If you ask someone to describe 2020 in one word, that word is probably “COVID” or “Coronavirus.” This one pandemic reshaped commerce as we know it, arguably more than any recent global pandemic within the last 100 years. 

As of this date (February 9th) the World Health Organization has reported over 106 million cases and just over two million deaths worldwide. We all wished the turning to a new calendar year would magically vanquish this virus from planet Earth, but our wish wasn’t granted. With memes coming out just seven days into 2021 saying “We’ve reached the end of our free 2021 trial and would like our money back,” it shows there’s still humor and hope in the world as people and businesses continue to navigate the unknown. 

It also means companies and the American people, in particular, are still in the thick of it, trying to make ends meet in both old and new ways.


Commerce Has Changed Forever:

Reviewing E-Commerce Growth in 2020 

What is known though, is commerce, the buying and selling of goods and services, has been changed forever. Forbes estimates the growth of e-commerce alone has been accelerated by 4-6 years. That’s an incredible rate for an industry that was just 5% of all commerce but is now closer to 15%. 

So what does this mean for businesses? How have they reacted? How have they been proactive? What’s here to stay for the short and long term? Read on and let’s find out.

Let’s take a look at one of the fastest-growing industries in 2020: the grocery industry. Think back to mid 2019, just a year and a half ago. Were you buying groceries online? If so, to what magnitude? Chances are, you and your neighbors did exactly what society has been doing the last 100 years: get in your vehicle of choice and go to a grocery store. 

A study done by Coresight mid year last year showed 49% of shoppers are buying more or started buying groceries online due to COVID-19. Online grocery sales also hit record numbers in 2020. According to TechCrunch, online grocery sales reached $7.2 billion in June, a 9% increase from May. 

So the sales numbers are there, the growth is there, but is online grocery shopping here to stay? My gut tells me, yes. Based on all trends and indicators, I believe online grocery shopping is here to stay and will continue to evolve and even grow. Those stores who don’t evolve with it will feel the pain. Here are some trends I think we’ll see for 2021…

  • Meal kits. With restaurants opening back up in 2021, family’s meal dollars that typically went to the grocery stores and online grocery sales in 2020 will be leaning towards going out for food again. Meal kits will help fill a gap in their product offerings.
  • The evolution of loyalty programs. I think you’re going to see some creative ways grocers get their customers back into the door because they’ll have more hooks in them. It could be in the form of free delivery, a personalized shopper, special events, or some other creative way to provide value.
  • Personalized health plans. Yes that’s right, your grocer may offer you a personalized health plan through a dietician. Sounds far-fetched, but 2020 shed light on the importance of being healthy and equipping your body with the tools necessary to fight off infections, and diseases. It starts with what you put in your mouth and the stores know it.
  • Acquisitions. This one is more industry than consumer-related. Remember those stores that didn’t adapt, they’re likely to get bought up by larger chains and groups then brought up to 2021 expectations. So, in a sense I think we’re going to see some consolidation in the industry players.

Payments, Branding, & Websites:

Predicting E-Commerce Growth in 2021

So what about those businesses that thought they never needed to be able to sell online? Well they probably never thought foot traffic would be paused for months at a timeunfortunately they were wrong. Record stores, bakeries, used book stores, car dealers, and many others, were all impacted dramatically by COVID-19. 

Given the unprecedented lack of foot traffic and the acceleration of e-commerce growth in 2020, how many of these brick-and-mortar stores wished they had the ability to sell or, at least, take payment online in March of 2020? That corner bakery that didn’t take orders online, and was cash or check only, had to adopt a new way of doing business just to stay alive. Restaurants that weren’t a part of DoorDash or UberEats, jumped in with both feet and Shopify websites were erected overnight. E-Commerce growth took off like a SpaceX rocket. 

We saw some companies react nearly overnight, Gymshark is a great example. The ever-popular gym clothing company literally changed all their images, influencers, messaging, and taglines overnight. Why? Because gyms were closed for the foreseeable future and that was their messaging, their brand. It was a proactive approach to show their customers the “Home Shark” was just as cool as the “Gym Shark”.

Maintaining distance, wearing masks, and minimizing contact is the new norm. Part of that minimizing contact is through payment methods. A recent study by Visa showed a jump from 20% in June to 32% at the end of the year in contactless payment technology integration in small businesses. Further, Visa found that 65% of consumers prefer contactless payments. Heck, I even use the BP and Mobil app on my phone to pay for my gas so the only thing I have to touch is the pump handle. Now I just need my iPhone to recognize me with my mask on when I go to pay for thingsI hear that’s coming if you have an Apple Watch. 

With the adoption of Apple Pay and Android I think we’re going to see more websites integrate these types of payment options for shoppers. It’s more convenient than inputting your billing, shipping, and credit card information into a website every time you buy something. They’ve made it even easier to buy thingsa scary and exciting convenience I’m pumped to see how it gets used next.

Do you have a website yet? I’ve always said, if your company isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. That has never been more true than today. With families staying indoors much more due to the pandemic and state-wide closures, the stop-because-we-drove-by-your-store days have come to a crashing halt. 

Now, patrons expect to see your company online. Why? They, first, want to know if you’re still in business because they do want to support you. Second, they want to buy what they want before they even get there. If not, can the item be shipped? Third, if they do brave the great outdoors, they want to know your company’s new hours of operation. There are some new basics to consider when building or updating your website. Basics that, in 2019, were only apparent and expected in big-box retailthink curbside pick-up or local delivery. 

These new norms are here to stay. The world adopted many new ways to shop, save, interact, communicate, and transact. The growth of e-commerce over the past year is just one of the indicators that more and more commerce is moving online, for good. My hope is this article highlighted a few adaptations you could incorporate into your 2021 business strategy. Some are easy. Some are more difficult. Combine the above with kindness, compassion, and empathy, and you’ll win in 2021.

Craig Searer

Craig Searer

E-Commerce Strategy Lead

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