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Top 21 Ecommerce Trends to Look Out for in 2021

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What’s in store for 2021? Tokyo might actually get to host the Olympic games, Top Gun: Maverick will finally hit the big screen, and Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, might make his way to space.  

The bad news: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to reshape the commerce industry. The good news: The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to reshape the commerce industry.

Nothing could have prepared us for 2020, but what we learned is that we can adapt – even faster than we thought. With the world stuck at home, online shopping adoption went through the roof, and companies found innovative ways to stay ahead. 

No matter what uncertainty lies ahead, brands need to be prepared for whatever comes next. So, we decided to take a look back on the lessons we’ve learned in 2020 and share some forward-looking trends that our commerce experts (we interviewed almost 70 eCommerce leaders in 2020!) have shared on the Up Next in Commerce podcast. 

Enjoy these 21 trends that we are excited to watch unfold in 2021!


1. Opportunities Abroad

People shop differently all over the world, and there are lessons to be learned by looking at economic indicators from around the world. This is especially true when you look at metrics like the GDP per capita, eCommerce penetration, and global shopping trends. Anu Hariharan explained this when she dropped by the Invest Like the Best podcast.

“What’s fascinating about Latin America…Latin America has 650 million people, 70 percent internet penetration, and GDP per capita is the same as China, $9,750,” she said. “In fact, [in] countries like Chile, Argentina [it] was closer to $12,000 to $15,000…. But what’s the ecommerce penetration? Four percent. And the eCommerce penetration of China is twenty-two percent.”

4% eCommerce penetration?! Yes, we know that regulations and other factors may come into play here, but this seems like a huge opportunity for business owners to review their operations, move old processes online, turn storefronts into digital experiences, and find some new D2C opportunities.

Another factor we’ve been looking into lately is how adoption behavior varies so drastically on a country by country basis. According to Dylan Valade, the Head of Global eCommerce Technology at PUMA, the companies and cultures who are comfortable with change will be the ones to benefit most from the digital disruptions we are seeing play out today.

“What I see coming is a digital disruption, or eCommerce digital disruption, where the groups and countries or cultures that have more comfort with change or risk are going to be more successful at transitioning to a lot of these ways of working and buying,” he said. 

Keep an eye out for the tech advancements and ever-changing consumer behaviors occurring in different markets, and see how your product, brand, or service could fulfill a need. Are the consumers leapfrogging certain technologies that are crucial to us (like certain parts of Asia did with Point of Sale machines and just went right to mobile)? Or are they using platforms in non-traditional ways (using social media platforms for payments, or payment platforms for community). 

Keeping tabs on these trends will be key when it comes to keeping your business ahead of the curve. And beware, an upcoming podcast guest cautions that overseas opportunities my not last forever! Tune in on 1/21/21 to hear why!


2. Old-School Strategies Are Cool Again

There is no doubt that we live in a digital-first world. But just because so much of what we do happens online, doesn’t mean that old-school strategies are dead and gone. In fact, there might be more ROI than you think if you go back to the basics. 

On this front, Renee Lopes Halvorsen, the VP of Marketing & eCommerce at Marine Layer, was a true advocate. Renee broke down why a print catalog is still one of the best ways to tell your brand story and drive conversions – even in today’s digital world. 

“People think of [a catalog] as being super old school,” she said. “But when I look at what’s happening, on sites like Facebook, or within digital marketing generally, it’s the same things that the catalog industry has been doing for 30 years.”

“I don’t think the creative cost needs to be super big. It’s more about making sure that you have the breadth of assortment to support a catalog. In order to send something meaty out there that’s really going to drive results, you want to send out at least a 44-page catalog and you probably want about 100 different styles that you want to market in there.”

According to AP News, part of why catalogs are rebounding is because of Millennials’ deep addiction to nostalgia. Welcome back, vinyl records, flare jeans, and the catalog. 

Another reason? People want to find the perfect product that connects with them, not just the practical product that suits a need. (Think of this scene in the classic film, Fight Club.)

In The Startup on Medium, Steve Daniels framed it this way:

“Print magazines are no longer about information; the ones that are have become a commodity that is easily replicated online. Today’s print magazines are lifestyle products.”

The hands-on experience of flipping through a catalog can’t be replicated online. Plus, with more people at home than ever before, the opportunity seems ripe for the picking. 


3. B2B Wholesale Gets the Attention it Deserves

When talking about eCommerce, the majority of conversations are around B2C. But B2B eCommerce is actually growing twice as fast as B2C. 

Here’s another mind-blowing stat. B2B wholesale is a $16T market. Yes, Trillion! And less than 8% of it is online — 49% of transactions still happen via phone or fax (we, too, are shocked that fax is still a thing). Clearly, there are opportunities to penetrate this market, and a few companies have been making a dent. One of those companies is Faire, which Co-founder and CTO Marcelo Cortes has helped build into a marketplace that serves a $670 billion B2B market.

