E-commerce and digital marketplaces are fast-paced and always changing, so what trends can online retailers expect going into 2024?
While in-person shopping is back in full swing, e-commerce continues to thrive. In fact, experts predict worldwide retail e-commerce sales will climb from about 6 trillion US dollars to just over 8 trillion dollars by 2026.
But with growth comes fierce competition. To stand out, online retailers will need to deliver exceptional, personalized customer experiences. And to do that, they need to understand the industry trends and consumer behaviors shaping e-commerce.
E-commerce trends 2024: What’s shaping the future of online selling today
So, what does it take to deliver e-commerce experiences that will shine in 2024?
Here are the top 15 e-commerce trends you need to know in 2024:
- Unified omnichannel experiences
- Artificial intelligence
- Social commerce
- Personalized customer service
- Voice search
- Mobile-first UX design
- Inflation and redefining value
- ROPO (research online, purchase offline) + BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store)
- AR and VR-enhanced shopping
- Hyper personalization
- Privacy and transparency
- “Human as a premium”
- Direct to consumer
- Subscription commerce
1. Seamless omnichannel experiences will make or break online retailers in 2024
In 2023, consumers fully embraced returning to in-person shopping, but that doesn’t mean that e-commerce started to lag. Rather, customers are shopping across multiple channels and touchpoints for any given purchase.
From online shops to third party marketplaces to social media apps, to brick and mortar stores—people are researching, comparing, shopping and seeking support just about everywhere you can imagine. And they expect to be able to do so easily with virtually no disruptions.
73% of retail consumers shop across multiple channels, and retailers who use 3 or more channels increase customer engagement 251% more than single-channel retailers
To ensure a cohesive brand experience, retailers need to maintain their presence on all online platforms—including their own website, social platforms and third-party marketplace shops (such as Amazon).
Not only that, but they need to optimize the omnichannel customer experience by unifying things on the back-end, so that no matter where a customer chooses to pick up their buying journey they are able to seamlessly continue right where they left off.
2024 ecommerce trends included within omnichannel experiences:
- Enable flexible fulfillment, allowing customers to choose whether to buy, service or return purchases online or in-store
- Embrace social commerce once and for all (or risk losing millennial and gen z audiences)
- Provide personalized customer service that puts customers in control and at ease
(More on these later.)
Brands that are able to unify their omnichannel strategy and provide seamless, personalized experiences will continue to win in 2024.
2. Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing e-commerce
Love it or hate it, AI is here to stay. It’s been a useful tool for e-commerce businesses for a while now, but in 2023 it hit the mainstream with generative AI—showing consumers just how powerful it can be.
With AI becoming increasingly prolific, it’s clear why it ranks as #2 for 2024 e-commerce trends.
For online retailers, AI can be a powerful tool that helps them:
- Personalize customer experiences and recommendations
- Optimize everything from supply chain logistics to inventory management
- Fine-tune their digital marketing strategies and reach their target audiences more effectively
Retailers who remain wary of artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon find themselves in trouble.
Instead of avoiding the technology, integrate it into your 2024 e-commerce strategy thoughtfully and intentionally. Understand the risks, build trust through transparency and be proactive in facing common challenges.
3. Social commerce drives massive engagement in 2024
96.9 million people in the U.S. shop directly on social media.
And as younger millennials and gen z continue to consume the market, that number is only going to grow.
83% of gen z consumers say their shopping starts on social media.
More and more brands are making it effortless for people to discover and purchase directly from their favorite social apps (primarily Instagram and TikTok), not only earning themselves social currency, but elevating consumer expectations across the board.
It’s expected that social commerce will reach $2.9 trillion by 2026. Meaning the time for retailers to get social is now.
2024 ecommerce trends included within social commerce:
- Delivering seamless omnichannel commerce that lets consumers build their own buying journey
- Embrace authenticity when engaging with your audiences
- Take a mobile-first approach to UX design (more on this later)
4. Sustainability: It pays to go green
Sustainability remains at the forefront of consumers’ minds as they increasingly experience the impacts of climate change firsthand. This trend will only continue to build momentum in 2024.
