy and jump over to the brand that’s doing it better.

Customers will see one hole in your sustainability strategy and jump over to the brand that’s doing it better.

Ways you can up the ante on your ethics include implementing eco-friendly packaging solutions, offer digital receipts at all points of sale, and partner with sustainability-conscious fulfillment services.

6. Recommerce

Woman taking photo of denim shirt with mobile phone
One person's trend piece, is another person's treasure.

This brings us to the next trend. reCommerce, also known as second-hand commerce, is growing at an astounding rate among people under 40, and is expected to grow to $33 billion in 2021. And it’s not just the lower prices bringing customers in the door; reCommerce appeals to the sustainably-minded, and also the shoppers concerned with garment clout.

Currently, the most popular second-hand products include vintage clothing, designer handbags, brand-name fashion clothing, and shoes. So you’re in the right game.

To capitalise on this trend, consider creating a second-hand community for your brand. Messaging around seasonless, archival, and one-off pieces will add new life to those past-season garments hanging out in your warehouse.

7. Lifetime Value: Redundant?

That loyalty card may be the deciding factor between a consumer buying from your brand or not.

Let’s face it, lifetime value is a LIFETIME. Your business needs cash flow now.

For years we’ve been told that LTV is the single most important eCommerce business metric, but on the other hand, in the face of overheads, wages, and production costs - it can feel meaningless.

Consider speaking in terms of customer retention to get that month's budget where it needs to be because customers just aren’t as loyal as they used to be. And why should they be with so many options available? Retailers have the chance now to significantly upgrade loyalty programs to get customers back in the door.

Identify, prioritise and nurture the relationships of your highest-value shoppers by mapping their purchase journey, and basically, giving them what they want (you know, without freebies). To turn one-time shoppers into loyal customers, consider point-based memberships and VIP tiers that they can strive for.

Increase their LTV, while you increase your day-to-day.

About the Author

Anna is a writer, journalist and creative copywriter, specialising in fashion, retail and eCommerce. She has a keen interest in the social commentary of fashion subcultures, and offers a unique perspective on Australian fashion having sat on both sides of the editorial and retail fence. Anna has worked with leading Australian fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands over the past seven years in copywriting, digital marketing and eCommerce. A pandemic later, she now writes full time.

Anna relentlessly pursues original storytelling with brands and publications that empower the receiver. She spends her spare time coming up with crass taglines for her freelance business, Papercut Copy, and will never not feel weird about writing her bio in the third person.

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