The key to penetrating this B2B market, Cortes says, is always remembering that just because you want to bring these businesses and transactions online, those businesses still are operating brick and mortar shops and dealing with customers face-to-face. 

“Even though we are online, our customers are not online,” Cortes says. “We are dealing with offline local retailers, and they love community. That’s one of the initiatives that we’re trying to build, to help them with community, to listen to each other’s stories, to learn from each other’s mistakes, and connect them more. It was especially important to launch it now. People need more information.”

Independent retailers are not going away, but they are trying to adapt just like the rest of us. And 2020 was the catalyst for B2B wholesale businesses to change and start taking eCommerce more seriously to help its retailers.

Wolseley Canada is a leading wholesale distributor of plumbing, HVAC/R, and waterworks products and earns more than $1 billion in revenue each year. Today, the company has one of the industry-leading B2B eCommerce sites, but getting to that point in their digital transformation hasn’t been easy. Gail Kaufman, the Vice President of Marketing & eBusiness at Wolseley Canada, explains how they got there. 

“When we were talking about how to get your customers to engage with [eCommerce], when they do engage with it, you better deliver,” she says. “Your pricing has got to be right. They have to have the confidence that when I look online and I see that my branch has 100 copper tees, if I place an order for 50, they actually have them, someone’s actually going to pick up the order and they’re going to actually send it to me. In the early days when shopping online wasn’t that prevalent, there was a lot of, I would say, trepidation. It was kind of easy for customers to talk themselves out of it and just think, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. It sounds interesting, but I think I’ll just call my guy. That way I know I’ll get what I need.’.”

Finding ways to ease B2B customers into a new way of doing things may be difficult, but building up the trust and showcasing the reliability of the platform will put nerves at ease. And the silver lining of 2020? This past year may have just given customers the subtle push they needed that will make the transition that much easier of a sell in 2021.


4. One-Click Checkout Becomes a Real Thing

One-click ordering is the gold standard of frictionless checkout. Although some sites claim to have one-click checkout, in reality you’re still multiple clicks away from actually finalizing an order, especially when you’re visiting for the first time. But there are one-click solutions in the market, including one developed by Domm Holland and the team at Fast

“Fundamentally what Fast is solving for is actually an identity problem, and payments is just one component of that,” Holland said. “How can we make it fast and easy for people to buy things? And how do we make it fast and easy for people to login? How do we make it fast and easy for people to securely use their data online? It’s a very different value problem and our product strategy differs because we’re out there trying to solve a consumer problem and most other companies aren’t.”

By solving the identity problem for the consumer and by batching orders on the backend for merchants, Fast created a solution that delivers a true one-click checkout experience across the internet. It can be installed directly on product pages – essentially taking away the biggest pain (and click) for customers.  

“75 to 80% of every single checkout on Fast is from the product page,” Domm explained. 

“So it is absolutely overwhelming the impact that it has to businesses….People are buying more things. So businesses make far more money, can increase their order values, can increase the average items per order, can decrease their shipping cost, can decrease their payment cost, and yet still be increasing conversion rate much higher than they are now.”

Does your eComm shop offer 1-click ordering? If not, that will be a feature you’ll want to add in 2021.


5. Supply Chains Go Vertical

Everyone is competing against the hard-to-match shipping expectations set by Amazon — but it’s not all about fast shipping. Processing returns effectively and managing every step of the supply chain so you are left with margins that actually allow you to grow are the areas that all retailers will continue to focus on.

For Helana Price Hambrecht, the founder of Haus, going completely vertical was the best way she could think to really control everything and ensure success.

“We had a hunch that being fully vertical would give us a huge advantage from a product development standpoint,” she said. “We could be super nimble, we could iterate every day if we wanted to based on customer feedback. We could launch new products quickly. We can kill them quickly. We had a lot of abilities that other companies wouldn’t have. And then we would also be prepared for any sort of supply chain curveball that comes our way.”

Vertically integrated supply chains have long been a force to fear and envy, and that will become even bigger in 2021 as merchants are still trying to recover from out of stock issues, logistical delays, supplier bankruptcies, and realizing they were too reliant on one supplier.


6. Mobile Will be Everything

A few years ago, every chart was mentioning the rise of mobile. Now, it’s here. The majority of online discovery, browsing, and transactions are mobile. In fact, Caila Schwartz, the Senior Manager of Strategy and Insights, Retail and Consumer Goods at Salesforce, shared data from a recent Shopping Index report which clearly shows that mobile needs to be a priority for ecommerce business owners moving forward.

