Over the last two decades, there has been a shift towards online shopping. According to Statista, more than 1.9 billion shopped online in 2019. Moreover, there was a massive uptick in online sales resulting from COVID-19.
COVID-19 has made online shopping the new norm. The long-term impacts of this will be impossible to judge. Regardless of the effect, most people agree that the sector will continue to grow throughout this decade.
Source: The Future of Ecommerce
As more people shop online, the sector is becoming increasingly competitive.
An increase in competition poses a problem for businesses trying to retain their market share and new entrants looking to capture market share. In this guide, I will share my insights as Chief Operating Officer of 3dcart, a popular e-commerce software, on how to grow your online sales in 2021 and beyond. I’ll also discuss some of the disruptive trends that are likely to emerge in the coming years. Let’s dive in.
Focus on your existing customers
I believe the fundamentals of good business, like the drivers of effective advertising, are constant. It is only the way that companies engage with consumers that change over time. The shift in consumer spending from offline stores to online stores is a good example.
One of the most important factors that separate successful stores from failing stores is your ability to retain your customers. The fact of the matter is, as an e-commerce business owner, your largest expense will be customer acquisition.
You will invest a lot of time and money driving traffic and fresh leads to your website.
Your end goal is to get some of those visitors to try your service. That’s incredibly difficult. Customers need to believe that your products are high quality, will last, and have value before they whip out their credit card and make a purchase.
Things get a lot easier once they’ve made a purchase. Studies indicate that a repeat customer will spend 67% more on your website and has a conversion rate of up to 20%.
Source: eCommerce CEO
The foundation of customer retention is great customer service.
Start by reviewing customer feedback. If you are getting frequent complaints about damaged goods, improve the quality of the packaging. Or look for an alternative delivery provider.
When you identify a problem, try to find a solution. Amazon is obsessed with improving the customer experience. “What would the customer say” is a key consideration in all major decisions at the company. That approach to business has paid off for the company.
You should make great customer service a central part of your business.
Optimize your on-site experience
There’s a good chance that most of your customers come to you through your website. It’s important to provide your customers with the best customer experience while making the most money from each customer as possible. There are two parts to this equation.
Start by focusing on the customer experience.
Use available tools to review how people are using your website. An analytics tool like Google Analytics provides you with information like how much time people spend on your site, what pages they visit, and where they leave your site.
Note down your insights. Then, use these insights to optimize the site structure. That involves making sure your menu is well laid out, and there are links between your content.
Optimizing the user flow around your site will provide the user with a better experience. There’s a nice article on Singlegrain on this topic.
In addition to optimizing the user flow, you should look at how to increase the average order value and decrease the cart abandonment rate. You can increase the average order value by upselling and cross-selling to your customers. The easiest way to decrease cart abandonment rates is to set up a cart abandonment email sequence.
Test all the changes you make to ensure you provide visitors with the best result. You can run A/B or multivariate tests to see what version of a page performs the best. An effective conversion rate optimization strategy will generate incremental improvements to your site that will boost profits.
Use data analysis to target your audience
Who are your users? What do they buy? Are some products doing better than others? Data analysis can give you answers to these questions and help you take your e-commerce strategies up a few notches.
You can use the insights of data analysis in a variety of ways. For a start, data analysis, and data gathered from tracking pixels, can be used to create a target audience for social media. With sufficient customer data, you can create lookalike audiences for Facebook, Google Ads, and other advertising platforms, including native platforms like Outbrain.
Lookalike data is powerful because you are essentially creating a list of people who share the same demographic characteristics as existing customers. Essentially, a good advertising campaign should generate a positive Return On Investment (ROI).
You can also use demographic data and the insights you’ve gained from data analysis for marketing campaigns across other channels. For example, if you know that a particular blog post has a high level of engagement, you could share that content to your email list.
I shared a couple of ways you can use data to improve customer engagement or generate sales. There are many more ways you could utilize this information.
Invest in disruptive technologies
From time to time, a new thing will come along that will disrupt the way you engage with your audience and generate sales. Disruptive technologies emerge all of the time, and it’s the early adopters that usually see the biggest gains.
Consider Instagram, for example. Many companies that joined the platform early and acquired a large following profited from their followers. TikTok went through this same boom in 2019.
Keep an eye out for disruptive technologies that could impact your sector. If you have the opportunity to be an early adopter, take it.
Disruptive technologies don’t always change the market in the way you imagine, or to the extent, you hope. However, when a new way to connect with your audience emerges, the businesses that learn how to monetize the medium first generally reap the biggest rewards.
What are the trends to watch out for in 2021?
