IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index reports that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years. That acceleration has led to shifts in customer demands, technological capabilities, and the experiences brands offer.
It’s hard to look forward to how retail technology will advance in 2021 without first addressing the unprecedented circumstances retailers found themselves managing in 2020, thanks to COVID-19.
Even to the most casual observer, it’s quite apparent that the pandemic dramatically impacted the way many retailers function.
There was a significant increase in online shopping, with 41% of customers indicating that they were shopping online for things that they would ordinarily purchase in-store. Many brick-and-mortar stores still remain closed, with brands reassessing the need for a physical presence, versus investing in a digital one.
As COVID-19 vaccines rollout, restrictions will ease and there will be a gradual return of customers to brick-and-mortar stores. Yet even so, IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index reports that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years.
With that acceleration in mind, let’s break down the top 5 technology trends of which retailers should take note in 2021.
Indeed, smart brands have already taken it one step further and adopted - or are in the process of implementing - same-day and next-day delivery options.
While Amazon Prime pioneered this now expectation, Target has grown their Shipt services and Walmart has expanded their two-hour express delivery options. Yet that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as 88% of customers have indicated that they’re willing to pay more for faster delivery, according to PwC.
Expect to see retailers investing in faster, more innovative fulfillment options, as well as the talent and tools it takes to properly market these new features to customers and potential customers.
2. Enhanced Interactive Product Visuals
With more customers shopping online than ever before, and the accelerated adoption of digital shopping, customers are also demanding much better product visuals.
Poor product information is one of the top 3 reasons for cart abandonment, with 30% of those who abandoned a cart identifying lack of information and visuals as their primary reason for doing so.
When product information is incorrect or misleading, only 13% of customers would eventually be willing to buy from the brand again.
40% of customers return purchases because they don’t live up to their online portrayals.
While many brands have invested in high-resolution images, and photos from multiple angles, static images are no longer enough.
Customers want 360-degree views that depict all angles of a product. For fashion retailers, customers may even prefer video content, which demonstrates how the clothing moves. And for retailers that sell tools, technology, or other interactive products, customers may be looking for videos of the products in action.
Even with this emerging customer expectation, brands often feel that AR/VR experiences are reserved for major players, like Amazon or Target. But many eCommerce solutions have already identified this trend and are creating accessible, easily-implemented opportunities for brands that aren’t eCommerce giants.
Shopify is a great example, as they recently introduced Shopify AR, which businesses can utilize to create AR experiences for customers. Shopify reported that products accessed via AR have a 94% higher conversion rate than those with more traditional product interactions.
As we head further into 2021, eCommerce solutions like Shopify will continue to develop this technology and make it accessible to brands, and brands are looking to take advantage of it.
3. Increased Personalization
If you’re an eCommerce brand, chances are extremely high that you’ve already implemented at least some level of personalization in your customer experience.
An OptinMonster report indicated that customers spend 48% more when their experiences are personalized. Personalization’s impact extends to marketing, too, with 82% of brands seeing an increase in open rates through email personalization.
Consequently, successful eCommerce companies are utilizing personalization technology to create meaningful, customized experiences.
We’ve written extensively about creating personalization that converts. Doing so involves data-informed segmentation that personalizes customer experiences based on a number of factors, including: current and past browsing, location, age and gender, purchase behavior, weather and season, browsing device, channel, and much more.
Yet there’s one avenue for personalization that few brands have yet to thoroughly embrace - personalization via chatbots.
With the rapid advancement of online shopping, many retailers have had to reassess how they provide customer support. This has led to significant increases in the uses of chatbots. They save brands time and money, while still meeting customer needs. In fact, according to MoveableInk, chatbots are predicted to save the retail, banking, and healthcare industries over $11 billion by 2023.
While there will always be a need for in-person experiences and person-to-person customer interactions, whether that’s through a live chat, call center, or other customer-service channel, chatbots can cut down on wait times and resolve customer issues faster than ever before.
Chatbots will continue to grow in popularity, and chatbot solutions will become more sophisticated and nimble in 2021.
4. Rise of Subscriptions
Subscriptions have become an increasingly common way for customers to purchase products and services.
46% of online shoppers currently subscribe to media (ie Netflix, Spotify)
15% of online shoppers have signed up for one or more eCommerce subscriptions subproducts at some point
The subscription eCommerce market has grown by more than 100% annually since 2013
Customers often opt for subscriptions due to their convenience, cost-savings, or personalization. And whether they’re replenishing commodities, looking for curated products, or willing to pay for exclusive access, the demand for subscriptions gives eCommerce brands a unique opportunity to generate loyal customers and predictable income.
As subscription services grow, so will innovative technologies to support them. Emerging leaders include Chargebee, Stripe Connect, Chargify, Zuora, and Oracle Subscription Management, among others.
Expect to see brands take advantage of these solutions, and other eCommerce platforms begin offering their own subscription solutions throughout the year.
5. Serge in B2B Searches
While we’ve mostly addressed B2C eCommerce, make no mistake - B2B eCommerce is experiencing an evolution of customer demands, too.
The pandemic accelerated digital shopping for B2B buyers, too, with many of them far less willing to tolerate antiquated catalogs and salesperson-driven product recommendations than before.
In fact, according to Forrester, 74% of B2B buyers report researching at least half of their purchases online. Your B2B customers are already shopping online; you just need to make it easier for them to do so.
This includes launching an online catalog (if you haven’t already), but also embracing the other four technology trends we’ve identified in this article, as B2B shoppers increasingly expect experiences similar to what they receive when shopping B2C.
Indeed, BigCommerce notes that, “Many businesses are also looking at AI to gain a competitive advantage through chatbots and search marketing. Augmented reality (AR) is also becoming part of the picture. By 2022, it's expected that 25% of enterprises will launch AR and another 70% will experiment with it.”
And according to Business 2 Community, the average B2B buyer conducts approximately 12 online searches before making a purchase.
This means that as 2021 unfolds, B2B eCommerce solutions will be rolling out B2C-like features so that enterprises can continue to meet customer demands.
The pandemic accelerated digital shopping in significant, irreversible ways. While that means many businesses - both B2C and B2B - are still catching up to new customer demands, it also means that brands that can quickly adapt will be able to capitalize on this rapid acceleration. It also means that technology will be evolving more rapidly than ever, as platforms rollout new features and solutions to accommodate both the enterprises they support, and those enterprises customers.
Bahareh brings over 10 years experience in retail in eCommerce. She received her MBA from the number #1 entrepreneurship program in the US, followed by startup experience in transportation, fashion, food and beverage, and robotics/AI. Recognized as a high-performance sales generator, Bahareh currently works with enterprise businesses to provide digital transformation solutions. She leads account management – including sales, implementation, execution, and maintenance of key client relationships – keeping corporate strategy, long-term visualization, stakeholder concerns, and growth in mind.