eCommerce Trends & COVID: Before, During, & After
Understanding emerging eCommerce trends has always been important to long-term business success online.
This has probably never been clearer than in the wake of COVID’s unparalleled disruption of all things eCommerce.
Sadly, it appears as though COVID still isn’t behind usquite yet. Though life has, for the most part, returned to normal, rumblings have started that we may soon be back to lockdowns and other disruptions.
Whatever the case, looking back at how COVID has affected businesses can help you better appreciate why it’s so important to pay attention to eCommerce trends.
And, should disruptions to everyday life return, this understanding can prepare for a second round.
What eCommerce Looked Like in 2019 Before COVID
It was a simpler time.
Game of Thrones was on its final (now infamous) season.
An unprecedented college admissions scandal made headlines.
And the Fyre Festival gave us all a glimpse of what could happen during a large-scale crisis (imagine that).
But then 2020 showed up and basically ruined everything.
A worldwide pandemic shut down entire economies, turned everyone into shut-ins, and even drove some of usa little insane.
Back in 2019, we had no idea that the following year would bring us COVID, but plenty of people in the eCommerce world had thoughts about what trends might emerge. Here’s what the state of eCommerce looked like before COVID hit.
1. Amazon Was Making the Most of 1-Day Shipping
Back in 2019, the Amazon Effect was still as powerful as ever. Online retailers from all over the world were feeling the pressure to keep pace with the many ways Amazon continued to grow its revenue.
Specifically, Amazon invested billions into offering 1-day shipping to its Prime members at no extra cost. This was after two-day shipping for Prime members helped it rule eCommerce since it began offering the service back in 2005.
Amazon’s shipping times were already a massive competitive edge, so making them evenfasterwas big news.
Looking back, these developments could not have come at a better time, as many of us would soon rely on these shipping plans once our typical in-person shopping experiences were no longer possible.
2. BOPIS Took Off
A very similar trend that picked up steam in 2019 – and also just in time for a global shutdown – was BOPIS (Buy online, pick up in-store).
The practice is exactly what it sounds like. Customers can shop online at a company’s store, make their purchase online, and then go pick up those items immediately without having to repeat the process by perusing aisles and waiting in line.
The genius of BOPIS is that any local retailer can offer – and profit from – the service. All they need is a website and an instore pickup extension to convert customers who want their products right away (a store locator plugin doesn’t hurt, either – to make sure the store is easy to find).
Many grocery stores took things a step further and offered curbside pickup, making it even easier – and more enticing – for customers to buy from them.
3. Digital Brands Moved to Brick-and-Mortar
On the other end of the spectrum, many digital brands realized the potential for a brick-and-mortar presence…right before a global pandemic hit.
A lot of these online companies dipped their toes in with popup shops. Others dove right in with legitimate brick-and-mortar stores.
By the end of 2019, there were more than 1,700 stores owned by digital brands all over the country, led by popular names like Warby Parker, ThirdLove, and SmileDirectClub.
But once again, this is the kind of business decision that no longer needs to be complicated or expensive. Using a POS extension, companies can bring their online store to instore interactions without worrying that the online and IRL store are out-of-sync.
And with COVID (hopefully) becoming a thing of the past, these instore pivots could prove to pay off in big ways.
What Happened to eCommerce During COVID?
Once COVID started gaining momentum, we saw new eCommerce trends gain traction.
Fortunately, not all of these were bad for online business owners.
Here are the major trends that changed eCommerce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. eCommerce Skyrocketed During COVID
Predictably, eCommerce became more popular than ever before as brick-and-mortar stores closed down and fears of catching the virus through in-person interactions went up.
As I mentioned, this trend was already on its way to some degree thanks to the growing popularity of curbside pickup among grocery store customers.
But the pandemic made online shopping more attractive than the IRL alternative across the board.
By mid-April 2020, year-over-year online revenue growth had already increased by an astounding 68%.
According to McKinsey:
“[eCommerce] surged during the pandemic” with its share of all retail sales increasing “by two to five times its prepandemic rate across eight countries representing 45 percent of the world’s population and more than 60 percent of global GDP – China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”
Between 2019 and 2020, eCommerce grew more than three times as fast as it had during the five years prior!
In total, global eCommerce reached $26.7 trillion during the pandemic.
2. Online Grocery Shopping Became the Norm
As I touched on earlier, BOPIS and curbside pickup were already becoming popularbeforemany stores had to close their doors to in-person shopping. While grocery stores were usually one of the exceptions, many people were wary about going inside.
But they still needed the essentials, which is why online ordering for groceries store became the norm. In fact, 80% of Americans tried online grocery shopping during the pandemic.
The adoption of online grocery shopping – whether it entails curbside pickup or delivery – has led many to believe that it’s a COVID trend that will stick around. After all, the pandemic may be on its way out, but the convenience of online grocery shopping isn’t going anywhere.
3. “Panic Buying” Came to eCommerce
Given everything we’ve just covered, it should come as no surprise that people didn’t just shop online during the pandemic. Theyrushed to shop online. And when they found the items they needed, they bought a lot of them.
Fear-induced buying that started in-person quickly spread to online stores, as well. This “panic buying” was “a type of herd behavior whereby consumers buy an uncommonly huge amount of products because of a perception of scarcity.”
One of the most dramatic illustrations of how desperate people were to buy products online is probably conversion rates, which jumped almost 9% in February 2020, mimicking the kind of urgency eCommerce companies don’t see until Cyber Monday.
So, it wasn’t just that shoppers conducted more searches in the midst of the pandemic. They actually bought more often, as well.
5 eCommerce Trends That Grew Out of COVID
Alright, we’ve seen what eCommerce trends were going strong before COVID and we’ve looked at the ones that occurred in the midst of it.
