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2021 Consumer expectations from eCommerce businesses

This is a guest post by Alex Borzo. Alex is a content contributor at Amber Engine, a software company passionate about eCommerce. The company’s fast and simple PIM software gets sellers, distributors, and brands to Amazon and other online marketplaces in weeks instead of months.

New brands launch more products online every day. The growth of eCommerce and the size of consumer audiences were accelerated in 2020 as a result of worldwide lockdowns, and today, show no signs of slowing. Consumers have had a taste for the convenience of e-shopping and they’re not looking back. By 2022, eCommerce revenue is estimated to grow to $6.54 trillion (up from $3.53 trillion in 2019).

There are new users buying online today in every vertical, with a total of 75% of consumers shopping online once or more each month. Many of those consumers only recently adopted online shopping, and now, they’re hooked. 50% of consumers currently do more than 75% of their shopping online, and one-third of consumers do more than 90% of their shopping online.

Whatever the market growth and opportunity for brands, eCommerce success is not easy to come by. Competition is stiff, and the landscape is constantly changing.

Online shopping was compelled by necessity in 2020 as the pandemic swept the globe. The transition has been made to eCommerce now, and even as vaccines roll out, consumers have grown accustomed to shopping online. The future of eCommerce, it seems, is set.

Consumers have also had much to a say about what they expect of brands in this new normal. Brands that don’t meet expectations won’t get sales, because consumers can find what they expect somewhere else.

That harsh reality sets the stage. Next, ask yourself: what kind of actor will you be?

Don’t miss your cue! Here are the 2021 consumer expectations you should know about so your brand can meet and exceed them all.

 2021 Consumer expectations from eCommerce brands

1: “Give Me a Reason to be Loyal”

Brand loyalty has been on the decline for a while. After the sweeping changes to consumer behaviors in 2020, a total of 37% of consumers now state they shop with more brands than they did a year ago.

Part of this is due to the huge rise in direct-to-consumer (D2C) commerce. More brands are selling D2C than ever, which means consumers will inherently be shopping with more brands. Conveniently for D2C manufacturers, what’s lacking in consumer loyalty today can easily be picked up by them thanks to the deep relationships they create with customers.

Today, 55% of consumers prefer to buy from manufacturers directly rather than multi-brand retailers. Skipping the middleman means lower shopping prices for customers, and manufacturers easily provide more comprehensive information and guides about their products. It’s easy to see why D2C is on the rise, and where these brands can build consumer loyalty.

How to take advantage

Customer loyalty programs are the easiest way for D2C brands to pick up what loyalty has been lost from general retailers. Consumers today are expecting buyer experiences that are more personalized to them (more on this next), meaning a loyalty program can easily reward them for what they’ve bought with specific recommendations they might like based on past behavior.

2: Personalization

More than half of consumers say they recognize when a brand uses personalizations tailored to them, and a total of two-thirds expect personalization. Most remarkably, 70% of consumers would willingly share data with brands in order to gain a more personalized experience, and 72% only engage with personalized messaging.

Personalization is how brands go beyond advertising and work to form a bond with each customer. Originally, the idea of segmenting audiences based on behavior or other data to personalize messaging was only talked about in email. Today, however, technology allows us to personalize everything from our remarketing ads to how our website looks to returning visitors.

How to take advantage

Consumer expectations have shifted to a clearly-stated preference for personalization. The brands focused on driving conversions along with lifetime customer value optimizations (CVO) will focus on making their customer journey as personalized as possible, starting with email and their websites.

3: Shoppable Videos and Photos

Maybe social media consumption won’t grow another 12% in one year like it did in 2020, but the growth trend will still continue. Today, 15% of the average user’s waking hours are spent on social media, and for a lot more than chatting.

Facebook recently launched Instagram Shops, right around when Shopify announced a partnership with TikTok. This reflects how users are now shopping on social media.

One of the ways social platforms are supporting this is with new features like the Instagram Buy button.

Another seamless way users shop on social is through the advent of “shoppable media.” Shoppable photos and videos are just what they sound like: media is shared on social media that displays products along with real-life examples of their use. Each product featured is then clickable to buy right on the social platform.

How to take advantage

It’s clear to see the appeal for brands to meet this new consumer expectation. After all, this wasn’t just Facebook or Shopify’s clever idea to get more advertising dollars from brands. It was a direct response to the increasing consumer expectation for a truly frictionless shopping experience.

