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Top 5 eCommerce Technology Trends for 2021

If you read our last post here on the JH blog, you’ll know our #1 eCommerce trend this year is Strategy – and while we’ll freely admit we don’t think it’s all about technology this year, we couldn’t resist the chance to share our top picks of the technology trends.

Here’s what we think are the most interesting ones for 2021 and beyond…

1. Site Speed

Alright, alright, we know we’re a broken record. But site speed really is that important, so we’re going to keep banging on about it for the foreseeable future.

Site speed benefits your customers and thus your conversion rates, revenue and average order value – a stress-free and fast browsing, shopping and checkout experience makes for a happy customer. Every single client we’ve helped with their site speed have seen increases across all of these metrics, and made their investment back several times over.

There’s more to the story here too – Google Search has announced an upcoming ranking update that involves Core Web Vitals coming in 2021, so it’s crucial your site is prepared for these changes. Delivering a high quality page experience and faster site speed is now going to be a key contributing factor in not just your conversion rates, but also your search rankings. It’s far from a vanity metric – a slow site could affect whether customers ever reach your site, not just whether they reach checkout.

Site speed is an interesting one, because if you’re treating it as one of (if not the most) important goals of your site, you might actually decide not to implement a new technology. Having a set strategy for growth – and not adding unnecessary modules or add-ons that just bloat your site – will help you decide exactly what features are going to deliver you the best ROI. Knowing that a 0.1 second increase in mobile site speed could increase conversion rates by 8.4% – maybe you’ll decide to skip on that new technology altogether.

2. Age of the Omnichannel

We’d all have predicted online growth would be a given in 2020, when most retailers were closed for large stretches of the year – but according to a report from IMRG, it was actually omnichannel retailers that came out on top. (Check out the full report here if you have the time – it’s an interesting read!)

While online-only retailers saw an initial uplift, the omnichannel retailers soon overtook them by a huge margin. Why was this? Most likely – the loyal patrons of these retailers, upon finding their favourite stores were closed, simply shifted to buying from their online channels instead. Those multi-channel retailers who already had established online stores – and logistics and supply chains – alongside their high street locations were ready and waiting to capture that shift to online, and it gave them an excellent advantage. 

For example – Next, a major feature of most high streets and retail parks, only saw a 0.5% slip in sales during 2020, despite a huge drop in demand for clothing and footwear across the sector. It’s likely they were saved by a combination of their online channels and large range of homeware, furniture, beauty and gifting, all of which saw an uplift in 2020.

That said – it’s not about debating online vs in-person retail. Consumers have shown they love both, for different reasons. The major players will fine-tune their online and offline channels to offer unique experiences, and encourage consumers to use both.

As brick and mortar stores begin to open and consumers feel safe to shop in-person again – though exactly when that will be remains to be seen – we’ll likely see retailers use some novel ways to get their customers back in-store. The new concern about touching things in public spaces – and increased need for hygiene – will definitely influence in-store experiences, and how brands delight the other senses will become even more important. Now more people are used to the convenience of shopping online, it might take a little extra creativity to entice those customers back!

3. Smart Returns Management

While this has been an issue in the background for retailers for a long time – especially for clothing retailers – this last year has accelerated the problem. When you can’t go in-store to try things on, you want to try them at home, instead – and when they don’t fit, aren’t quite what you expected, or make you feel like a potato… well, you want to send them back, and get your money back, without a fuss.

Over the last few years customers have come to expect easy and free no-quibble returns – but this has turned into a monster of its own, especially in the fashion industry, generating tons of waste and costing some companies millions in refunds. Both brands and consumers would like to see the waste reduced – judging by the consumer reaction to some of the fast fashion news in 2020! With cross-border trade in the UK now compounding the issue – and some retailers considering burning entire shipping containers’ worth of products because it’s cheaper than paying the customs fees – how can this continue?

Well – the problem is, whichever way you look at it, the flexibility of easy returns does increase sales. Retailers wouldn’t have offered it in the first place if it wasn’t paying off for them, and customers don’t just want it, they expect it. So, like with many of the other things on our list, it’s about balance – delivering what your customer wants, while ensuring it’s in line with your business strategy.

We expect to see new ideas emerge in 2021 for reducing the number of returns – everything from AR technology and clothing modelled on a wider range of body types, to a wider adoption of product rent-and-return services. We may even see a shift to stricter return policies, especially for international trade. 

4. Proper Personalisation

The more data we gather on our customers, the better we can serve their needs. With more businesses serving their customers online than ever before, in 2021 the firms with the most accurate – and best applied – personalization will triumph. 

Why? Well – something needs to replace that in-person experience, where your customer really gets to know your brand – and brands going online need to adapt this into the digital space. Nothing will match that face-to-face interaction, but there’s still things you can do in the meantime.

Whether it’s through product and brand recommendations, targeted advertising, or lead generation – adapting and changing depending on how a particular customer interacts with the marketing funnel will be key to driving success with this technology. Some will be powered by AI, and some by clever marketers – but all should help to streamline the customer journey and bring down your acquisition costs.

The balance here is important too – there’s been quite a growing backlash over the last few years as consumers start to wise up to the amount of data and information brands hold about them.

A recent survey found that only 18% of consumers trust retail companies to protect their privacy and data – quite frankly, that’s a shocking statistic, even when you consider that no industry achieved trust levels higher than 40%.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In the same survey, about half of respondents said they are more likely to trust a company that asks only for information relevant to its products or limits the amount of personal information requested. The most successful marketers will find that sweet spot – providing enough value to the customer without making them feel like they’re being ‘spied on’.

5. Sustainability will Influence Purchase Decisions

While this was growing in importance already, consumers suddenly having to order everything online were confronted directly with the problem – by the continual pile-up of cardboard boxes, mailers and bubble wrap in their homes. You can’t ignore the packaging problem when your recycling bin is suddenly full of shipping mailers.

What’s the solution to this? Order less stuff? Maybe – but as humans, we’re not so good at that… Consumers will, however, definitely be enticed by options that will make them feel less guilty about the waste – anything that will help them feel like they’re reducing their own environmental impact.

There are options out there already – recycled, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable – or maybe even zero-waste – shipping and product packaging. Carbon-neutral or electric delivery fleets. More carbon-efficient logistics – like offering ‘green’ delivery slots (where they’ll already be in your neighbourhood) or click and collect.

As these things (and likely others we haven’t yet seen) grow in popularity, they’ll start to further influence purchase decisions for consumers, who in time may even come to expect them as standard. It’s likely that as part of this we’ll see brands start to be even more open about their sustainability and environmental impact – and those that don’t, especially the global brands, will face serious consumer backlash. We’ve seen time and again how fast consumers can organise online to ‘cancel’ a brand and have a huge effect on profits – in the future, companies are likely to be ever more careful about the causes and practices they champion. 

With so many brands out there offering similar products, often at similar prices, customers are freer than ever to choose which to support, meaning a brands’ morals and ethos – including their sustainability and environmental impact – will become more important to them than ever.

How will you face 2021 and beyond?

One last point – this post is about trends, but as with anything in business, it’s more important to work towards longevity than follow the trends. Carve the path that’s right for you, your company and your customers, and your business will thrive – whether or not you’re using AI recommendations or creating content for voice search.

If you want help figuring out what that path looks like for your eCommerce business, get in touch with us for a non-committal chat – contact Jamie on jamie@wearejh.com or +44(0)115 9338784