“Mobile is the number one driver of traffic and orders,” Caila said. “And we’ve seen over the past several years mobile really accelerate as the number one device for consumers. So as a business owner, if you’re thinking about what device to prioritize, creating a great mobile experience is going to be the top of your priority list.”

Graph from The Salesforce Shopping Index

If that’s not convincing enough, BFCM were the biggest days for mobile shopping ever. There was a surge in first-time installs of mobile shopping apps in the U.S., which climbed nearly 8% on Black Friday to reach a new single-day record of approximately 2.8 million, according to early data from Sensor Tower. And the Adobe Analytics report had mobile sales making up 40% of total digital spend on Black Friday and 37% on Cyber Monday.

Now is the time to invest in your mobile strategy. Brands that fail to focus on a mobile-first approach will be missing out on customers and revenue. 


7. Influencer Marketing Goes Even More Viral

Because influencer marketing has become so in demand, there are more strategies than ever to try to get the most ROI out of influencers. Understanding the attribution funnel of influencer marketing is a key when looking to determine the ROI of your efforts. Eric Lam, the co-founder of AspireIQ, says influencer marketing has become democratized, which has opened up a lot of opportunities for brands of all shape and size.

“…In 2015 and 2016, the industry kind of evolved to where everybody was trying to work with Kardashians. It was all about working with the biggest fashion bloggers, the biggest celebrities. The bigger, the better. And you’re thinking about these vanity metrics, like how many followers someone has, or how many likes they have, regardless of if they saw meaningful returns on investment. Those were the early cowboy days of influencer marketing. I think because a lot of the mainstream brands got involved there, you started to then see an evolution of how a lot of the DTC and ecommerce brands were starting to think about influencer marketing because they were kind of getting priced out of these big macro celebrities.

So, they started honing in on more specialized micro influencers who might not have as big of a following, but they were a lot more targeted, a lot more focused in the content they created, which meant they were a great fit for more personalized experiences and more authentic content in terms of the segments they were trying to reach among their customers. I think the second thing that was really interesting about the way this evolved is that these same ecommerce brands started using influencers for more than just trying to reach their audiences like in an advertising way, and they started looking at them as holistic content creators, because when you think about what an influencer is, they’re kind of like this studio photographer model all wrapped into one person, whose literal job it is to make engaging content for this generation.” – Eric Lam on Up Next in Commerce

The one thing that Eric wants you to remember? Authenticity matters. 

“If you can find people that really match your brand values and are going to be true advocates for you, that really translates into the authenticity, both from what they’re saying, but also the kind of content they make because influencer marketing is pretty mature now and audiences can smell inauthenticity from a mile away.”

Micro-influencers will be big business in 2021, which Ad News investigated by getting the input of a number of industry players. One of the folks the outlet spoke to was Shivani Maharaj: 

“My prediction for Influencer marketing in 2021 falls into two halves – the long term and short term,” Maharaj said. “Long-term brand building in influencer marketing comes down to: fewer, bigger, better. Marketers should explore partnerships and long-term commitments with a handful of key mega/macro influencers and content creators. It drives engagement, builds authenticity and lets consumers fully experience the brand….The second half is much more about the short-term impact and ‘buying’ influencers like you would a media buy, based on reach and frequency. Platforms like Tribe, Hypetap and Inca are well placed to deliver this with nano/micro influencers and content creators. I believe we will see a shift into more programmatic buying in this space where the results are the key focus as opposed to who the individual influencer is. For example, a brand might turn to 40 influencers delivering 2.3 million reach over a four-week period for a specific product launch.”

If you haven’t already, start building out your influencer network now with the ones that fit your brand best. These might be people on Twitter with a very engaged following, or Instagrammers who have followers that say things like “where can I buy that shirt?!”, or even on TikTok! Ps- We have had countless people on the show say that TikTok is where it’s at in terms of ROI and marketing arbitrage opportunities. 


8. Storefronts Will Get a Makeover

The shake-ups of 2020 have made many retail-focused companies rethink their sales model and individual store designs. The lines between digital and physical have been blurring for many years, and while we are definitely in a hybrid world now, many businesses were still seen holding on tight to their traditional storefront and retail model in early 2020, even when the economics didn’t make sense.

Over the next few years, we are waiting to see shoppable warehouses with small guide shops in the front for assistance, and stores focusing more on live events and experiences. As an example, look no further than Best Buy’s four-store pilot program that will, “reduce the shoppable area so that these stores can better operate as fulfillment hubs.”

I think there will be pent-up demand for in-person connection (at least, there will be from me!! I am craving that in-person human connection), and consumers will be looking for events, classes, and places to interact and engage. Lululemon was ahead of the curve on this trend, opening up its stores for more experiential offerings in 2019. From an in-store yoga studio to a dine-in option, the Lululemon store experience was more about giving customers something to remember rather than just a place to buy trendy athleisure. Look for even more of that in retail locations in the years to come. 