Now, let’s talk about the future.
Here are five eCommerce trends to keep your eye on as we transition back into “normal.”
1. Increase in Subscription Services
eCommerce subscription models existed long before COVID, but the same uncertainty about shopping in-person that drove customers online also increased subscription numbers.
According to CouponFollow, which surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers about their COVID, 20% reported they had purchased a subscription box during the pandemic to make sure they always had certain items on-hand.
Their research also found that the most popular subscription plans were:
- Blue Apron
- Dollar Shave Club
As with other eCommerce trends we’ve covered so far, one of the reasons we’re seeing this one develop across so many industries is that technology has made it easier than ever before to offer a subscription service.
Sure, COVID increased the demand for it. There’s no doubt about that.
But subscription plugins that make recurring payments simple for customers have also played a huge role in popularizing these services. Even small business can now get in on the act.
So, I don’t expect this trend to go away, whether the pandemic comes back or not. Just like with curbside pickup and BOPIS, customers have grown accustomed to the convenience of subscription models and companies of all sizes love predictable monthly revenues.
2. Payment Options Matter More Than Ever
As eCommerce continues to expand and grow, every detail about your company’s online presence is going to matter even more. Instead of focusing solely on popular priorities like your site’s SEO and fine-tuning your product descriptions, you’ll also need to consider facets that usually don’t get as much attention.
Specifically, you need to offer your customers the payment options they want from an online store. Otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere.
So, going forward, no eCommerce funnel should be considered complete unless it includes multiple payment options at the end.
Without those, you’ll just have to get used to higher and higher cart abandonment rates.
Fortunately, this is another eCommerce trend that’s easy to accommodate.
Dominate is a great extension that can quickly connect your store to more than 120 different payment gateways from all over the world.
…and it’s free.
3. B2B Companies Need to Earn Their Online Customers
When the pandemic hit, B2B customers – who had been loyal to their suppliers for decades – suddenly began to shop around.
Practically overnight, it became vital that these companies found the lowest possible prices, the fastest shipping, the largest inventories, etc.
And where did they turn to?
Across industries, B2B companies that had spent decades building customer loyalty saw this cornerstone of their business models go up in smoke.
Just like that, they were back at square one with no dependable source of traffic to nurture and convert.
It’s not that B2B marketing is new, of course.
It’s also not that this is a brand-new eCommerce trend.
As McKinsey reports, B2B sellers and customers prefer digital interactions:
But compared to B2C, B2B, companies have always been slow to adopt the latest eCommerce trends. They’ve had long-existing relationships, tradeshows, and conventions to rely on. Obviously, COVID put an end to all that.
If your B2B eCommerce company made it through the pandemic, don’t wait for another reminder that you need to invest in online marketing tactics. Build your traffic with eCommerce SEO and PPC (an email list won’t hurt, either) and your entire business model will be much more resilient – come what may.
4. Brands Be Damned – the Best Websites Will Win
This eCommerce trend dovetails perfectly with the last one, except it applies just as much to B2C companies, too.
During COVID, most industries saw search traffic go up as people were shopped from home, asked questions about the changing world around them, or researched new products and services they didn’t need before.
Whatever the case, the nature of this traffic is especially interesting.
- 75% of consumers performed new shopping behaviors, most of which revolved around value or convenience
- 39% of them – mostly belonging to Gen Z or Millennials – abandoned brands they previously trusted in order to explore other options
And once again, where did they mainly turn to do this exploring?
Post-COVID, search may drop some, but plenty of consumers are going to continue using Google to expand their horizons.
Will you be ready to help them?
However, there’s one aspect of SEO that is especially important for eCommerce companies, which I want to touch on here: user experience (UX).
In short, does your website make it as easy as possible for visitors to find – and buy – exactly what they came for?
If not, expect your rankings to drop year-after-year.
And expect your conversion rates to follow suit.
As you can see from the illustration below, eCommerce UX is clearly a priority for Google.
While Google uses more than 200 factors to rank sites, the evolution of its algorithm favors sites that deliver their users a fantastic experience.
So, if you’re not ranking or converting as much as you’d like, your UX might be lacking. Don’t get left behind as your competition adapts to this important eCommerce trend.
5. eCommerce Adoption Will Continue to Skyrocket
This final trend should come as no surprise given everything we’ve covered so far.
Consumers are going to continue to integrate eCommerce into their lives more and more. If they were on the fence before, COVID definitely pushed most of them to the eCommerce side. We actually know that 92% of consumers who gave online shopping a try in 2019 went back for more.
And of those who were already purchasing online, 49% say they are now buying more often than before the pandemic.
This underscores the entire thesis of this section on post-COVID trends: if you’re not making the most of your online presence, you’re going to get left behind.
That means doing more than just optimizing your site for SEO. It means making it more user-friendly, too.
Could your site be faster?
Could you make it easier to navigate?
Are there more out-of-the-box assets that could make your site stand apart, like custom search tools, enhanced product configurations, B2B suites, wholesale marketplace, etc.
The point is that you shouldn’t settle for a standard eCommerce site anymore. Those are table stakes now. At the very least, if you want your online customers to deliver a reliable, consistent revenue stream, you need an eCommerce site that fits them like a glove.
Adapting to eCommerce Trends Post-Covid
Many eCommerce trends come and go, but I believe the five I covered in the last section are here to stay. While COVID may have accelerated their rise, if your market likes how they’ve changed their shopping experience, you need to adapt.
Otherwise, it won’t take another pandemic to hurt your business. The competition will do it long before then.If you’d like any help adapting your company to the changing eCommerce landscape, we’d be happy to help. Contact us today and let’s have a conversation.