The end of the year is in sight, meaning it’s time for the customary retrospectives — only they’re considerably more interesting this time around. If the average chunk of 365 days rates a 5 on the action scale (by modern standards, at least), then 2020 merits at least an 8 so far.
It’s been a year of political madness, social upheaval, and ever-intensifying polarisation. More than anything else, of course, it’s been the year of COVID-19. This odious affliction has touched lives across the globe, ruining some and taking others altogether… and it’s still around.
Now, we don’t intend to delve deeply into the broad cultural impact of the pandemic: this is a business blog, after all. Instead, we’d like to look at how the chaotic events of the last 11 months altered the course of an industry that’s near and dear to us. Ecommerce was in the ascendancy well before the outbreak, and COVID-19 didn’t arrest that dominance: in fact, it bolstered it.
Yes, while many other industries staggered and stumbled as lockdowns went into effect and operational procedures were overhauled, online retail stayed strong as a standout performer. Let’s break this down, consider what’s on the horizon, and identify some worthwhile lessons.
The overall state of ecommerce
As noted, ecommerce was a phenomenal performer before this year started, and COVID-19 actually gave it a significant bump. Total global revenue is expected to hit 2.415 trillion dollars this year, up from 1.92 trillion in 2019, and that’s a leap significantly exceeding the increase projected to follow the previous trend (which was fairly steady — see for yourself).
More generally, ecommerce has expanded its role in daily life, moving from something largely responsible for indulgences — luxury goods, consumer electronics, etc. — to a core avenue for procuring staple items like groceries and medical supplies. Online shopping was already mainstream, and now it’s become the default option in many more circumstances.
It’s also risen in prominence as a career path. Many professionals lost their jobs during awful circumstances after being considered surplus to requirements. This understandably soured them on traditional employment, leading them to accept the risks of self-employment — and starting an online store is one of the most accessible options for a budding entrepreneur.
Ecommerce trends that shaped the year
To understand how the ecommerce industry forged ahead in 2020, we need to pick out the trends common to so many stores of varying shapes and sizes. Here are the highlights:
Established retailers moving online
When high-street footfall ebbed to a trickle due to widespread concerns about infection rates, many brick-and-mortar sellers with proud legacies had two options: mothball their operations and hope for eventual recovery, or do what they could to embrace ecommerce. Most chose the latter, leading to fresh operations pairing online bookings with click-and-collect schemes.
Merchants pivoting to focus on home life
The best online sellers are those who know when to adapt their methods. As it became clear that a lot of people were going to be spending most of their time at home for the foreseeable future, they adjusted their inventories accordingly. The result was a great emphasis on home office products, DIY equipment, and other things that people staying indoors tend to want.
Business ethics rising in importance
The horrors of this year coupled with the restrictions on traditional socialiasing led to an uptick in introspection. People found themselves thinking more deeply about the values they hold and the causes they support. At the same time, sellers had to stay profitable without profiteering, knowing that being seen to exploit a pandemic wouldn’t be great for their reputations.
Supply troubles sparking product shortages
Much of the supply chain has held up reasonably well under the stresses of COVID-19, but you can’t transport what hasn’t been produced, and it’s at the production level that difficulties have transpired. With certain products (and product types) proving exceptionally popular, the result has been a swathe of shortages. Just look at the consumer tech industry for examples.
Commentary content saturating blogs
It’s long been abundantly clear to most online stores that branding is a core component of success. Profit margins are narrow, and shopper options are extensive, so demonstrating personality and likeability is key to standing out. It’s important to talk about the issues they care about — and everyone cares about COVID-19. This is why every store blog has filled up with posts about the pandemic and related topics. Coronavirus marketing is effective.
This list isn’t exhaustive, obviously. It’s merely a smattering of the trends that have stood out most clearly to those following online retail. Ecommerce has ultimately flourished (despite some notable challenges to the foundations of the industry), and is now stronger than ever before. With that noted, let’s get to some trends we can expect to see in the new year.
