5 New Year Ecommerce Trends for 2021: Experts weigh in on the Future of Retail in a ‘Post Covid’ World

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Over the course of 2020 global ecommerce sales grew by 20% to reach the staggering value of $4.2 trillion. What many had predicted would take the best part of a decade to happen actually played out over a tumultuous 12 months, largely fuelled by stay at home orders and store closures that converted even the most stoic of technophobes into online shoppers.

For ecommerce merchants it was a period defined by unprecedented fluctuations in demand which led to overnight success for some and rapidly declining profits for others.

But what now for this brave New World of retail? 

With competition in the online space at an all time high, demand causing major logistical challenges, the customer-merchant relationship evolving at pace and restrictions changing from day to day, forecasting the future is no easy thing. 

Here, a number of industry experts have pooled their expertise to give their predictions on the top 5 ecommerce trends for 2021. 

Free Returns & Fast Fulfilment will sweep the nation

“With competition in the ecommerce space at an all time high, and 45% of us citing our willingness to try new brands since the pandemic hit, retailers will have to go above and beyond to retain custom this year. And how do they do that? Speedy, reliable delivery and returns. It’s no secret that 1 in 4 of us was let down by an online delivery in 2020 and in order to reestablish trust merchants are going to have to up their delivery game. Data from our own How We’ll Shop report indicates that upwards of 20% of brands will be rolling out free returns this year in an effort to incentivise repeat custom, whilst a further 20% will be implementing next day delivery to challenge the established market leaders on speed and service.”

– Derek O’Carroll, CEO, Brightpearl

Retailers will optimize omnichannel 

“As we look ahead into 2021, retailers must welcome change to create change. Among the ways I think this will be most recognized in 2021 is by retailers finally optimizing omnichannel and leaving no dead end on their customer’s path to purchase. This means I believe retailers will expand their shopping destinations to consumers across more verticals than they have in the past, including via marketplaces, social media selling, their own branded websites, in-store, catalogs and more. Adapting to the realities of our modern and complex commerce world cannot be an afterthought anymore but instead, must be embraced in real-time. With this said, I also believe there will be a more aggressive integration of technologies among merchants to connect these offerings and gain more real-time insight from data to be more proactive and more profitable in their future business decisions.”

– Nicole Rehyle, Founder

Retail Minded

Subscription models to skyrocket as local high street blooms

“One clear trend emerging from Brightpearl’s recent research is that when we do shop it is more likely to be on our local high street. Longer trips to shopping destinations will be far less frequent. For retailers and brands this will have a significant impact, but we are already beginning to see the green shoot of a new model, for example, Pret a Manger offering up to five hot drinks per day for just £20 per month. Expect the subscription model to be prevalent in many more business models over the coming year.”

–  Andrew Busby, Founder

Retail Reflections

Strategic tech partnerships will be central to success

“Omnichannel commerce made a big impact in 2020 and the trend looks to be sticking around. Store pick up is even more common and giving smaller merchants a chance to be more competitive in dense markets with larger competitors. And merchants have been so creative with pushing the boundaries of creating new opportunities, which makes developers like us excited to build the tools and solutions that will make 2021 very successful for so many merchants. Also, that means that great relationships with your technology partners are the key to real, inventive, and conversion-focused tools.”

– Kris Pursel, Director of Sales and Marketing


Merchants to pay close attention to customer experience

“Customer experience will be explored on a granular level. From site speed, return policy, site experience, product page assets, video, all the way through to shipping, the customer receiving the product, product packaging presentation and on to follow up emails. Before these elements were diced up and handled by different stakeholders, but it’s going to start to be looked at as a whole connected system.”

– Richard Emanuel, CEO and Co-Founder

Parkfield Commerce