8 Ecommerce Trends That Are Heating Up in 2020

December 10th, 2019

Ecommerce has been exploding over the past few decades. US consumers spent over $5 billon online in 2018—which was a 15% increase from the year before. With online marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, Shopify, GumRoad, Storenvy, Fiverr, etc. it’s easier than ever for anyone to start selling their own goods or services online. 

The age of giant retailers and general merchandisers is fading too (think department stores like Macy’s, T.J. Maxx, Target, Walmart, Sears, etc.). But while physical storefront retail sales may be slowing down, ecommerce is heating up. A recent report from the US Department of Commerce reveals that online sales have increased 16% between Q3 2018 and Q3 2019, compared to overall retail, which has only increased by 4% over the same time period. 

The increasing popularity of the ‘direct-to-consumer’ (DTC) approach to selling has helped make it easier and cheaper for solopreneurs and small businesses to start selling online. In this approach, stores sell their goods or services directly to the consumes (often online), bypassing third-party retailers or wholesalers. Costs associated with middlemen department stores, and the rent and upkeep that comes along with a physical storefront, disappear for online-only DTC businesses. And the proliferation of online marketplaces gives individuals access to platforms on which to start selling. Overall, this has helped set the stage for rapid development and expansion in the ecommerce world. 

Looking ahead to 2020, here’s a rundown of 8 ecommerce trends to watch as they continue to unfold: 

  1. Importance of Social Selling 
  2. The Rise of Mobile Commerce
  3. Convergence of Content and Ecommerce 
  4. AI-Driven Personalization 
  5. Headless Ecommerce  
  6. Payment Flexibility 
  7. Increasing Popularity of AR and VR 
  8. Environmentally Conscious Consumers

 #1 Importance of Social Selling

Social media selling has emerged as one of the next big ecommerce arenas. This is in part tied to the rise of mcommerce (mobile commerce), especially for B2C retailers. Businesses can allow customers to browse and buy from their product catalog while on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. These channels play a big role in generating DTC sales, and are also prime marketing and advertising real estate.

In a recent survey of ecommerce software users, 47% said that advertising on social media is now very essential to their ecommerce goals. Another 32% said it was somewhat essential. In terms of how much revenue can be tied to social media, 62% of respondents said that at least 10% of their customers come from social channels like Facebook or Instagram.

#2 The Rise of Mobile Commerce

Smartphones have become nearly ubiquitous, with the average American spending a little over 2 hours on their phones per day. It should be no surprise that online purchases made on mobile devices have surged over the past few years too. Mobile sales made up about 34% of total US online retail purchases in 2017, and estimates say this percentage will increase between  50% to 73% by 2021

What does this mean for ecommerce businesses? It means that having an intuitive and easy to use mobile app is becoming more important by the day. If you’re looking for a new ecommerce platform right now, make sure the products your considering have strong web design tools that will allow you to optimize your mobile storefront.  

#3 Convergence of Content and Ecommerce

Another interesting trend is the convergence of content management systems (CMS) and ecommerce platforms. Content management has always been important for ecommerce businesses. And it has become even more necessary for ecommerce platforms to include as product catalogues increase in size, product variation needs become more complex, and marketing requirements (like blogs), increase. More and more online sellers use either an integrated CMS and ecommerce platform, or have one platform that serves as both. 72% either have an integrated CMS and Ecommerce solution, or are using one platform to fill both needs. 

#4 AI-Driven Personalization

It seems that AI technologies like machine learning and natural language processing are being adopted in customer/consumer-facing industries across the board. And there’s good reason for this! AI gives us the power to see trends and patterns across behavior overtime and make predictions based on this history. This is a goldmine for the ecommerce industry where customers often have specific and fairly predictable shopping habits.

One way that AI has been used to improve customer shopping experiences is making intelligent product recommendations based on past and current shopper behavior. This allows ecommerce businesses to provide their website visitors with more relevant content and product suggestions, which in turn makes the whole experience better for the customer. Machine learning can also make product search results more relevant for the shopper by tailoring them to match the searcher’s preferences and profile. 

