Ecommerce Trends 2020: What do our Experts Predict?

24/01/2020, Marketing, Dan McIvor

It’s time for a blog takeover, as different members of Team Swanky share their predictions for 2020 ecommerce trends!

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The world of ecommerce is evolving fast. New trends, technologies and tools emerge every day, meaning merchants need to be ready to adapt in the blink of an eye.

 

Let’s get the lowdown on the trends that Swanky’s experts predict will be shaping the world of ecommerce this year.

 

First up, Swanky’s Founder & Director, Dan McIvor. What are Dan’s predictions for the biggest ecommerce trends of 2020?

 

 

Code-free everything. As complexity, pace and opportunity continue to increase in the digital realm, there will be a countervailing pressure to remove, reduce and simplify. Platforms must embrace this demand through curated partnerships with complimentary platforms, or risk being quickly left behind. If you own or run an isolated ‘all in one’ platform, 2020 will be your Waterloo.

 

But first, a slightly contradictory example to keep us on our toes!

 

I can take this from a service that Shopify announced at Unite 2019 (which I predicted a month before, so you know my predictions are good!) – Shopify Fulfilment. This is a Shopify-owned physical fulfilment network with a very smart AI distribution algorithm, which they can broaden to include third-party warehouses in due course. Where once there was significant complexity and many systems, Shopify is layering a code-free solution, seamlessly integrated with existing Shopify stores, which many fulfilment providers can adopt. This will eliminate the complexity of integrating Shopify with an external ERP or WMS for hundreds of thousands of merchants. 

 

In this case, Shopify owns all the tools, but we’ll see acceleration in the trend of leading platforms delivering deep co-functionality through partnerships to eliminate the time, cost and complexity of manual or managed integrations.

 

OK, but that’s been going on for years, right? I agree, and it’s been accelerating, and this year is special because Shopify is now leading the conversation. Love it, loathe it, or couldn’t care less about it, Magento has been the de-facto leader of the mass-market medium to enterprise ecommerce conversation (and everything attendant upon it) for the last decade. If you’ve used it, you’ll know what this means in terms of maintenance, upgrades, security, improvement and differentiation. If you’re not familiar, keep these two words in mind: technology investment.

 

Shopify has shown ecommerce store owners that there’s a fundamentally different way to invest, manage and compete online at any scale. Where Magento drove competitiveness through technology investment, Shopify store owners compete through creative investment. In other words: brand. For the vast majority, particularly in the startup-world, this model is more accessible, more achievable and, frankly, more fun. The pendulum is vast (over a million active stores on Shopify and 250,000 on Magento) and crossed the midpoint around a year ago. From previous technology precedent, this is the point when things get interesting.

 

But, fundamentally speaking, Shopify has stayed roughly the same for almost a decade: an ecommerce operating system, focusing on code-free solutions to the problems most businesses face online, most of the time. That’s a huge differentiator and has sparked a revolution in online commerce, but it’s only the start of a much larger conversation. Imagine an ecommerce platform where your first and last act of customisation before launch and day-to-day management, is only the definition, enhancement and promotion of your brand. Everything (and I mean everything) else is handled by the platform, elsewhere, invisible to the business owner. Think about it for a moment and let it sink in – I’m not sure I’ve really grasped it.

 

We have a way to go, of course, but products like Elliot hint at what I believe is an inevitable future. The real thing has not yet been invented, maybe Elliot will turn into it, maybe Shopify will beat them to the punch. You can be sure there are Steve’s and Woz’s in garages all over the world, working it out.

 

For now, this year, we’ll continue to see complex features and functionality previously only available to enterprise businesses increasingly available to the mass market (see LoyaltyLion for loyalty programmes, Okendo for reviews, Nosto for personalisation etc.), driving increasing pressure (and opportunity) to differentiate through brand, story and product.

 

This will reduce the value of code-based customisation, but increase the demand for overall experience excellence. With platforms like Shopify giving $29-per-month subscribers better customer experience than the decade-long in-house efforts of multinationals – where else can the big-money turn? Think about how Amazon differentiates itself currently, and, audacious as it sounds now, you’ll see how Shopify can only win.