9. Accessing New Pools of Capital for Scale

2020’s economy has been an up and down roller coaster since early February. Models were breaking, plans were failing, and business models had to pivot quickly to keep up with the new world that was rapidly unfolding.

Nevertheless, according to Statista, there were more new businesses in 2020 than ever before. As of November 16th, “there were 804,398 businesses that were less than 1 year old, an increase on the March 2019 figure of 770,609.” And while all of these companies may not be around for the long haul, the ones that find product market fit, nail down their unit economics, and find alternative funding models to scale will be the winners.

Entrepreneurs with a track record of performance will find and create new pools of capital and partnership models that will ultimately give them a leg up. That’s what Jeremy Cai did with his company, Italic

“We actually have a financial relationship with our manufacturers in which they actually are taking on inventory risk and we’re taking on the marketing risk of this inventory,” Cai said. “Their incentive is to take inventory risk for a higher yield or higher rate of return on the inventory that they’re producing and owning. Then our risk, of course, is making sure that we can sell that to our members at a price point that is still radically lower than the competition, but at a place where they’d be happy with the profits.”

Large brands will also be looking for more opportunities to remain relevant, by making bets on up and coming founders and products. For example, Target and Whole Foods were willing to take a bet on BLK & Bold, a specialty coffee company started by Pernell Cezar, and both big retailers were happy to partner with BLK & Bold as it went through the full process to get the product and packaging where it needed to be before rushing it to store shelves. 

“Our first major launch was with Target Corporation, at the beginning of this year in about 300 or 350 stores across the major markets within the U.S.,” Cezar said. “The conversation and the process of having that launch was about a nine month process from introduction to essentially the product arriving on the shelf….That nine month journey was really about understanding the strategic vision and values and knowing that with accomplishing that, we can have a solid start together to go push it through.”

Whether you are a blooming startup or booming giant, finding creative ways to strategically partner, fund, and scale new brands or product lines will be the way to keep the money flowing come 2021.


10. Long-Term Thinking

With so many new eCommerce brands popping up in 2020, and with a whole new pool of shoppers that were not previously seen online, companies will find themselves with the ability to scale quicker than D2C companies built prior to 2020. 

These brands will be looking for customizable platforms to differentiate beyond templated experiences, and custom integrations to deliver unique experiences via web applications. There will also be a bigger focus on hyper localization or international localization including languages, payment methods, models, and SKUs. 

As businesses outgrow their current platform restrictions, we will see transitions to more robust platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud. System Integrators will also continue to expand and emerge to meet these needs. A Copperberg research report found that half of the respondents wanted to find “better integration of ecommerce platforms with other internal systems like ERP/CRM.”   

eCommerce will continue to evolve and become more personalized, so it might just be time to do an audit of your current platform and technologies now before you are playing a game of catch-up during the most inopportune time.


11. Turning Virtual Into Reality 

The amount of events that had to quickly pivot to virtual or cancel all together this year was a sad thing to watch. Although some can never be the same in a virtual setting (hello, Google I/O), there are many others that may be better off in this format. More users can join virtually than an event with capacity limits, you can reach an international audience more easily, and it’s cheaper to run more of them if all goes well.  But with this change in format, it’s also led consumers (like myself) expecting more immersive, multimedia viewing and shopping experiences.

China’s Singles Day has led the way in this trend with retailers hiring global stars streaming exclusive live video and interactive events during the annual Nov. 11 event. Coresight Research has estimated the live-streaming market in China will bring in about $125 billion in sales in 2020, up from $63 billion in 2019.

Fancy.com, CEO Greg Spillane knows that the better, more immersive, and memorable the experience, the more likely you are to generate more interest and ROI. 

“The more the experience gets better, the more sticky it is, the more people want to open up the Fancy app and just enter into that sort of social commerce world, the more people who are eventually going to transact,” he said. 

In a similar sense, shoppable video and the increased offerings of digital products is going to set the stage for future commerce. The next generation is already using real cash to buy virtual products for their avatars in various games. In years to come, not only will you have the option for your avatar to have that virtual product, the real-life version will be offered in tandem for the user behind the screen.

Some legacy companies are starting to explore the digital world more and more, including Rosetta Stone, where the president of the company, Matt Hulett, said he is exploring the role augmented reality (AR) will play in the future. 

“What I really want to do is enable more AR in our experience,” Matt said. “I always thought it’d be cool if I can visit another country and just decide how much of the spoken language am I going to generate myself, how much am I going to have my device do it.”

