Technical innovations, not to mention COVID-19’s massive impact on shopper behavior, accelerated the shift to online shopping. With this in mind, Hauke Rahm, VP Customer Success at commercetools, identifies three trends that will significantly impact retail eCommerce in 2021.

If the COVID-19 pandemic had never happened (imagine that!), we never would have experienced its impact on our daily lives – and by extension, our purchasing behaviors. In fact, the outlook for retailers in 2021 would probably bear little difference from the trends of 2020. However, due COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, we are now encountering an industry – whose already rapid growth – has dramatically accelerated even more since spring.  

With extremely high order volumes for some and decreased demand for others, as well as brick-and-mortar stores moving to the online realm for survival – 2020 was the year of eCommerce. Furthermore, this industry proved to be the backbone for supplying the population in pandemic times. Segments such as food commerce – previously a rather marginal area – experienced an enormous boom in demand, which is also likely to have a lasting impact on consumers’ everyday lives.

Diversification of the customer experience

The year 2020 has brought many new customers from in-store to online. Correspondingly, the demographic backgrounds of shoppers (age, region, education, etc.) have also become much more diverse. Now, online stores are faced with an expanded target group portfolio, with each target group requiring individualized focus to be reached. Technically, this is easiest to realize using the headless approach for online platforms, which separates the backend from the frontend. This gives companies the flexibility they need to react quickly to unpredictable changes (such as COVID-19). In this way, they can easily respond to what customers want and take into account the needs of buyers according to their demographic backgrounds.

Analog meets digital – the best of both worlds

For the first half of 2021, online shopping demand will still remain high. Since many consumers must avoid direct contact with other people, eCommerce offers the best alternative. In the summer of 2021, we hope to see the first signs of normalization when the weather significantly reduces the incidence of infection – as it did last year. Only a high immunity rate in the population achieved through vaccinations can make a partial return to usual life possible again. 

One online sales strategy that picked up significant steam in 2020 as part of product launches – responding to the sharp increase in demand through online channels – is online-only. Sony placed the PlayStation 5 on the market with this concept to huge success, and the consumer electronics market, in particular, is now already seeing the first copycat campaigns – other industries will follow. 

Another trend that is likely to develop further in 2021 is the hybrid concept of click & collect, i.e. shopping and paying online and picking up the goods yourself in the store. This combination of two shopping worlds also brings together their advantages: convenient selection and fast payment coupled with the haptic experience of being able to inspect the goods directly – without lining up at the checkout. In addition, there is no need to return goods if they are not to your liking – which not only saves resources in terms of sustainability but also reduces costs. 

In-car shopping is picking up speed

More and more vehicle suppliers are equipping new cars with Android Auto or Apple Car Play as standard. These systems, developed by Google and Apple respectively, allow smartphone functions to be used with the infotainment system in motor vehicles, opening up a new sales channel. With the increasingly perfected voice control of vehicle manufacturers, it is no longer a vision of the future to buy a last-minute birthday gift in the fast lane, so to speak. “Hey Mercedes” and its audio brothers and sisters provide the link to online portals. 

Audi has already redefined mobility by turning the car into a store itself with functions-on-demand. In 2021, seeing the customer experience as the central aspect of customer loyalty, companies must form a precise picture of their customers and individual habits. Data is the key to success, on the basis of which an increasingly individualized and tailored offering to customers is being developed. Increasing tracking and analytics capabilities are among the homework eCommerce vendors absolutely must do in 2021. 

If you’re keen to position yourself technically to stay on top of – and ahead of – the fast-changing requirements of your customers quickly and flexibly, get in touch with commercetools today.