 

When you combine the above factors with ever-tightening operating budgets (particularly in high street retail), the appetite and opportunity for differentiation through overblown ‘statement projects’ (particularly features and visuals which take months of team-time to produce) is sub-zero.

 

The platforms which deliver this excellence and brand immersion with the least required coding and integration overhead will be best placed to capitalise on this rapidly growing demand (and soon essential need) within businesses of any size. I believe this monumental shift needs to be central to your long-term strategy, platform and partnership selection in 2020.

 

Next up, we turn our attention to design trends with our Creative Director, Matt Giles. What does he think will be the biggest trends of the year?

 

 

User-generated content (UGC)

I expect to see ever-increasing prevalence of UGC imagery in product display, at product page level and collection page level. In an attempt to assist customers in purchasing and also reduce return rates, ASOS are already experimenting with product overlays on different size models. Simply giving the customer more imagery choice at an early discovery point (like on category/collection pages) could bring big benefits. 

 

In another example, End Clothing has a product/outfit ‘switcher’ on category pages, which empowers the customer to browse with more confidence and clarity on a product’s fit and style. 

 

Personalisation could take this one step further, where users could see a mix of UGC and brand-produced imagery, with models of sizes that are relevant to them.

 

Augmented reality (AR)

 

Bridging more and more the in-person experience gap between the high street and online will be AR. Watch out for clothing brands taking advantage of this quickly-advancing technology.

 

Conversational UX

 

With the increasing subscription market, we’ll see more seamless, consultative, conversational UX. I expect to see speed, clarity of process and product ordering being prioritised, which means we could end up with much more utilitarian designs, as well as concession to platform-provided UI design. 

 

I’d love to see this go the other way and have conversational commerce become more integrated into a merchant’s branding. This would potentially engender more trust than a stock-design Zendesk integration. 

 

Focus on green credentials

 

The eco-friendly trend will see more and more companies present green credentials front-and-centre as part of their story and key user journey. If this is the decade to save the planet, then expect more and more to see ethical choice communicated in purchase flow – from product manufacture footprint, through to shipping footprint and impact.

 

Our Specialist Platforms Consultant, Edward Scott-Finnigan, shares which ecommerce trends he thinks merchants should be looking out for in 2020:

 

 

2020 will be an interesting year…heard that one before? It seems a copy and paste statement for every January post looking forward.  Use a quick find and replace, regurgitate feelings from last year, check ✔️

 

But wait – I really do (trust me I was once a salesman!) believe this year will be an interesting one. 

 

When I had hair and not much fluff on my chin we were talking about personalisation. It’s 2020 and we are still talking about personalisation – it’s a trend associated with “emotional commerce” which seems to be the way we should be selling now. Personally I believe the most successful brands have been reaping the rewards of emotional commerce for years – to quote Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. 

 

It’s an exciting but challenging year ahead as we all fight for a piece of the pie, cutting across four increasingly demanding generations. From Baby Boomer to Gen Z, I truly believe each generation has helped the next become more aware, more savvy, and ultimately more educated in their purchase journey. What was once a shiny new acquisition tool is now an every day expectation. 

 

2020 has already started with the buzzwords “Headless” and “PWA” ringing in merchant ears – and we’re all still fighting to unlock the powers of mobile conversion. I’m still yet to see whether headless or PWA actually translate to growth for brands. Sure, super cool tools which will invigorate your agency or internal dev teams – or give you a platform to talk about your new-build project on the stage backed by one of the key platform providers – but my eyes are certainly peeled for tangible results to see these new trends are resulting in increased revenue.

 

A lot of these 2020 trends blogs will be focused on customer acquisition for the year ahead – and don’t get me wrong, we know the importance here – but this year has really seen the platform providers step up their game. The result? Competition is giving both brands and merchants alike a real  “choice” when it comes to ecommerce platform selection. It must be an intimidating proposition for users on Magento 1 as the end of life is now “this year” – but, as a merchant there isn’t just one option for you. Naturally we are very Shopify friendly here, and I know Shopify / Shopify Plus isn’t for all, but what a year to be heading up a migration project. I guess I’m the lucky one as I get to be involved in several!