More brands are allocating budget to test things out in the AR/VR/MR space. IKEA and Amazon have long been leading the way on this front with their capability for you to see selected furniture and appliances in your living space, and now fashion brands are following suit. Warby Parker allows you to try on their glasses virtually, Charlotte Tilbury has launched a 3D, virtual store, and Finery has an app that lets you create a virtual copy of your closet to help you mix and match outfits.

So what’s in store for 2021? As this tech becomes commonplace, brands without it could be left behind.


12. Brands Will Have to Pick Up the Speed

Whether you’re shipping, checking people out, or just moving them around your website, speed is the name of the game. In fact, according to Eric Bandholz, the co-founder of Beardbrand, site speed should be prioritized above all other features. And he revealed that achieving optimal site speed means cutting out pop-up ads and other third-party plugins, which data shows often do not provide consistent or meaningful ROI.

“We had one of those live chats,” Eric said. “It presented some issues because, sometimes, a little pop-up would block information or block the ‘Add to Cart’ button….We killed it. We no longer have that JavaScript burden of loading. Those chatbots are fundamentally the things that slow down your page load speed the most. We haven’t seen any drop in conversion rates or sales [by getting rid of the chatbot].”

Do an audit of your site and get rid of unnecessary pop-ups or add-ons. Remember K-I-S-S: Keep it Simple, Silly. 


13. The Demographic Shift

Advertisers have almost always targeted one demographic group: consumers aged 18 to 35. Historically, they have been the most active online shoppers, had jobs and had expendable capital to be put to use. But it seems like focusing on this group — which today would be the millennial generation and Gen Z — means you could be leaving a lot of money on the table. Other demographic groups are vastly outperforming the coveted youngsters, have more money to spend, and 2020 was just the push they needed to start adopting online shopping. 

Recent reports have found that the over-55 demographic spent twice as much as their millennial counterparts. And 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day until 2030. So by 2050, the over-60s will account for 20% of all people globally. They are the fastest-growing demographic group in the world, expanding ~2.5% annually, compared to 0.7% growth for the whole population.

Opportunities to serve this group will continue to emerge as older users became more comfortable with shopping online in 2020. Stephanie Yee said that Stitch Fix has already been focusing on this generation, and that personalization will be key for this group more than any other. 

“Oftentimes I think some brands they’ll sit there and they’ll say, ‘Oh, our target demographic, she is between 25 and 39, and after that, she’s not us,” Yee said. “With Stitch Fix, we’re able to say, ‘You know what? We’re not going to categorize you into one group or another, we’re going to serve you where you are. And with personalization, we are able to do that. …So it’s a really wonderful group of people who are thinking about their personal style, and I do agree it’s folks who, I think, tend to be served a little bit differently, really at the retail industry’s loss.”

Are you one of the companies that is currently missing out on this group of customers? Everything from ease of site use, to type of product listings, to the techniques you use to market your brand should be carefully crafted to meet each customer where they are.


14. Cross-Platform Digital Marketing is a Must

It’s more obvious than ever that reliance on a single channel or message will not sustain a business. Lori Coulter, co-founder of Summersalt, is a firm believer in switching up the channels you work in, and she’s been leaning into that strategy while building a company that had a product waitlist of more than 10,000 people. She’s been meeting the customers where they were — regardless of channel — and adjusting the message for different audiences.

“I always tell brands that if you’re focused on one platform, only one message without that brand storytelling, it’s such a risk to the business model over time,” she said. 

Chris Vaughn of Saucey had a similar opinion, especially as it pertained to the first stages of creating any kind of marketplace. 

“In the early days of any marketplace, you can acquire tons of customers on Facebook, relatively cheaply, and then your CAC starts going up. So it’s always a challenge to figure out as you saturate a channel, or saturate a market, how to change either how you’re running the ads, or new ways to acquire customers or not be so dependent on one channel.” 

Ultimately, though, Taylor Holiday of Common Thread Collective probably said it best:

“You’ve got to break the feed,” he explained. “You’ve got to be novel, and you’ve got to figure out a way to differentiate yourself. People are scrolling a mile a day on their phone. If you plan to stop them and break them, then you’ve got to figure out a way to be compelling right off the bat.”

Make room in your marketing budget to experiment with new channels and test new messaging – you never know what might stick. (Who knew that Coors Seltzer would have success with Instagram memes?)


15. Navigating the Amazon 

There is perhaps no bigger name in the world of eCommerce than Amazon. For years, Amazon has been setting the pace for the eCommerce industry, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. So what are the other members of the eComm community to do to compete with this Goliath? 

According to our guests, the main thing to keep in mind is to have an Amazon strategy from the start. For example, Joe Demin, the founder of Yellow Leaf Hammocks said that there are challenges with selling on Amazon, and it all comes down to whether you choose the seller-central or vendor-central route. If you choose seller-central, you have more control, but have to provide the inventory and warehouse the product on your own. With vendor-central, Amazon purchases directly from you, but then they resell on the Amazon site and the algorithm sets the price, so you have to constantly monitor that ROI to make sure you are not cannibalizing your own business.

