The 10 eCommerce lessons we learned in 2021
If there’s one word that sums up the eCommerce industry in 2021, it’s adaptation.
Supply chain challenges hurt order fulfillment, privacy changes hindered personalization strategies (while consumers simultaneously demanded more personalized experiences), and changes to data collection all forced eCommerce merchants to adapt and change their business models almost overnight.
We wanted to reflect on these learnings due to the unprecedented changes we experienced in 2021.
Although the lessons were tough, merchants that successfully adapted to the changes were able to scale their brands to new heights: incorporating these lessons into your 2022 strategies is crucial to staying competitive in the growing eCommerce industry.
1. iOS privacy changes hit brands hard
Apple delivered a massive blow to Facebook advertising in 2020, with the “diabolical” iOS 14 update severely limiting tracking efforts. And when the dust seemed to have settled, Apple came back for more blood with the iOS 15 update—going for email marketing’s head.
eCommerce brands survived and adapted. But brands didn’t get away unscathed, either, and we can expect Apple to continue doubling down on its privacy measures. So how do we prepare for the inevitable?
The best way forward is to reduce your dependency on external platforms and third-party data. Instead, implement your own tracking and data collection strategies and create a single source of truth around your data to drive decision-making.
2. The massive rise and domination of TikTok + TikTok Ads
Hootsuite claimed there are 23 TikTok statistics that marketers need to know. But is the social media giant really that crucial to modern brands?
TikTok has around 1 billion active users globally, with a solid 100 million coming in from the US alone. TikTok also ranked first globally for Ad equity a second time, positioning itself as the preferred platform for social media advertising. If you’re looking for places to meet your target audience and show them a good time, TikTok should be on your checklist.
But leveraging TikTok doesn’t mean reserving a handle and dropping company product videos. The most successful brands understand why their audience uses TikTok and what content they best respond to.
For example, Samsung’s festive boxing day video had one of the best product placements we've ever seen, with the caption “Share the joy by creating memories with the ones you love. #PartyOnSamsungStreet #GalaxyZFold3”.
Even Prada’s TikTok videos and captions are more playful than the luxury brand’s typical style:
And we love Harper Wilde’s push onto TikTok with product education videos, lifestyle videos, and classic TikTok content:
TikTok also holds the crown for consumers’ favorite platform for ads, with users citing TikTok advertisements as fun and entertaining. And marketers aren’t lagging behind. eCommerce brands have recognized the importance of TikTok’s innovative adoptions and are increasing their ad spend.
3. Headless commerce is here to stay
In the increasingly competitive eCommerce industry, brands that deliver the best digital customer experiences are staying ahead. And to outdo your competition, agility and flexibility are crucial. Consumer trends and expectations change and evolve without notice, so responding swiftly gives eCommerce brands a competitive edge.
Unfortunately, technical considerations limited response times. Or, at least they did until headless eCommerce reared its…head :)
Thanks to headless commerce, eCommerce brands can separate their store’s front and back end and implement changes quickly. Your design concepts and strategies aren’t tied down by technical constraints or the fear of increasing page load times.
4. Zero-party data is the not-so-secret sauce to success
As privacy restrictions become more stringent, eCommerce brands will continue to have less access to third-party data.
But even as major players like Apple and Google crack down on third-party data collection, consumers are still demanding better, more personalized experiences. So how can brands hope to keep up?
You’ll need to decrease your reliance on third-party data and prioritize zero-party data. As the name hints, zero-party data does not involve any intermediate parties—you collect it directly from the customer.
It’s acquired through direct sources like customer profiles, surveys (e.g., HubSpot surveys) and polls, subscription information, and taking customers out for dinner. Maybe not so much the last point, but you get the gist.
Zero-party data collection helps eCommerce brands deliver hyper-personalized experiences, making your customers feel special while simultaneously staying ahead of the competition.
5. Buy now, pay later is a proven business model
Buy now, pay later is now a popular choice for customers and helps eCommerce brands increase their bottom line. By providing customers with mini, interest-free financing options, you can reduce friction and encourage higher-ticket purchases.
$500 seems like a hefty amount at the checkout, but split into four payments, the total isn’t quite as daunting.
In the age of evolving consumer expectations, offering diverse payment options can help your brand stay competitive.
So, while you could benefit greatly by introducing “Buy now, Pay Later,” be sure to invest in the right tech before taking the plunge. Otherwise, you might run into trouble with tracking payments or issuing refunds after returns.