#5 Headless Ecommerce 

Headless ecommerce platforms, which allow the frontend of an ecommerce site to be decoupled from the backend of the website, are increasing in popularity. Some examples of well-known headless platforms include Shopify, Magento Commerce (now owned by Adobe), and BigCommerce. The boon for ecommerce websites is that these platforms don’t require a pre-designed storefront, and allow more freedom for frontend customization and content presentation. Data is pulled from the backend via an API so that vendors can have complete control over their online storefronts across digital channels (e.g. desktop, mobile, and social media). Since these two layers are decoupled, ecommerce vendors already using a separate CMS can use this in tandem with a headless ecommerce platform.

This also makes from end customization easier for non-developers to achieve, many ecommerce vendors include WYSIWYG editors that require little to no prior coding knowledge. What impact does this have for online sellers? The main benefit of headless ecommerce platforms is the increased freedom to design personalized customer experiences.

#6 Flexible Payment Options

One other ecommerce trend that’s becoming more prevalent is offering online shoppers a range of payment options. This can include multiple online or in-person payment options (e.g. cash, card, e-wallets, payment apps like Paypal or Amazon Pay), and different options for payment term as well. 

Services like Afterpay, Final, and Affirm allow customers to make online purchases and pay the full price over specified weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly intervals. This can be helpful for ecommerce businesses whose products tend to be on the pricier side, as a large price tag can deter some customers from making an online purchase. Some US retailers that have added these services to their online payment options have seen conversion rates increase by 20-30%

#7 Increasing popularity of AR and VR

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also poised to step into the ecommerce spotlight. Estimates predict that global online retail investment in these technologies will increase by 79%, up to $18.8 billion, in 2020. While many of the trends mentioned in this article are especially relevant for business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses, AR and VR are equally relevant for B2C and business-to-business (B2B) businesses. These technologies allow customers to try out products online (e.g. clothes, glasses, furniture, etc) before purchasing them. Some online retailers like Warby Parker and Sephora now have an app that uploads images of either the customers face so they can ‘try products on’ before making a purchase. 

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also poised to step into the ecommerce spotlight. Estimates predict that global online retail investment in these technologies will increase by 79%, up to $18.8 billion, in 2020. While many of the trends mentioned in this article are especially relevant for business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses, AR and VR are equally relevant for B2C and business-to-business (B2B) businesses. These technologies allow customers to try out products online (e.g. clothes, glasses, furniture, etc) before purchasing them. Some online retailers like Warby Parker and Sephora now have an app that uploads images of either the customers face so they can ‘try products on’ before making a purchase. 

VR headsets also enable B2B businesses to visualize larger, often more complex products. For example, large pieces of construction hardware, building designs, or aircraft designs. B2B companies can also use VR videos/animations as marketing assets and sales materials (e.g. for product demonstrations). 

#8 Environmentally Mindful Consumers

One last notable trend is the fact that consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious in their purchasing decisions. Greener consumerism is on the rise: studies have found that 50% of online consumers say that environmental concerns influence their purchasing decisions. 

What does this mean for ecommerce businesses? Mainly, it means that a good chunk of their customers care about their environmental habits! In order to garner more business from eco-friendly buyers, who more often than not are millennials, online sellers should make sure their business practices are more ethically and environmentally responsible. This could include things like: 

  • recycling and repairing merchandise,
  • making sure labor is sourced ethically,
  • and working to reduce carbon emissions and overall environmental impacts. 

Looking for a new ecommerce solution and want to figure out which products would fit your business best? Our ecommerce platforms category page includes a more in-depth description of ecommerce software and hundreds of reviews for different ecommerce solutions. 

Our Buyer’s Guide to Ecommerce Platforms also takes a deep dive on 7 popular ecommerce platforms.