“When we were first starting to shift more toward direct-to-consumer, we had a little bit of pride around thinking, ‘We’re just going to be on our own website and some select retail channels,’” Joe said. “I don’t think that’s wise. I think you want to be where your customers are, and for hammocks, we had an opportunity to really stand out on Amazon.”

But starting on Amazon and succeeding on Amazon are two very different things. Ju Rhyu, Co-Founder and CEO of Hero Cosmetics, found this out the hard way when she had to learn what it meant to win the buy box and become brand gated on Amazon so that no one could knock off her products.

“I don’t know how many people know how Amazon really works, but a lot of times when you have a product page, it’s not something that you own, unless you’re brand gated,” she explained. “Other people can sell that product, leveraging your product page. And then the idea is everyone has to win the buy box. And the buy box is when you’re on an Amazon product page, and you add to cart, the person who’s winning the buy box is the first person whose product you would add to your cart….And it’s really smart on Amazon’s part, because as a seller, you have to earn it either by having really good reviews or you have to earn it by having the best price. And so there are a lot of sellers, they’ll price a penny cheaper, or like 5 cents cheaper, and then they’ll win the buy box. Which inevitably is a very dangerous game because you can just sort of discount this product to zero.”

Amazon is a major player in eCommerce, one that offers lots of opportunity for you to tap into a network of eager customers. But beware: Surviving the jungle requires a map, compass, and plan of attack.


16. Diving Deeper Into Data

In today’s digital-first world, data is all around us, and more is being gathered every day. According to Stephanie Yee, the VP of Data Science at Stitch Fix, eCommerce companies should be embracing all of this data and really digging into the insights it offers. They should be investing in a data science team and using new technology to get the most out of the data collected. For Yee and the Stitch Fix team, that means testing out new technologies such as GPT-3, the most advanced natural language processor to date.

“GPT-3 is a really great way to translate information into the format that people are used to absorbing information in, which is text,” Yee said. “I think that it’s especially important going back to the idea of if you take a shirt, the specs of a shirt are not particularly helpful to a shopper. They can be helpful to a computer, but it’s like, ‘Okay, the sleeve is 13 and a half inches, who cares?’ And GPT-3 is able to almost add [information] in a way that would have been incredibly difficult before. It’s able to translate some aspects of an item into what that actually means in someone’s everyday life.”

But before you can use GPT-3 or any other advanced tech for your data analytics, you have to actually gather and organize the data you need. Accomplishing that task is what Ajit Sivadasan, the Vice President and General Manager of Lenovo, stays focused on when he’s building ecommerce experiences. 

“We have social listening, where we actually listen to what the customers say,” Ajit said. “And then that is a common section where customers give us comments, and we use some form of A.I. to actually go through all that stuff to really get the sentiment analysis and big-ticket items that are coming back. And we take all of these things into a composite score that then allows us to look and say, ‘Where are we falling short? What are the benchmarks? What’s the threshold? What’s the competitive benchmark that we should be looking at for each of these categories to be best in class?’”

There are endless data points you can track these days, but focusing on customer feedback and processing long-form questions and answers will be crucial to businesses in 2021. 


17. The Last Mile

Everyone talks about all of the steps involved in the ecommerce process, but getting an order to the customer’s doorstep is where the game is truly won or lost. Optimizing that last mile is more critical than ever, and as the eCommerce industry booms, there will be more players in the last-mile game. 

One area to keep an eye on is food-delivery services and how they are able to transition toward delivery of non-food items. The DoorDashes and Grubhubs of the world are going to have to start creating new revenue streams if they are going to survive, and that includes extending their reach into new areas of consumers’ lives. 

As Web Smith of 2PM put it, “Food delivery is to DoorDash what book sales were to Amazon.”

“We look at apps like DoorDash and see food delivery. Rather, view them as the last-mile enabler for businesses who are leaning into localized eCommerce. Food delivery, alone, will not justify the $50+ billion market cap but a city-by-city network of local retailers may. This is the eCommerce era now. Like every other retailer, DoorDash must learn to create new demand and service it with creative solutions. I suspect that the company’s reach will soon extend beyond your kitchen or your mobile phones. In the near future, the app may function more like a retail operating system.” – Web Smith, in his recent Memo on DoorDash.

We have seen this trend also playing out at companies like Shipt, which began as an on-demand delivery service that connects customers with thousands of grocery items, and has since expanded to include partnerships with companies such as Best Buy, Office Depot and more. Joe Manning, the Chief Business Officer at Shipt, explained that making those adjustments has to be par for the course moving forward.