6. The eCommerce industry continues to grow
The eCommerce industry has grown rapidly during the global pandemic. And as we ease out of the Coronavirus era, this growth trajectory is expected to slow down. Which it has, but eCommerce is still expanding, although not as drastically.
In fact, Cyber Week sales increased in 2021 for Shopify merchants, despite supply chain challenges and shipping delays. eCommerce brands launched their Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales earlier this year, and the success is in the numbers:
Although eCommerce may never replace brick and mortar retail, the reverse is also true. They’ve both established themselves as separate entities, providing different consumer experiences. And with the development of AR and VR, eCommerce is filling many gaps in the customer experience that traditional retail had monopolized.
Brands have realized the value of integrating eCommerce and brick and mortar strategies, which is why omnichannel experiences are paving the way forward.
7. eCommerce data and analytics led the way for decision-making
Despite growing privacy restrictions, eCommerce merchants have access to an ever-growing arsenal of useful data and analytics. Most eCommerce brands aren’t struggling from a lack of data—the challenge they face is putting the right data to good use.
eCommerce brands benefit greatly from eCommerce analytics platforms like Daasity that unify analytics and create a single source of truth. With such powerful analytics platforms, you can ditch spreadsheets and access real-time and insightful data, empowering informed decision-making.
With a centralized system, eCommerce brands can distinguish valuable insights and leverage data to improve the customer’s journey.
8. Peer-to-peer resale builds communities for brands
The secondary market has been a gray area for years, but more recently, brands are bringing peer-to-peer resale under their own umbrella. When you think of the resale market, your first thought is probably the fashion industry. And yes, the fashion industry is cultivating resale communities.
Letting customers resell your products (like secondhand clothing) through platforms like Treet brings in new revenue streams and possibly new customers. Some folks might not be ready to commit to your brand’s new items initially, but having a positive experience with resold items could encourage them to invest more.
An additional benefit for brands is that existing customers can sell their existing products and get credits to buy more new products. This increases the chances of having existing customers make repeat purchases, allowing brands to grow even more while optimizing their customer acquisition costs.
9. eCommerce brands are catching up to Amazon’s logistics network with 3PLs
Most fast-growing eCommerce brands were struggling to keep up with Amazon-level fulfillment, so it may come as a surprise that these brands are now offering expedited shipping on par with Amazon.
3PLs, however, have quickly stepped up. 3PL providers now serve 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies, allowing brands to provide Amazon-level fulfillment options and stay competitive. And with 3PLs popping up focused on smaller eCommerce merchants, the ability to offer Amazon-like levels of fast shipping is attainable for almost every brand.
Additionally, providing customers with expedited shipping options and better delivery experiences increases retention and repeat purchases.
10. Retail didn’t die!
Despite how badly the odds have been stacked against retail, it stood its ground and has continued to grow. These pandemic years weren’t kind to retail, with lockdowns and supply chain issues threatening operations.
But if eCommerce brands have learned anything, it’s to respond and adapt with agility. Retail brands focused on the omnichannel journey and combined elements of online and physical shopping to meet customer expectations.
In-store pickup is one of the best examples of omnichannel flexibility, where customers can order online and pick orders up from a physical location. Also known as Buy Now, Pick-up in Store (BIPOS), this retail model helped businesses manage customer expectations while adhering to security restrictions.
Here’s a ‘bonus’ eCommerce lesson from 2021: you can’t prepare for everything. In a nutshell, that’s what the year taught us.
However, you can equip yourself with tools to better adapt and respond to changing conditions. And that’s how successful eCommerce brands survived and thrived this year, despite supply chain challenges and increases in competition.
So for 2022, it’s important to remember:
- Informed decision-making can only be achieved with data and analytics. Otherwise, you’re just guessing. Just because you grew a brand to a thousand orders a month trusting your gut, you may not get the same results by guessing your way to ten thousand orders per month.
- Agility and flexibility are everything. You might need to partner with a 3PL or leverage omnichannel strategies to improve fulfillment operations. You might need to leverage headless eCommerce to respond to consumer expectations more rapidly. The ability to adapt helps you stay competitive.
- Don’t fight your customers. Seriously. If they prefer a new ad format, want more payment options, or expect you to embrace reselling, just go with it. A more-than-great customer experience is the crux of growing an eCommerce brand, so meet your customers where they prefer, and greet them how they like.
On your 2021 eCommerce Bingo Card, did you have “Prada asking TikTok users for fashion advice” on there?