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December 11, 2020

Experts Todd Szahun and Kerry Curran: Top Ecommerce Trends That Will Reshape 2021 — and Beyond

Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
“For a long time in the history of ecommerce, free shipping and convenience were the two primary methods and the reasons why people shopped online … what we uncovered was really interesting. It was a shift to more of an emotional and safety reason for driving that next level of ecommerce purchase.”
— Todd Szahun, SVP, Kantar Retail IQ

This year has been one year of unprecedented change in commerce. Arguably, no two people have the pulse on change more than Todd Szahun of Kantar Consulting and Kerry Curran of Catalyst and GroupM.

Szahun leads the ecommerce and new retail insights team at Kantar, and Curran is a managing partner and executive director of marketing and growth at the media investment company GroupM.

They teamed up on a new research report, "The Era of Omni-commerce, New Insights for Dominating the Digital Shelf & Beyond." They discussed their work on a recent episode of the Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast.

4 Ecommerce Trends That Will Reshape 2021

Their research uncovered four critical trends that will reshape how brands approach ecommerce and engage consumers in 2021 — and, likely, for many years to come.

Trend 1: ‘Omnicommerce' - Will It Become the Norm?

In 2020, omnicommerce — a combination of "omnichannel" and "commerce" — has already taken hold and will continue to influence the customer journey in 2021.

"We used the word omnicommerce a lot throughout the paper because what we found is there really is no one linear path from awareness to purchase," Curran said.

"What we're also seeing is that as retailers offer more and more information and selection and reasons to shop, customers are finding different sources of data. So where omnicommerce is a kind of commerce everywhere — inspiration, discovery, research, and consideration — it's also the ability to purchase everywhere, whether it's Amazon, Google, or even Pinterest," she said.

Their report found that 63% of consumers will start with Amazon for their initial research. Fifty percent of them are discovering new brands and products on Google, while 62% of consumers are looking for inspiration on Instagram.

Curran said omnicommerce will force brands to develop a broader end-to-end strategy for building awareness with their target audience. It will also help engage audiences along these nonlinear touchpoints, all the way through to purchase, indicating just how crucial it will be going forward for brands to be omnipresent to compete on the digital shelf successfully.

Trend 2: Consumers Now Prioritize Convenience and Discovery Over Price

This nonlinear shopping path is also upending traditional consumer behavior. The team's research found that 66% of online consumers choose products based on convenience, and 47% make selections based on price.

"We discovered four mores: Consumers are shopping more online, more frequently, they're spending more money — and they're shopping across more retailers," Szahun said.

"Consumers are also really trying to expand and move into new directions for different reasons other than just free shipping and convenience. They're more open across new platforms and channels," he said.

This openness has led consumers to discover and experiment with new channels and retailers they may have overlooked before. Emerging platforms and last-mile delivery partners like Instacart and Postmates have benefited the most from shifting consumer behavior, as online grocery delivery has exploded during the pandemic.

In June, U.S. online grocery delivery sales hit a record $7.2 billion. Curran said what may have been a temporary change for consumers may just stick around long term.

"It's the people that were testing it for the first time out of necessity early on during COVID who have found that 'Hey, this is actually really valuable,'" she said.

Trend 3: Product Description Pages Will Become Even More Vital

As consumers jump from channel to channel along the path to purchase, telling a consistent brand story to target audiences at every stage of the journey will be even more critical for brands.

One of the most effective ways brands can accomplish this is by focusing on product content. The research found 49% of online purchasers scrolled past the first search results page when they researched products and brands, indicating that consumers are willing to put in a little more time to find what they want.

During the beginning of the pandemic, much of this want was driven by scarcity and a lack of product availability, but this trend also highlights how product description pages will become more vital for converting consumers from casual browsers into actual purchasers.

"From the product description page perspective, this is your opportunity not only to educate the customer about your product and provide all of the attributes, but it's also your opportunity to explain why your product is unique to their needs."
— Kerry Curran, Managing Partner and Executive Director of Marketing and Growth, GroupM

"The more you can provide information that differentiates your product, the more it's going to help the customer recognize it's something they want or need," she said.

Curran added that it's not only important for this content to be accurate; it also must be engaging from the first click.

"If you think about the customer's attention and they're scrolling through Amazon, Instacart, or Walmart search results, you really only have seconds to convince a customer that this is the product they should be buying," Curran said.

"So, it's about having a product description page that is helpful and has the information they need, but having it quickly to help them make that decision," she said.

Trend 4: Brands Will Have to Embrace a ‘New Momentum Mindset’

Szahun said his team's research uncovered just how important it is for brands to abandon their old playbook and their efforts to find the perfect measurement and perfect business case.

"So that you could say, 'I can invest $1 in this e-commerce [initiative] and get $2.50 out.' All the pieces of data, all of the parts and all of the people required to get this perfect output, just aren't there," Szahun said.

From manufacturers to advertisers and retailers, Szahun said brands are still missing pieces no matter where they sit in the ecommerce ecosystem. These gaps are likely due to the rapid pace at which many companies have had to adjust their operations in the last year and onboard new digital capabilities.

But these challenges also have created a lot of opportunities for innovation.

"What we found was this concept that people tried to find ways to understand and develop a hypothesis, figure out what they could and could not measure, put all of their effort and their instinct together and say, 'You know what, in a perfect world, we would have all of this, but in an imperfect world we don't, but we're going to try this and test our hypothesis with the mindset of being able to move the ball forward, even if just a little bit,'" Szahun said.

"That really gave birth to this concept of a new momentum mindset, which is that you don't need to solve the big problems. You can start with the small problems, start with what you have access to, see how it works, try to separate the noise from the signals, and move on, learn and share those learnings across your organization broadly," he said.

Embracing this new mindset will be critical for brands to enact the level of internal transformation and cultural change required for their broader digital transformation. This transformation requires breaking down silos, communicating across the business, and giving teams permission to fail fast so they can test things out, move quickly, and gather learnings they can use to improve the business.

"What COVID has shown us and what this great [digital] acceleration has really taught us all is that we need to be more nimble," Szahun said.

"You can't just write the copy for your product detail page once a year and set it and forget it. You can't just think about planning your budgets once a year and set it and forget it."
— Todd Szahun, SVP, Kantar Retail IQ

Szahun said embracing a new momentum mindset and becoming more nimble will help brands stay one step ahead of their competitors — if they don't get complacent.

Move Quickly, Strategic and Competitive Advantages Are Temporary

Even if your brand doesn’t have perfect information, Szahun said it’s beneficial to adopt a mindset of “let's just develop a hypothesis, test it, and then move forward quickly, because strategic advantages and competitive advantages don't last for long—and their lifecycle is even shorter in ecommerce.”

Listen to the full episode to learn more about these trends that will shift marketing strategies in 2021 and beyond.