“Retailers are building out a broad ecosystem of ecommerce solutions for their customers,” Manning said. “They’re recognizing that customers are going to want to interact with them and their products in different ways. And they want to let the customer choose how they want to get the products. And whether that’s a third-party marketplace like Shipt, or if they want to do pickup, or having the retailers enable last-mile delivery through their own ecommerce programs, that, to us, feels like the winning strategy. The retailers that are creating multiple options in allowing the customer to choose, those are the ones that appear to be gaining a share and taking more of the business in the market. And that’s where we see the future going.”

2021 will have a big focus on consumers looking to support local businesses, but figuring out ways to do that from the comfort of their own home will be the challenge that local businesses and delivery services will have to partner on and figure out.


18. Transparency and Social Responsibility Matter

A growing weight is being placed on transparency and social responsibility — both from an employee perspective and a customer perspective.

At Bombas, Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer, Randy Goldberg explained that when employees feel invested in the company and comfortable in the environment you create, they begin to ask more questions, buy-in to the company mission, and work harder to achieve success for themselves and the company.

“We knew no matter what company we started together, building a culture of transparency, where people really understood the ‘why’ behind the business, the core values, the financial performance, what their ownership meant, and a culture of being able to ask questions, that was hallmark from the beginning,” he said.

Business goals driven by social responsibility are more common than ever today. It’s a model that Bombas has perfected, and others, like BLK & Bold are bringing to the forefront. In addition to having a give-back aspect to its business, BLK & Bold also took the steps to become a certified B Corp, because it knew that customers are looking for more sustainable products. Having that B Corp label on its packaging was the most transparent way BLK & Bold could find to get the message across that it was listening and delivering on its promise to do things the right way.  

“Being for-purpose is equally as important as for-profit,” Cezar said. “And you have organizations like Ben & Jerry’s, TOMS Shoes, Warby Parker, Patagonia, these major organizations that are all B Corps, they continue to move into improving society while again, building sustainable businesses. For us having this domestic social impact focus, the model didn’t exist before. It’s unfortunate, but that’s also a core reason why we decided to go into this space. And knowing that, given that it doesn’t exist and at the scale that we had to start at, we want to be taken seriously to our consumers and our stakeholders on our intention of where we’re going while we work on getting there.”

As we look toward 2021, sustainability, social responsibility, and business-for-good will continue to be key drivers for consumers, employees, and stakeholders alike, but figuring out how to convey this aspect while also focusing on the product quality will be a tricky balance. 


19. Beyond Borders

Quite a few companies we chatted with over the course of 2020 mentioned that their product idea came from traveling. Red Bull was the first well-known brand to do this, but we think many more will be opening their eyes to the amazing local products that are just waiting to be found out and be brought to a global level.  

Joe Demin spotted a hammock that would change his life in Northern Thailand and Ju Rhyu founded Hero Cosmetics after seeing an acne patch in Korea that she knew could scale widely.  

We’ve written in the past about how travel can expand your mindset, and think there are so many products still waiting to be discovered worldwide. But of course, traveling this year was mostly impossible, and nothing beats the impact that real life experiences can have on you.. So what’s a gal (or guy!) to do? Luckily the internet can still bring some international inspiration to your doorstep. I love identifying micro influencers in foreign countries and follow along with the products they are loving. And checking out foreign TV is fun to see what’s popular, what style of marketing works, and what startups are entering the scene of these growing economies.

Once you have your mind focused on spotting trends and opportunities that exist outside of your circle, that will soon be all you can see everywhere you go. But keep in mind one caveat… The world is quickly becoming interconnected, so this gap may be closing soon. Jon Feldman, a friend of ours who is also a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce, mentioned to us that ecommerce is already a global enterprise, and it’s easier today than ever before to purchase products from anywhere in the world nearly hassle-free. 

“Because of global commerce, and because of the increasing connections in both payments and fulfillment systems, it’s much easier to be fulfilling anywhere in the world,” Feldman said. “20 years ago, you couldn’t find a payment processor that would take international cards in the States. And when you were getting stuff shipped out of the country, those forward carriers, and all those services that make it easier, though, very expensive to ship out of the United States really weren’t there. But now, you can find a product anywhere and it can be sourced from anywhere.”

So if you have an exclusive, or stumble on an amazing product that you know could be a big hit with the right product tweaks and marketing, you might want to strike while the iron is hot!

PS- Stay tuned for my episode with Jon to drop in late January! It was a fun one 🙂


20. Forecasting to be Antifragile

Predicting the future is impossible, but forecasting for different outcomes can help you determine where to put resources and equip you with a game plan if you need to act quickly. The key to success in 2021 when it comes to forecasting will be to do so in a way that allows you to lean into the idea of being antifragile. Taylor Holiday of Common Thread Collective explains it this way:

“When I think about how I want to build a business, I want to build a business that thrives when I’m wrong,” he said. “I actually want to accept the fact that I am not going to be able to determine the future, and I want to set up the business to be able to survive in almost any environment. That’s the idea of antifragile, is not just that I’m resistant to negative, but actually the negatives can be in an environment in which I succeed.” 

