The sky is (seemingly) the limit

Online sales accounted for 21% of US retail sales in 2020, compared to 16% in 2019.

It is fitting to end this article here. Undoubtedly, eCommercAs the first quarter of 2021 comes to an end, we’re seeing promising signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic (although health authorities are a bit more hesitant to let their guard down).

The leading story of the pandemic, at least from an economic one, has been the abrupt surge in eCommerce adoption in a number of stunningly creative forms. But what about the story of eCommerce itself? These seven statistics paint a picture of what the landscape looks like now, and can guide online sellers as we adapt to a post-pandemic world where shopping will probably never look the same.

Buyers are highly educated

97% of consumers report that the customer reviews they read influence their purchasing decisions

We are well past the days of uninformed buyers forking over their hard-earned cash for a product they did little or no research on. These days, the vast majority of eCommerce customers spend a significant chunk of time educating themselves before buying. Whether they look up reviews on niche-specific websites, watch YouTube product demonstrations, or rely on sites that revolve entirely around customer reviews, customers of today do not make their decisions lightly.

In light of this research ethos, the more your business can control the message, the better your chances are of winning customers over. The best way to capture eyeballs and educate customers is to do it yourself. Educational content that drives traffic to your website and makes a genuine attempt to answer FAQs and build trust will go a long way toward helping people as they research your product and compare it to your competitors’.

People have finally embraced AI chatbots

For tasks like checking an account balance or updating an address, more than 50% of consumers prefer to use bots over interacting with humans.

The rise of automated, intelligent chat support has been quite fascinating for anyone who’s been paying attention to this critical segment of customer support over the past five years or so. Technology has grown by leaps and bounds, and what was once a hit-or-miss experience has evolved into a genuinely useful and helpful component of websites.

While it’s hard to replicate the utility of a real person on the other side of a support query, the fact that a majority of eCommerce customers not only abide bot interactions but prefer them speaks volumes. If your website doesn’t currently feature AI chat support, maybe this is the sign you were looking for. There’s no shortage of options out there to choose from.

Free shipping cannot be underestimated

72% of consumers prefer shopping online to in-store because of free shipping.

To Amazon’s credit (or blame, depending on your perspective), eCommerce customers in 2021 have come to expect the convenience of free shipping. Much has been written about finding the balance between free and fast shipping, but what’s undeniable is you need to offer at least one of these options to customers in order to stay competitive with the high expectations that people have today.

The tradeoff with making customers happy by offering shipping on the house is it costs a lot. There are a number of ways to protect your margins, though. Requiring a healthy order minimum (USPS recommends 30% above average order value) is a good place to start. Using optimally-sized packages for the product you sell will cut down on the weight and cost of shipping goods. Having a fulfillment network with west coast and east coast warehouse locations can significantly cut shipping costs because it places your inventory as close as possible to a huge segment of the US population.

People are still uncomfortable with the idea of shopping at a mall or going out in general

66% of US adults say they are not comfortable going to a shopping mall.

Thanks COVID. While it is patently false to blame the pandemic for the death of the shopping mall, the picture wasn’t rosy before 2020 happened. At their best, malls were adapting towards a more experiential version of retail that, funny enough, cutting edge eCommerce companies have started emulating with the help of augmented and virtual reality.

Because shoppers express long-term discomfort at the thought of breathing the same enclosed air as others, it’s fair to say that your eCommerce website should embrace making shopping as interactive as possible. That term “experiential retail” is one you will see more of in the coming months and years, and for good reason. Whether you engage customers with virtual showrooms, post high-production value vlogs of your sourcing or manufacturing process, or create hyper-realistic product filters for Instagram, bringing the fun parts of the shopping experience to customers with none of the scary possibilities of getting sick is probably a good idea.

Amazon Marketplace is where the money’s at

Marketplace sellers moved more than $300 billion worth of products in 2020.

The recent article in the New York Times detailing the very hot market for Amazon third party seller businesses (as in, sellers on Amazon flip their businesses to much larger companies that manage a portfolio of Amazon-exclusive products) was a good read. It also illustrated a powerful trend within the world of Amazon, which is that third party sellers are actually starting to account for more sales than Amazon’s own in-house brands.

While selling on Amazon has its downsides, like when certain FBA listings were limited during the first lockdown, or the sabotage and other dirty dealings that happen on the Marketplace, it’s undoubtedly one of the most lucrative opportunities to do business online. Amazon is arguably the most convenient shopping experiences to ever exist; naturally, people flock to it to buy things, and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

A community-based experience is the future of retail

The average Poshmark user spends 27 minutes per day on the app

Poshmark made waves last year for becoming yet another eCommerce company to test the waters of going public. They have a dialed-in userbase of fashionistas who are very passionate about couture. Tracy Sun, their co-founder and SVP of new markets, shared a fascinating tidbit of data about average user time in an interview with The Verge in March 2021.

Most eCommerce shops and websites aren’t designed with loitering in mind. That’s why it’s so interesting to see a website like Poshmark where the average person using the site is logged in for almost half an hour. Most sites would kill for a quarter of that kind of engagement. What would a community-based eCommerce experience look like in your niche? Maybe now is the time to start picturing just that.

e growth will slow; the circumstances that pushed online shopping to leap forward the way it did were (we hope) a once-in-a-lifetime fluke. Barring future pandemics that force us all to do our shopping online, there will be a return to the mean. But things will never be entirely the same. Habits developed during this year-plus of physical distancing will die hard, or never go away at all.

As we move forward, the data we have seems to be telling us that eCommerce’s share of the pie will continue to grow. How will your business adapt?