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13 Trends from eCommerce’s Most Volatile Year

ecommerce trends

eCommerce merchants may have started 2021 with high hopes for a return to normalcy—but thanks to the lingering pandemic, global supply-chain slowdowns, and labor shortages, they faced more challenges than ever. The experience of recent months proves that for online sellers, change is the only reliable constant. But as 2021 draws to a close, 13 key eCommerce trends have emerged that point the way toward future success.

Are you ready for whatever 2022 might bring? Every Wix online store is built to deliver industry-recognized speed, performance, and reliability.

13 eCommerce trends: top lessons learned

Using the experiences of the past year as guideposts, eCommerce merchants can optimize their online store to better meet the needs of consumers—earning trust, winning new customers, and growing loyalty, all in anticipation of the year 2022, expected by many to be eCommerce’s first $1 trillion year.

Drawing from the 13 lessons provided below, eCommerce site owners can prepare for another year that promises to be anything but normal.

01. eCommerce competition reached all-time high

Thanks to the global pandemic, eCommerce surged 32 percent in 2020—and despite the economy being largely reopened in 2021, online sales are once again on track to achieve double-digit growth.

Technology providers accommodated this surge with new offerings for digital selling and selling online at every price point—which both lowered barriers to entry and enabled more major retailers to launch or perfect major initiatives.

In order to stay competitive, small-to-medium-sized business owners will need to employ every tool at their disposal, including great branding, savvy eCommerce marketing, and new functionality to match consumers’ expectations.

02. Standout stories made the difference for eCommerce brands

As eCommerce competition intensified in 2021, brand storytelling became a key way for retailers to differentiate their offerings. Merchants could set themselves apart by showcasing their unique assets and attributes across marketing touchpoints, from an eCommerce store to social media—whether by demonstrating staff expertise, delivering concierge-level customer service, detailing the craftsmanship behind the finished products, or fulfilling commitments to sustainability or social justice principles.

Brand-boosting content drove 2021 performance at every stage of the customer journey, with 81 percent of marketers saying it helped build brand awareness and 70 percent using brand stories to build customer retention. As eCommerce growth continues in 2022, singular branding supported by a rich array of content marketing will be more important than ever.

03. Privacy changes prompted marketing diversification

Thanks to significant privacy changes instituted this year, some 94 percent of Apple’s mobile users have now opted out of app tracking—impacting advertising on Facebook and Instagram, social media’s dominant platforms. Smaller sellers who relied solely on precise targeting to keep ad budgets in check are now testing new alternatives in an effort to drive traffic to their online stores, whether in the form of upstart social media sites like TikTok or by returning to old-fashioned channels such as email.

04. Zero-party rose to the data rescue

Apple isn’t the only major player promoting sweeping privacy changes. Google has announced that it plans to end support of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by 2023, which is causing further turmoil in digital advertising.

In addition, with U.S. regulators considering a nationwide privacy law akin to Europe’s GDPR, retailers are understandably skittish about investing more in ad strategies that may produce uneven results. Or, worse, embroil their brands in privacy controversies.

As an alternative, sellers are considering how they can collect more “zero-party” data—that is, information volunteered directly by eCommerce site visitors via online forms, like those available through Wix Forms. Style profile quizzes, account registration, email signups, user-generated content submissions, and wish lists can all help merchants learn more about their audience and personalize content, products, and offers for maximum relevance.

05. Local fulfillment became a strategic offering

The experience of getting everything from groceries to medicines to makeup delivered at home during the pandemic has reshaped consumers’ expectations for order fulfillment. The need for speed is growing fast: 26 percent of those buying from brands with physical stores have requested same-day delivery this year—a 12 percent jump from the height of pandemic lockdowns in 2020.

To adapt, merchants have been retooling their order management and fulfillment operations top to bottom. Positioning inventory in micro-fulfillment centers close to where consumers live and leveraging in-store stock are both crucial to satisfying demand for swift delivery; on the eCommerce site, real-time inventory visibility and integration with flexible fulfillment options are fast becoming must-have features.

06. Shipping costs reflected supply-chain complexities

Facing higher costs from carriers and upstream supply-chain shortages, retailers in 2021 sought to avoid repeating 2020’s “shipageddon”—when surging eCommerce orders caused a glut of late deliveries during the peak holiday season—and this year adopted more nuanced pricing for fulfillment that rewarded consumers for choosing less-costly options like store pickup, like that offered by Wix eCommerce, passed along carrier rate hikes for home delivery, and limited free-shipping discounts to loyalists and big spenders.

This tiered approach proved a viable alternative for small-to-mid-sized businesses, who have historically struggled to match Amazon Prime’s free overnight delivery.

For more than half of consumers, free shipping is the most important factor impacting online purchase decisions—so the ability to offer quick store pickup for free has been essential, even as home delivery costs have crept upward.

The ability to adapt to growing complexity will continue to be essential as sellers adjust inventory locations and last-mile delivery options in the year ahead (see: dropshipping).