It’s not about forecasting better, it’s about anticipating the errors that are sure to come, and making sure you can adapt to them quickly. 

“I think that we under consider how important it is to get into these positions of strong foundations of antifragility before we pursue further growth,” Holiday said. “Especially in this crazy environment we’re in now, where basically every forecast that I see every business make is wrong. The question is, what do you do? A lot of people want to try and think about, well, how do I forecast better? I think that’s a fool’s errand. I think attempting to predict the future, there are just too many inputs to do it well. So, instead, how do you build a business that when you’re wrong, you still win?”

According to SupplyChainBrain, “Resiliency and antifragility differ fundamentally. An adaptive system withstands disruption in the face of volatile conditions and unknown variables. In contrast, an antifragile system does not adapt to these acute stressors but instead harnesses and transforms them to advance its capacity, performance, and output. In other words, adaptive systems adapt, but antifragile systems evolve. If the pandemic has taught leaders anything, it’s that a shift from building resilience to becoming antifragile is mission critical.”

Can your business not only survive unforeseen economic changes, but actually leverage them? Antifragility is something we all need to apply to our personal and business mantras, especially this year.

But keep in mind that the world is constantly getting smaller. Jon Feldman, a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce mentioned to us that ecommerce is already a global enterprise, and it’s easier today than ever before to purchase products from anywhere in the world nearly hassle-free. 

“Because of global commerce, and because of the increasing connections in both payments and fulfillment systems, it’s much easier to be fulfilling anywhere in the world,” Feldman said. “20 years ago, you couldn’t find a payment processor that would take international cards in the States. And when you were getting stuff shipped out of the country, those forward carriers, and all those services that make it easier, though, very expensive to ship out of the United States really weren’t there. But now, you can find a product anywhere and it can be sourced from anywhere.”

So if you have an exclusive, you might want to strike while the iron is hot!


21. Emphasizing Community to Build Customer and Employee Loyalty

There is untold value in building a base of loyal customers. After all, when customers keep coming back, there is nowhere for your company to go but up. One of the best ways to build that loyal base of customers is to start off by simply building a community of like-minded folks. That was the strategy Amanda Hesser used when she co-founded Food52 in 2009. She believes that food is at the center of a life well-lived, and with Food52, she brought together millions of people who shared that thought. But getting there didn’t happen right away

“When you’re building a brand, when you’re really trying to create an emotional connection with your readers and your followers, it takes time,” Hesser said. “It’s not something you can do overnight….We started focusing on content because we understand the power of content to build that relationship. And also to really build brand identity. That was to us, the most important thing that we could do in the beginning. And then we methodically layered on all the things that we do now. And I think that even if you were starting today, that is the way to do it.”

For other companies that are already serving large amounts of customers, building a community more often means developing a loyal following. Return customers are key in this sense, which is why loyalty programs are a big focus in the eCommerce industry. 

One word of advice was given to us by Rachel Stephens, the Vice President of Marketing, Digital and Loyalty for Stop & Shop – trust the data. 

“Understanding what customers say and what customers actually do is vital to the success of an organization because customers can say, ‘Yes, I have intent to purchase X, Y, Z,’ but when you look at the actual data, the data doesn’t lie,” she said. “So, loyalty programs give you a vital tool for success within your organization [by letting you] take a look at consumer data and then apply your marketing tactics really that are from acquisition, retention or reactivation perspective based on what that consumer is doing in a particular moment.”

But community isn’t limited to just what happens among your customers. The companies that survive will also be the ones that build up community within their employee ranks. Joe Manning of Shipt puts it like this:

“I think too often, some of the technology companies look at the gig economy worker as a cost,” he said. “And we look at it the other way. We celebrate them, they’re a phenomenal brand representation, and they represent our brand, and they represent the retailers with whom we work. And so, the more they feel good about what they’re doing, the more we can help support them to do a great job.”

Making your customers and employees feel like they are a part of a larger community where they are appreciated, is critical to keeping customers coming back and to retain valuable talent. 


Bottom Line:

2020 has been a year full of eCommerce and technology acceleration and adoption, and 2021 will be no different. We’re excited to see how this next year plays out, and watch the new businesses and technologies that are created to fill the gaps that exist today. 

What trends did we miss? Which trends are you most excited about? Let me know on social @stephpostles!

And if you want to keep tabs on what’s coming up in the world of eCommerce, don’t forget to subscribe to the Up Next in Commerce podcast!



Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

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Episode 65