4 Online Shopping Predictions for 2021

January 6, 2021 By: Mario Ciabarra

In 2020, Customer Experience Blips Were Part of the Process. 2021 Will Not Be So Forgiving.

The pandemic-fueled explosion of online shopping is making the already-fine line between a “good enough” and an awesome customer experience even finer. Here are four things to watch for in 2021.

If 2020 was the year that everyone’s grandparents started shopping online, 2021 will be the year that grandma clucks her tongue at a confusing checkout funnel, and clicks over to the competition without remorse.

The numbers speak for themselves. 2020 was the year that online commerce moved so mainstream as to become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Consumers needed some time to adapt to this change, and so did e-retailers. Of course, there were some bumps in the customer experience road, as businesses rushed to cram five years worth of changes into just five months. Yet consumers felt that this was a natural part of the transition, and could be overlooked in the bigger picture.

In 2021, this forgiving attitude will dissipate once and for all. American consumer willingness to deal with friction points in their online shopping will become a thing of the past. The retail maturity and refinement that sprouted US consumers’ loyalty to physical shopping venues will fully extend to the online shopping arena. Consumers will know what to expect, will demand no less, and will be brutal in shifting their loyalties.

This makes 2021 perhaps even more pivotal than 2020 for online retail. To meet the challenges of a savvy online customer base and capitalize on the opportunities that will allow brands to grow digital results, here’s how e-commerce will evolve in 2021: 

1. Immersive tech will play an increasingly important role in optimizing the online shopping experience

Online shopping still has some inherent drawbacks that need to be overcome, but brands like Michaels, American Eagle and Ralph Lauren are already using innovative tech to tackle this challenge head on. Since shoppers can’t visit stores in-person to see if a product meets their expectations, in 2021 we’ll see more and more brands focus on features like AR and VR in a big way. With even low-end smartphones sporting the necessary camera features, data bandwidth and processing power for AR/VR technology, it’s really a no-brainer.

2. Brands will create a culture of empathy centered on the customer

In 2021, brands will increasingly use advanced technology like data analytics to better understand their customers. Only this granular understanding can breed the digital empathy that brands need to ensure loyalty and safeguard their online reputation. Even the largest brands will internalize that organizational expediencies should never trump customer experience. To this end, more online friction points will be identified and resolved more quickly. Brands will become more mindful of shoppers’ time with real-world conveniences like curbside pickup and same-day delivery. Because once they feel how online retail actually impacts their quality of life IRL, consumers are simply not going to want to go back to their old shopping habits.

3. Social, social, social…shopping

In 2020, some 3.2 billion people, comprising nearly 81% of web users worldwide, are estimated to have used a social network at least once per month. For retailers, this has translated into constantly-increasing ad spends that are not going to revert to previous levels. In 2021, social media will continue to deflect time and attention from traditional broadcast and streaming outlets. And with platforms like Instagram and TikTok offering integral shopping features, the line between brand online real estate and brand social media presence will blur even further. This means that brands will need to restructure their 2021 online strategies to boost their presence on these social media platforms. 

4. Say goodbye to physical storefronts

Sadly, 2021 will be the year of many store closings. By way of example, before the pandemic fashion and apparel brands (like Nike) were usually 50/50 direct-to-consumer (DTC) versus non-branded retailers. In 2021, digital will  be the undisputedly more transactional channel. With retailers shutting down, we’ll start to see an increase in DTC. Brands will need to make sure they are able to not only own their customer relationships, but also effectively communicate with them.

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