Consumers are seeking out and prioritizing eco-conscious options and are even willing to pay premium for sustainable goods and businesses.
But it’s not easy being green: especially in the U.S., people are becoming increasingly skeptical of “greenwashing.”
Mintel’s latest consumer report shares that:
60% of U.S. consumers think many companies are just pretending to be sustainable.
“Waiting for regulatory pushes and industry accreditations will not be enough to satisfy consumers’ expectations. To stay ahead of their competitors, brands need to … demonstrate meaningful and measurable progress towards sustainability targets, and quickly make changes based on changing circumstances.”
E-commerce companies need to double down on their sustainability practices and demonstrate a clear, definitive and authentic commitment to the cause. Younger consumers especially want to support brands that align with their values. But if they suspect your heart’s not in it, they’ll be quick to miss you.
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5. Know thy customer: Personalized customer service is a requirement
Say goodbye to the one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to customer service.
Consumers expect personalized experiences at every step of the journey – including customer service. Their personal preferences, transaction history, and past service interactions should all inform how you engage with them today.
In recent years, companies have recognized that customer service is a very real extension of the brand, a human face or voice that ideally represents the best of the brand’s desired attributes.
Going forward, however, simply acknowledging that service agents are part of the overall brand equation isn’t enough.
Because at the moment of customer interaction, the service actually becomes the brand.
When a customer engages with your service department, that interaction has enormous power to shape their perception of your brand. The more that customers embrace digital channels, the truer this becomes.
This customer service trend means organizations need to think creatively about how to solve for intangibles like empathy and tone of voice. They need to ensure agents have ready access to the right information, at the right time, to solve whatever issue or customer pain point that may arise – even in rapidly changing situations.
6. Hear this: Voice search won’t be silenced according to 2024 e-commerce trends
As smart speakers and assistants become even smarter, consumers are using them more consistently.
Major retailers have already started enabling customers to place orders directly through smart speakers, and more are in the process of doing so now.
Digital retailers should focus on optimizing their commerce experiences for natural language patterns. (Ask yourself: How do real people – not algorithms – talk about your products?)
And remember, voice search isn’t just about what they ask; it’s also about how you respond. Skip the preambles and keep content short and clear, or risk the dreaded: “Alexa, stop.”
Of course it’s not just smart speakers driving voice commerce. Many searches are done via smart phones as part of a blended commerce experience. Which leads us to our next 2024 e-commerce trend…
7. Mobile-first dominates UX design
Remember back in the days of yore (2010 or so), when mobile-optimized websites were the new big thing? Mobile commerce has only grown in popularity and ease over the past decade+.
So much so that the balances have shifted. Now, instead of optimizing desktop sites for mobile, brands are designing experiences mobile-first.
91% of consumers make online purchases on their smartphones.
And in 2024, m-commerce is expected to account for 40.4% of all e-commerce sales.
Time and time again, consumers show that they want to shop from their mobile devices. Digital retailers must start delivering experiences that are purpose-built for mobile:
- Adopt fingerprint and facial recognition technology to simplify everything from logging in to checking out
- Develop a dedicated mobile app with e-commerce features specifically optimized for smaller screens
- Offer mobile-friendly payment options (like Apple Pay and Google Pay) to streamline checkout
8. Inflation is changing how people spend online
Inflation was on everyone’s mind in 2023, and in 2024 promises more of the same. As consumers’ budgets tighten, they will likely curb online spending as a way to introduce barriers against impulse buys.
But it bears mentioning that consumers aren’t halting all discretionary spending. Instead, they are being highly thoughtful and intentional about where, how, and on what they spend their hard-earned dollars.
They want to see the value of their purchases.But value can mean a lot of things.
Indeed, Mintel’s 2024 Global Consumer Trends reports that consumers are reassessing what constitutes value for them:
“Consumers have increasingly diverse ideas of what indicates ‘quality’ in a product or service. As budget pressures force tighter trade-offs, consumers are becoming more realistic in their search for value as they strike a balance between quality received and cost incurred.”