Trends likely to follow in 2021 (and beyond)
Making end-of-year predictions is of questionable usefulness at the best of times — and these are certainly not the best of times. That said, we can certainly talk about likelihoods if we extrapolate from the events of recent years. Here’s what we’re likely to see in the near future:
Improvements in proactive customer communication
This year we’ve been firmly reminded of the importance of proactive brand communication, with various sellers neglecting to tell their customers about what’s going on with their stock levels for in-demand products (such as next-generation gaming consoles). There isn’t much customers can do to punish those sellers at the moment, but the pandemic will be brought under control eventually — and when that happens, bad service will become even more of a liability.
Further pressure on SEO stemming from competition
We’re particularly familiar with SEO since it’s a large part of what we do. That of course means we’re always going to stand behind its value, but it’s truly clear that ecommerce companies will need to focus more strongly on SEO in 2021 and beyond. Why? Because competition is about to get significantly more heated, and offline marketing isn’t in a strong place. Notably, the scope will need to span many forms of search: search engines, social media, marketplaces, etc.
An increased focus on efficiency and sustainability
Businesses knew before this year started that things could go wrong at any time, but they didn’t feel it. Now they do, and it’s likely going to prompt a level of risk-aversion that will install operational efficiency as a top priority. Rather than looking for short-term gains, sellers will search for ways to establish operations that can last for years and endure very capably in the event that we see a further pandemic (or a resurgence of this one).
The big takeaway here is that the ever-rising opportunity of ecommerce will continue to be tempered by a corresponding boost in difficulty. If you can get ecommerce right, you can reap in astonishing profits — but not many companies will be able to get it right, and they’ll chiefly achieve it through listening carefully to expert advice.
Lessons from some thriving merchants
There’s always much to be learned from success stories, so why don’t we look at some lessons we can take from ecommmerce businesses that performed very well this year? And since we always appreciate opportunities for casual self-promotion, we’ll use Deloitte’s UK Fast 50 list for 2020 (upon which we ranked a respectable 25th) as our source.
Know your audience extremely well
Prospective customers need to feel understood if you’re going to win them over, and Elvie — a London-based healthcare company — is clearly aware of that. Selling hyper-convenient breast pumps and accessories, it identifies its mission as being to bring women’s technology out of the dark ages. If you’re going to pursue such a lofty goal, you have to know what you’re talking about, and it’s clear from the blog and the support section that the Elvie team does.
With posts on myriad topics including motherhood and women’s health, specific breastfeeding tips, and rich information about how to choose and use a breast pump, the company makes the best possible use of its niche approach. Anyone who finds the site while looking for relevant information can then be introduced to the product range — and knowing the level of expertise at work will reassure them that the product claims aren’t exaggerated.
Sell the results, not the product
You’ve had one London-based healthcare company, admittedly — but how about a second London-based healthcare company? Thriva provides complex health-tracking services through distributed (and customisable) blood tests. Pick one up, take the test, send it back, and get your results along with detailed suggestions about what actions you should take next.
Now, it’s hard to sell someone on a blood test kit, as they’re unlikely to be overly enthusiastic about the prospect of pricking their finger. What the Thriva team knows is that their service’s appeal lies in the results that follow the testing. This knowledge is demonstrated through the customer stories page which features happy customers explaining how using the service improved their lives. Social proof is a powerful tool, and it makes all the difference here.
How Seeker supports ambitious sellers
If you don’t mind, we’ll briefly upgrade our casual self-promotion to something more pointed by talking about what we do to help ecommerce companies. A key part of our mission is finding promising online sellers and devising strategies to help them achieve incredible growth.
So how do we do this?
- Technical audits: we get your site up-to-scratch to help it soar in the SERPs
- Content: from optimised product pages to value-led blogs, we do it all
- Email funnels: turn leads into customers with smart email campaigns
- Digital PR: get the exposure, attention (and links) your ecommerce brand deserves
- Influencer marketing: tap into niche relevant influencers to grow your customer base
Everything we do is geared towards helping your store grow. And when your store grows, everyone benefits (plus we get to feel even better about ourselves).
With ecommerce only set to rise further in 2021, now is the time to start planning your SEO strategy, so get in touch today. Our specialist ecommerce tactics will help you get the search rankings you deserve.