December 21, 2020

Ecommerce predictions for 2021: Seven experts have their say

By Ellen Daniel

With the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures plunging bricks and mortar retail into disarray, the spotlight has frequently been on ecommerce, as many consumers turn to online retailers as their preferred means of shopping. In this context, many retailers have had to accelerate their digital transformation to reach customers and stand out from the crowd. How will this change in 2021? Seven experts shared their ecommerce predictions for 2021 on what the year ahead could mean for the industry.

2021 ecommerce predictions

There will be a rush to invest in ecommerce

“Buoyed by 2020 growth in ecommerce and the wider economy not doing so well (compounded by low-interest rates and the threat of negative interest rates) we will see a rush to invest in ecommerce related businesses. This naturally means we will see both over valuations and bad investments this year, as well as profitable ones as a result.”

Patrick Tame, CEO at Beringer Tame

‘No-touch’ services are here to stay

“Along with a general acceleration of digital transformation, the pandemic will have a specific impact on the customer journey. Already, organisations have adapted their operations to be Covid-safe by limiting face-to-face interactions, and many of these adaptations are likely to remain long term due to the convenience they provide. Increasingly, we will see companies develop  approaches to serving customers with zero physical interaction and promote these ‘no-touch’ services as a competitive differentiator.”

Prabath Siriwardena, VP and deputy CTO, security architecture at WSO2

AI will play a greater role

“A lack of automation has slowed retailers down during the pandemic, with nearly 80% having to increase manual intervention in response to fluctuating demand and supply. In 2021, retailers will need to adopt AI to help keep up with these unpredictable swings in demand. Understanding the on-going changes in consumer behaviour or how daily life changes as a vaccine rolls out, retailers will need supply chains flexible enough to keep up. AI can be used for smart decisions on everything from sourcing items at short notice to figuring out new logistical plans. However, they must think strategically when investing in AI. Thinking carefully about exactly where they want to make changes and ensure it helps meet business goals, rather than just serving a limited purpose.”

Wayne Snyder, VP retail industry strategy EMEA at Blue Yonder

Personalisation will be key

“The move to online channels also means businesses can offer a more personalised experience to customers including communications, discounts and offers based on their profile or previous purchases. Agile micro-merchants, such as small, ethical and local brands will do well as they adopt more digital tools to build and sell to a like-minded community online. Businesses such as takeaways will also be able to offer more order fulfilment choices to their customers at checkout, which could include large players like Deliveroo or Just Eat. Often this means higher costs to the business, so the alternative is fulfilment from the business itself at a lower cost. Either way, we will see customers incentivised with value-add offers such as extra loyalty points or a discount on their next order for choosing a fulfilment option.”

Animesh Chowdhury, founder  and CTO at Goodtill

Identity verification will be important

Because millions have been forced online to access healthcare and financial services, purchase groceries and consume entertainment, the focus in 2021 and beyond will turn to verifying identities for the huge swathes of digital accounts that are being created every day – especially in those industries that are playing catch-up. The shift towards identity verification as a key strategic driver for organisations needing to satisfy regulatory requirements, prevent fraud, and build trust online, is an important, ongoing priority to safeguard long-term success. This will mean building trust with consumers and putting best-in-class technologies and processes in place to validate that each customer (whether that is an individual or a business) is who they say they are each and every time.”

Zac Cohen, COO at Trulioo

Retailers will invest in augmented reality

“What could arguably have been considered a ‘nice to have’ feature on retailers’ online stores until now, augmented reality is fast becoming a ‘must-have’ in the wake of the pandemic. The try in-store, buy-online tactic hasn’t been available to consumers for much of 2020, meaning that the digital doors must now open for products that have traditionally been deemed ‘something you couldn’t buy before you see it in person. Augmented reality is the virtual answer to try before you buy, and will be key to supporting buying decisions, so expect to see more and more brands integrating it into their eCommerce strategy in 2021; virtual changing rooms for fashion brands, try-on apps for cosmetics, and 3D placement for furniture and interior design will become even more prevalent.”

Ciaran Bollard, CEO at Kooomo

Retailers will need to offer innovative customer experiences

“Tech has been more crucial than ever in the retail sector this year, but we expect its role to expand even more in 2021. Personalisation tech – such as intelligent guided selling, chatbots and other online tools – will become more sophisticated. Other measures to make the customer experience more engaging will also figure prominently, including faster checkout processes, tailored cross-selling, voice ordering, and video content designed to stimulate customers – like virtual gym classes or cooking lessons. Essentially, the innovation is about giving customers the inspiration they’re lacking because there are fewer reasons to visit physical stores: if a brand can really fire the imaginations of prospective customers, they will provide something different, something more experiential and put themselves on a path to do well in 2021.”

Brad Christian, global chief customer officer at Conversity

Read More: Digital transformation will be vital for survival in the post-Covid world.