Retailers should continue to embrace the tried-and-true methods of easing shoppers anxieties:
Offering easy returns and budget-friendly options:
- 67% of shoppers check the return policy before buying online—and a bad policy could keep them from buying, whereas
- 92% of shoppers will purchase from a brand again if the return process was easy
- Offering “basic” packages and other budget-conscious options can make all the difference for consumers trying to cut costs
On top of these, retailers can level up their focus on the ways they deliver value beyond cost-savings. For example:
- Employing ethical, sustainable and socially conscious business practices (which consumers feel good about spending on, even when money is tight)
- Providing reliable, predictable, top-tier service (because as soon as it becomes a hassle, they may bail)
- Rewarding loyalty with perks and bonuses they actually want
9. Wake me up before you go-go: ROPO (research online, purchase offline) + BOPIS (buy online, pay in-store)
With consumers upending the customer journey, retailers may struggle to effectively track how and when their virtual UX translates into physical sales.
ROPO (“research online, purchase offline”) is not a new phenomenon, but it’s grown in popularity as more and more people blend their buying journey across multiple channels. People like to do product research online, using companies’ e-commerce sites, third party marketplaces and especially online reviews, but then go make their purchase in-store.
While the experience itself hasn’t evolved drastically, our ability to track the journey has.
BOPIS and curbside delivery appear simple: Just shop online and opt for in-store or curbside pickup. A confirmation email follows, then a phone call or location-based check-in alerts an employee to come out with packages. Pop the trunk and head home. But for most retailers, scaling these services can create monumental challenges. It requires agility and quick pivots to turn traditional stores into fulfillment centers so consumers can get what they need quickly and seamlessly.
Thanks to an onslaught of ownable, trackable data and advanced analytics (and of course, AI), we’re better equipped to map out our customers’ journeys and better understand what’s working (and what’s not).
Retailers who haven’t already invested in a unified customer data platform (which pulls customer data together from multiple sources) should do so now in order to keep up with this e-commerce trend.
2024 ecommerce trends related to ROPO + BOPIS:
- Frictionless omnichannel commerce that lets consumers build their own buying journeys
- Privacy and transparency remain critical for customer trust
- “Human as a premium” (more on this later)
10. AR and VR make e-commerce immersive
One of the top challenges online shoppers face is being able to “try on” products or fully imagine how they’ll fit in their space. Augmented and virtual retail experiences have transformed that challenge, allowing shoppers to visualize—or even interact—with products online before buying.
- Shoppers can “try on” everything from clothes to makeup using their smartphones
- They can use AR to see how furniture and home appliances will fit in their spaces (like with IKEA’s AI-driven app)
- VR showrooms allow shoppers to virtually interact with products, or even configure them before buying (like with Audi’s earlier Oculus experience)
AR and VR e-commerce helps ease customers’ anxieties about online purchases.
A survey conducted by Snap/Publicis Media found that 80% of shoppers feel more confident in their purchases when using these technologies, and 66% of shoppers who use AR are less likely to return their purchases.
And while the immersive technology has come a long way in the past few years, we’re still just getting started.
Expect to see e-commerce businesses across all industries rolling out augmented, virtual, and mixed reality experiences in 2024.
11. Personalization and curated experiences are in high demand
We’ve already talked about how AI will continue to help retailers optimize every aspect of the e-commerce experience. But its powerful impact on personalization warrants its own focus.
As consumers become more aware and comfortable with the advanced capabilities of AI, their expectations of how businesses use the technology are increasing.
24% of consumers think retailers should use AI to make recommendations more personal.
When a customer gives consent for you to use their customer data, they expect to see a return on that investment—by way of hyper-personalized, curated experiences. Things like:
- Guiding them to products they’ll love based on past purchases, behavior, and cross-channel engagement
- Offering personalized rewards for as part of loyalty programs
- Reaching them on their preferred channels with targeted messaging that resonates with them specifically
As personalization capabilities continue to get more powerful, retailers that don’t deliver tailored, relevant experiences to their customers risk losing them for good.
