Last updated: The future of commerce: 3 trends shaping how we buy and sell

The future of commerce: 3 trends shaping how we buy and sell


The future of commerce is a continually evolving landscape, in a field where brands, businesses, and bright minds always try to stay ten steps ahead of where they believe the competition will be. Commerce today requires planning holiday sales in July, and back-to-school promos in February. Those in the industry use forecasts and predictions to build strategies and secure budgets, knowing that in our 24/7, always connected world, early is on-time, and on-time is late.

Or, to put it another way: In the future of commerce, you can’t afford to play catch-up.

To stay ahead of the pack, you need more than forecasting and predictions – you’ve got to keep up on the current trends and innovations that are changing how consumers shop and brands sell, while also trying to get a handle on the emerging future-movements as well.

The state of commerce today

The commerce landscape has become increasingly competitive—especially online. Fueled by stay-at-home orders, 2020 saw record-breaking e-commerce sales (up 45% from 2019).

This year, worldwide e-commerce sales are expected to exceed $5 trillion for the first time ever. And while the rate of growth has stabilized, it hasn’t stopped.

As a result, online ad prices are up. That, paired with a more saturated market, means customer acquisition costs are sky-high. So, brands are shifting their focus to customer experience, engagement, and retention.

By delivering stellar, customer-centric commerce experiences, companies can drive greater lifetime value and offset acquisition costs.

The future of commerce: 3 trends driving how we buy and sell tomorrow

Customer experience (CX) is critical for commerce brands today. In a crowded, competitive market, your experience is what sets you apart. In fact, CX has overtaken price and product as the top brand differentiator.

To win – both now and in the future – companies need to prioritize their customers above all.

Here are three trends shaping the future of commerce:
  1. Commerce, commerce everywhere
  2. Personalization with privacy
  3. From product to purpose

Commerce, commerce everywhere: Goodbye channels, hello customers!

The demand for frictionless omnichannel experiences was high even before 2020. The sudden disruptions of COVID-19 only amplified it. As more and more brands have entered the e-commerce space, customer standards have increased.

Customers don’t think in terms of channels. They expect seamless, high-quality experiences no matter where, when, or how they shop. This has led to several major commerce trends.

Mobile commerceShopping via mobile devices is gaining popularity, already accounting for more than half of e-commerce sales. People are turning to their phones for everything from entertainment to health and wellness, and shopping is no different. In 2021, mobile commerce sales reached $362 billion, a 16% increase from 2020. And while plenty of companies have enabled mobile commerce, the experience is far from seamless. Brands that master mobile commerce will be rewarded well into the future.

Social commerceSelling directly through social media channels is a great way to meet customers where they already are. Consumers like it because it doesn’t interrupt their experience by pulling them out of their social platforms. Also, they can take advantage of features like auto-fill to speed up the process. Businesses like it because it gives them access to useful customer insights and builds social proof with comments and reviews. So it’s no surprise that 74% of retailers are already embracing social commerce. With social sales expected to nearly triple by 2025, this trend isn’t going anywhere.

Headless commerceHeadless commerce offers businesses greater agility with their online storefronts. That’s because when you decouple the front- and back-ends, it becomes a lot easier to create an almost modular, customizable experience. Brands can quickly design for new and emerging channels, or create timely events and promos without risk of “breaking” their site.

Voice, video, and accessibilityOn top of where people shop, you also need to consider how people want to shop. While e-commerce has plenty of perks, consumers often miss parts of the in-store experience. Some brands are exploring live commerce, via streaming video, so customers can see someone interacting with the product, and ask questions in real-time. And as voice assistants and IoT devices gain popularity, some may start to skip the storefront altogether.

People are also looking more to voice and video thanks to an increased focus on accessible CX. Making it easier for all customers to shop with you will only benefit you long-term.

To win customers now and in the future, you need to design commerce experiences that are as easy, convenient, and pleasant as possible. And that means making a frictionless, omnichannel experience. Because, remember, when you say “siloed channels,” your customers say:

Personalization with privacy: Show me what my data’s worth

The second big trend driving the future of commerce is the push for personalization. Of course, personalization has long been crucial to the commerce experience. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how easy it is to obtain customer data.

At the same time, consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy and industry leaders (a.k.a. Google and Apple) are responding. Last year, Apple gave users more ability to restrict sharing of their data, and Google plans to eliminate third-party cookies, which used to provide companies with valuable insights. But personalization, and customers’ appetite for it, isn’t going anywhere.

For the past year, brands have been adapting their digital strategies to allow for personalization without third-party data. While it might seem daunting, it’s not an impossible task. Customers are happy to share their personal information, as long as they see what’s in it for them.

Expect to see more first- and zero-party data strategies taking the lead in the coming years. Brands that are able to demonstrate clear value in exchange for customer data will tap into a virtuous cycle of CX:

Good experiences ➡️ Customer data ➡️ Better, more personalized experiences

For example, customers can fill out short surveys to unlock fun, value-adding experiences such as exclusive discounts, personalized products and services, or interactive engagements. The key here is transparency. Be upfront and honest with customers about how and why you’re collecting their information, and don’t break their trust.

From product to purpose

Fifty-two percent of shoppers prefer to buy from companies that share their values, and 66% prefer brands that are ethical and authentic. Consumers increasingly want to support brands that stand for something beyond the goods and services they offer. Millennials and Gen Z in particular are happy to “vote with their wallets.”

For consumer brands, this means its time to bring your values front and center. This has to be authentic; lip service will get you nowhere. According to a recent Mintel consumer trends report: “Consumers have moved beyond simply wanting brands to ‘be ethical’ and are demanding to see measurable, transparent and consistent actions from the brands they choose to support.”

Successful brands will build their values into every stage of the commerce experience. For example:
  • Offer more environmentally sustainable shipping options at checkout
  • Feature an inclusive, wide range of models in product photos
  • Invest in making your entire experience more accessible, including customer support and aftercare

Fast-fashion brand ASOS announced last year that their executives’ future pay will be directly linked to whether they hit specific ESG (environmental, social and governance) milestones by 2030. Brands that can show specific, measurable actions like that will see a positive impact on their bottom line.

The future of commerce is here, now

To stay ahead in a constantly-evolving commerce landscape, brands need to focus on delivering outstanding customer experiences now. That means adapting your commerce strategy to be more flexible, agile, and responsive to customer needs.

The more prepared you are to adapt to change in the future, the better off your business will be long-term.

E-commerce everywhere.
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It starts HERE.

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