Just remember this: consumers aren’t going to shop on Facebook the same way they do on Amazon. On the latter, they type in search strings for products they already know they want. On social media, the only purchases made will be those inspired by “discoveries” as users scroll through their feeds. This means your shoppable media should be crafted to showcase use of products with real-life examples, not just product specifications.

4: Seamless Multi-Channel Customer Journey

Speaking of a frictionless customer journey, today’s consumers are expecting a seamless experience across a growing number of channels.

For example, if a user discovers a product of yours in a shoppable photo on Facebook, unless you stoked a need at the perfect moment, that user won’t buy the item right away. If your marketing made a good enough impression, they’ll come back to it.

Next, that same user might look your product category up on Amazon. This would be a preliminary search, perhaps to check prices.

After perusing Amazon, it’s clear to the user that your product has the best presentation. The next stop is to your eCommerce website—but still, not to buy. After a little more deliberating, the user does add the product to the cart, but then abandons the site to move onto something else.

It’s two days later when you send an automated (but personalized) email to this user that the final pitch works. The user completes the purchases after interacting with you on four channels.

How to take advantage

This multichannel, multi-touchpoint experience only works as part of a seamless buyer journey. Most businesses are already aware that customers want to view content and “shop around.” Most are also aware of the enormous benefits to selling on multiple marketplaces at once. What many don’t realize is just how natural this flow across channels has to be.

To take advantage of this consumer expectation, start by defining which eCommerce marketplaces you’ll sell on. This will require a deep dive into your customer avatar to understand what channels they regularly visit. The likelihood is high that your audience will look for your products on multiple websites, so your consistent product pages have to show up at every turn.

5: Brand Building

With consumers preferring D2C purchases in a big way today, they’ve also come to favor brands with personality. This consumer expectation comes down to the following: “be someone” before you sell them something.

What we mean is that your brand needs to have a clear brand style and voice (i.e., a “personality”) before consumers will want to buy from it. Nowadays, branding comes before sales.

How to take advantage

Brands are like people. Consumers will like brands that are approachable, and they’ll avoid brands that don’t seem genuine. Some brands will crack consumers up while others will make them cry (hopefully in a good way). Whatever the case, a clearly-defined brand will inspire emotions.

Defining brand personality starts with thinking of that brand as a human being. What does the brand look like, speak like, act like? What adjectives would someone use to describe it? How does that brand most easily connect with people?

Once a brand is defined, it must be used consistently across channels. The alternative is giving consumers a sense that the brand has multiple personalities—and that’s not the kind of brand they want to buy from. The most fundamental way brands ensure consistency in their “personalities” is by managing product data reliably across channels. In other words:

  • Ads should use consistent product images to those on product listings
  • Benefits spoken to in marketing must match those on product listings
  • Essential product data has to be optimized for each channel so that information is clean, consistent and complete

Consumers who don’t know what to expect from a brand won’t buy from it. Managing the required product data and content (in multiple versions for multiple channels) doesn’t have to be an endless headache of spreadsheets, either. With technology like product information management software (PIM), brands ensure consistent application of their “personality” across channels anchored in aggregated, organized, and optimized product data.

6: Quality

Consumers have gotten a taste for quality, and this has grown into a sizeable market expectation.

Back when eCommerce was still a thing of novelty, early adopters were enamored with the extraordinarily low prices they could find on Amazon and eBay. As eCommerce became more mainstream, a growing number of consumers are remembering how much they appreciate quality over too-good-to-be-true prices.

The notion of quality goes beyond the quality of the product today, too. Consumers expect a quality customer experience from the first ad to personalized remarketing, 24/7 customer service, and top-quality fulfillment of orders.

How to take advantage

eCommerce brands must infuse quality into every stage of the buyer journey. More importantly, they have to showcase their commitment to that level of quality. This can be done by offering transparency into a brand’s mission as well as a commitment to quality in every interaction, even down to shipping and the follow-up on orders.

When big changes happen in one place, they tend to happen in ten others as a result. The shift to eCommerce has been a long time coming, but the global pandemic of 2020 sped trends up in a real way. It’s easy for brands to get lost in the weeds of what competitors are doing and what new marketing tools are around, in fact, it’s changing consumer expectations that have driven all the other changes.

It’s up to each brand to meet these expectations, exceed them, or get lost in the dust of these changes to eCommerce.

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