But success also depends on customers’ trust of your data practices. Which brings us to…
12. Privacy and transparency remain paramount to consumers
E-commerce customers want incredible, personalized, seamless experiences, but not at the expense of shady data practices.
Gartner expects that by the end of 2024, 75% of the world’s population will have its personal data covered under privacy regulations. Meaning companies found in breach of compliance will face hefty fines and legal consequences.
But on top of the financial risks of regulatory violations, brands that break customers’ trust—especially when it comes to their personal data—risk losing their business for life. (Not to mention the negative reviews they’ll leave in response.)
Data privacy and transparency must be at the forefront of any personalization or CX strategy for e-commerce in 2024.
As companies lean in to new AI capabilities and hyper-personalization strategies, it’s critical that they keep customer trust a top priority.
13. “Human as a premium”
In the world of digital commerce, it’s no surprise that we are fixated on the ways emerging technologies can help businesses grow and scale and deliver exceptional virtual experiences.
But in the wake of AI-everything, people are starting to appreciate a human touch even more.
As Mintel reports, consumers are beginning to “appreciate what makes humans so unique—emotions, empathy, creative ideas and the desire to connect with fellow human beings. To strike a balance between progress and preservation, brands and consumers will increasingly seek out uniquely human elements as a contrast to faceless algorithms.”
58% of U.S. consumers says that communicating with an actual human is what makes interactions with sales people and customer service reps a positive experience.
They go on to predict that in the coming years, we can expect to see an emerging trend of “human-as-a-premium” start to take effect.
“Brands will focus on connecting the dots as connectivity takes on a new emotional meaning alongside a tech-focused one, driving their focus on how one product or purchase can improve multiple parts of one’s life.”
As brands evolve and adopt tech that increases efficiency, productivity and scale, they’ll be wise to remember when and where a human touch can improve even the most digital experiences.
14. Brands and retailers thrive with direct to consumer
The DTC (direct to consumer) model used to be reserved for digitally-native brands looking to save costs and differentiate with their own branded customer experience.
Now, brands of all shapes and sizes are embracing the DTC approach. This is due partly to the quest for first-party customer data, but also in response to sky-high rent for physical retail space.
The U.S. is home to the world’s highest share of DTC brands, and DTC sites were the third-most popular online purchase channels in 2023.
Consumers opt to bypass third-party retailers when the brand’s customer experience is easier, more reliable, or offers better rewards or pricing.
As we head in to 2024, expect to see more brands and retailers optimizing their DTC experiences in an effort to collect more, higher-quality customer data that will allow them to deliver the level of personalization that breeds ongoing loyalty.
15. Subscription commerce drives retention
Subscription models continue to be popular with consumers, mixing the ease and convenience of automation with the “surprise and delight” feeling of getting packaged delivered (in the case of physical product subscriptions).
E-commerce retailers like it because it provides predictable, ongoing revenue.
Global subscription e-commerce is expected to reach $904.2 billion by 2026.
From physical products to streaming services, it feels like almost any type of digital seller can benefit from effective subscription commerce. Brands can set their subscriptions apart by offering personalized options like:
- Budget-friendly pricing options
- Products personalized based on consumer preferences, and
- Easy, flexible fulfillment options
Of course you want your subscription members to stick around, but remember it’s crucial that you make easy for them to cancel and manage their memberships. Not only are governments cracking down on shady subscription practices, but making it difficult for customers to break ties will cancel out any good-will you built up by making it easy to order.
Customer-obsessed experiences dominate 2024 e-commerce trends
From subscription retail to personalization to unified omnichannel commerce, the trends paving the way for e-commerce in 2024 all have one thing in common:
They’re all about putting the customer experience first.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When in doubt, ask yourself, “What would my customer want?” With that as your compass, you’re sure to stay on course.