In the last section, I mentioned the importance of investing in disruptive technologies. An obvious question you might have is what technologies are likely to change the way online businesses interact with their customers. Below are some examples of emerging e-commerce technologies to watch out for in the coming years.
Shopping with an online assistant
Alexa and Siri will not only tell you the time and set your reminders but will become your personal shopping assistants. Smart homes are already taking over our appliances and lights; soon, they will also take over the weekly shopping list.
In 2019, a study estimated that 45% of its respondents already use voice assistants to review and search for products. It is estimated that voice-assisted shopping will top $20 billion in 2020 from the $2 billion last year.
Assuming this prediction plays out, voice-assisted shopping will be the next major trend.
As an online retailer, you should optimize your e-commerce strategies to capitalize on voice search. It’s unlikely to alter the way you do business fundamentally, but it is a major trend that it might cost you to ignore.
New payment options
Cryptocurrency and bitcoins are emerging as new forms of payment. If you think it will be a while before these methods gain mainstream status, think again. Leading financial platform PayPal recently announced that its users could hold virtual coins in its online wallets. The service, which will start in 2021, will extend to all of its 26 million merchants.
PayPal joins existing bitcoin platforms like Alagoria that allow its users to shop at major chains like Walmart and Home Depot. You can also use these “alternate” currencies at the Bitcoin Superstore to make purchases on Amazon and other mainstream sites.
Many consumers are adopting cryptocurrencies. It’s still unclear if cryptocurrency will ever be mainstream. What is clear is that there is a large demographic of people ready to use cryptocurrencies for online purchases. Allowing people to use cryptocurrency at your online checkout could be one way of expanding your market reach.
The rise and stay of m-commerce
It is predicted that mobile commerce will account for 54% of all online sales in 2021. While mobile commerce is hardly a new trend, that figure underlines why your store needs a mobile strategy.
You may already have a mobile site or app and think you are set for this trend. But m-commerce is more than an optimized mobile site. Your e-commerce strategies should consider location-based services, contactless payments, e-tickets, digital products, and mobile banking.
Many online businesses have already started moving deeper into m-commerce. Using mobile apps, brands like IKEA and Sephora have launched augmented reality-based tools. These add to the mobile shopper’s experience.
The omnichannel experience is also important for customers.
The ideal customer journey from online to a mobile app and physical stores should be seamless. Dominoes provide a good example of the opportunities for omnichannel marketing.
The leading pizza chain, which already has an AI-enabled chatbot, introduced a Pie Pass for its takeaway customers. The Pie Pass allows customers who ordered online through the mobile app to collect their orders directly.
Sustainable business practices
Many shoppers want their businesses to be socially conscious. A study by research firm Nielsen says almost half of U.S. buyers will change their habits to be more sustainable. The study estimates that in 2021, customers will spend more than $150 billion on sustainable brands in the FMCG sector.
As the call for green business practices increases, there is good news for sellers who think about the extra cost. Studies indicate that millennial buyers are willing to pay extra if the brand invests in sustainable practices.
The growing trend to produce, package, and sell, keeping the environment in mind, has prompted big companies like Amazon and Microsoft to go carbon neutral in the coming years.
As a business owner, you should be clear where you stand on green policies. Start with small steps like using green energy in the office, going paperless, and buying from like-minded suppliers. Another place where you can adopt sustainable practices is in your packaging. Use eco-friendly options like compost bags, recycled cardboard, and biodegradable mailing pouches made from renewable wood pulp starch.
The rise of AI and AR
One of the most significant drawbacks of online shopping has always been the buyers’ inability to try before buying. With the rise of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, brands aim to give you the option to try their products. AR, alone, is expected to top $18 million by 2025, according to the data firm Statista.
Take the example of IKEA, which allows the user to “see” what a piece of furniture will look like in their room through AR. Similarly, brands like Warby Parker let you see if a spectacle frame will suit you from the comfort of your home. The next big thing in e-commerce will be to bring the physical store to their homes.
Going into 2021, AI will become an essential part of any online business. From chatbots to virtual assistants and e-learning, AI will become the backbone of your customer experience. Already, we see an increasing number of online sites that use virtual assistants for their after-sales services.
E-commerce sites are seeing a surge in the number of buyers flocking online. As more businesses flood the internet, it has become more challenging to keep the buyer’s attention. Ensure that your basics like social media marketing, mobile optimization, and site experience are strong before taking these trends head-on.
As screens get smaller, the shopping gets more interactive, and buyers demand more responsibility, ecommerce sites will have to adapt to survive. The trends that are already playing out are set to strengthen in the coming year and define which business stays on top. So, are you ready for the change?