07. eCommerce merchants found new customers abroad

Even as the pandemic closed physical borders, consumers worldwide bought more goods than ever from companies based in other countries. Cross-border eCommerce rocketed more than 25 percent in 2020, with countries such as Brazil, India, and Russia slated to maintain that steep growth rate this year.

With tools for international selling more accessible than ever, merchants of all sizes can take advantage of this trend to find new audiences for their goods.

08. Third-party marketplaces like Amazon dominated eCommerce

Worldwide, the largest online shopping destinations were third-party marketplaces featuring goods from numerous sellers. Two-thirds of all eCommerce revenues globally were generated on marketplace sites, with Chinese properties Tmall and Taobao leading the way, and Amazon, Walmart, and eBay dominating in the U.S.

Not only have marketplaces won over consumers with their broad selection and competitive pricing; for small-and-mid-sized businesses priced out of social media and search advertising, marketplaces offer potential visibility with new audiences, both at home and abroad. Strategic selling of unique goods that complement eCommerce site offerings can boost brands’ reputation and revenues, setting the stage for long-term success.

09. eCommerce shoppers wanted to shop small, but struggled to follow through

As the economy reopened in 2021, consumers had the best of intentions to support local and independent retailers. But while 95 percent said it was important to help Main Street sellers weather the after-effects of the pandemic, 41 percent still did at least half of their shopping on Amazon—underscoring the allure of convenience and broad selection. Small-and-mid-sized merchants, across many types of businesses, hoping to reestablish their businesses need a robust eCommerce strategy—that, yes, includes Amazon as an added sales channel. (Here’s a quick guide on how to sell on Amazon, if you’re just beginning). In addition, merchants will need a comprehensive digital marketing plan heading into 2022 in order to thrive in the post-pandemic landscape.

10. eCommerce customer experience lagged reality

With the growth of online sales and hybrid online-offline shopping, cohesive digital experiences across touchpoints can have a significant impact. Advanced customer experience organizations reported a 30 percent improvement in customer lifetime value since the onset of the pandemic, three times higher than customer experience beginners.

But the complexities of delivering seamless, clear, and informative online shopping experiences have made the goal elusive for many merchants. Investments in eCommerce and store integrations, eCommerce website development and optimization, and fulfillment operations are all crucial to delivering a superior experience.

11. Mobile commerce continued to steal the spotlight

Mobile commerce accounted for a third of U.S. online retail, firmly establishing mobile devices as a crucial touchpoint for eCommerce merchants. During the Black Friday weekend, the majority of online browsing, 57 percent of visits, occurred on mobile devices, while mobile accounted for nearly 40 percent of holiday weekend revenues. Globally, mobile commerce was even more popular, with 41 percent of consumers worldwide saying they shop on their phones daily or weekly.

To capture consumers’ attention on small screens, retailers have invested in their mobile offerings, from designing swipe-friendly photo arrays to integrating touchless mobile payment and coupon apps for scanning at a store point of sale.

12. Retailers got the big picture with AR and live stream shopping

Visual commerce soared in 2021 as retailers found new ways to use video and images to connect shoppers with products. Newer social media networks like TikTok provided an outlet for retailers to experiment, while immersive augmented reality and 3D product rendering enabled shoppers to virtually try on or view items in their real-life surroundings and user-generated photos lent authenticity to brands.

Video is now a crucial asset for brands, given that 4 in 5 U.S. consumers use Youtube —and merchants are going beyond posting clips to social media. Live stream shopping, whether in one-to-one personal shopping sessions or in presentations to a mass audience, is already popular in China, and early experiments in the U.S. have produced positive results.

13. Consumer demand for sustainability pushed brands to innovate

Increasingly, shoppers expect companies to have a purpose beyond profit: fully 86 percent of consumers say they expect brands to take actions that go beyond their product or business, such as taking a stance on political issues, embracing tolerance, and rejecting misinformation.

With the year’s fires, floods, and storms making headlines throughout the year, 2021 saw climate change rise to the forefront of consumers’ minds: globally, 55 percent say they consider sustainability factors when making purchase decisions.

In response, retailers have moved beyond promoting sustainability as an ideal to real-life initiatives such as redesigning packaging, offering buy-back programs and online resale, and accepting used products for recycling.

The future of eCommerce, looking ahead to 2022

As they embark on planning and budgeting for a new year, eCommerce merchants face a broad range of challenges that will demand nimble solutions. Absorbing the eCommerce trends of the past 12 months can help prepare for the future by shaping priorities for eCommerce marketing, merchandising, customer experience, and fulfillment.

Even as external circumstances and industry practices are poised for more change, sellers with a robust eCommerce toolset have a firm foundation on which to build new offerings that can meet the moment and help their businesses thrive.

Ready for whatever 2022 might bring? Every Wix online store is built to deliver industry-recognized speed, performance, and reliability.

Geraldine Feehily

Bogar Alonso

Head of Outbound Marketing, Wix eCommerce

Bogar leads thought leadership and outbound marketing for Wix eCommerce. He has an extremely soft spot for all things eCommerce, retail, tech, content, and marketing.

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