 

So to sum up trends for this year? Successful brands will be keeping it simple by removing friction, running on platforms using tech that is quick to market, flexible, and allows for easier expansion to new markets. The EU market is adapting to subscription models faster and faster, and I see more brands adopting a subscription model now that companies like ReCharge and LoyaltyLion have made it “a lot” simpler than it has been in the past. Omnichannel is an expectation from your customer, and the likes of Shopify and tech partners such as Veeqo have made omnichannel a reality for many retailers. Whatever you sell, however you selI, wherever you sell – I keep coming back to Mr. Sinek again and again: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. There’s your trend for 2020 and beyond.

 

What does Sean Clanchy, Director of Swanky Australia and Head of Optimisation, predict will be big ecommerce trends this year?

 

 

On the back of the Australian bushfires being so severe, I expect socially conscious/eco conscious marketing campaigns will be a focal point for Q1 and Q2 in the Aussie market. Beyond that, everyone will be doing them and they’ll peter out (hopefully like the fires!). 

 

Otherwise, globally I expect to see more leading brands increasing their efforts towards in-person influencer marketing. The paid media acquisition battle is getting harder and harder, and I think “smart” brands are starting to realise that taking their influencers on the road and getting them pressing the flesh (and selfied to death!) is quickly becoming one of the quickest and most cost-effective new customer acquisition and retention methods. 

 

Want an example of a brand already excelling in this area? Take a look at GymShark’s expos, meetups and events, where fans can meet their favourite fitness influencers in the flesh.

 

Got a golfing brand? Take Tiger Woods to Miami to sign your products. Athleisure/combat brand? Take Connor McGregor or Mike Tyson. Ditzy fashion label? Guaranteed one of the Jenners will wear it!

 

Also, doing geo-fenced product releases is a great way to:

A) Cause a traffic jam.

B) Get your brand on the news (put 100,000 people in Central Park, Times Square or Piccadilly Circus – you WILL get attention).

C) Create urgency and brand appeal – be limited, be cool, charge accordingly and improve your margins.

 

Beyond that, keep your eyes peeled for the brands that connect the dots online and offline. So many are setting KPIs for their own teams only relevant to their specific domain (online goals for ecommerce directors, offline goals for store managers). The brands who combine online and offline data, set cross-channel goals and build a 360° view of their customers experiences are the ones who will continue to thrive in 2020 and beyond!

 

Next, Swanky’s Head of Operations, Ben Homer, shares the trends he expects to see dominating the ecommerce industry in 2020:

 

 

First up, sustainability. There’s going to be a huge drive for more accountability in retail, especially in terms of sustainable sourcing and fulfilment of products, which could result in a move away from the “I want it now” thing. 

 

Furthermore, with giants like Amazon being put under pressure to treat their workforce better, I think brands will increasingly need to provide transparency on their ethical sourcing and treatment of their workforce.

 

Tied into this wider theme of sustainability is ‘local’ purchase. As consumers’ demand for more sustainable, homegrown products and services continues to dominate the industry, smaller outfits will start doing better than huge chains, with brands playing on their ‘local’ culture.

 

Personalisation is already a huge trend in the ecommerce arena (we highlighted it this time last year, in fact), to the point where it’s increasingly becoming an expectation that users receive a personalised experience. This will surely continue to advance throughout this year and beyond.

 

Again, we’re already seeing a huge shift towards subscriptions, but I think it will accelerate into 2020 as technology continues to make it easier for businesses to move to subscription models.

 

Last but not least, ‘dark mode’ is definitely one trend to watch. ASOS has already rolled out a dark mode on their app. Maybe in the future this will be fulfilled by browsers instead of individual sites, but even then we will have to think about how the site will respond and look in dark mode, adding an extra dimension to our design process.

 

Let’s hand over to our Head of Technology, Dave Shaw, as he makes predictions for big 2020 ecommerce trends:

 

 

Accessibility

 

First off, accessibility. This is often overlooked, but is something that’s been gaining momentum over 2019. With app compliance increasing in 2021 for the public sector, there will hopefully be an increase in more accessible and inclusive sites.

 

The organisation Purple aims to highlight the spending power of disabled people. Its latest campaign, Purple Tuesday, says an estimated £11.8bn was lost every year in resulting “click-away” costs. A “click-away” cost is a lost sale due to the inability for a disabled user to complete a purchase. These costs amount to £420m a week lost to businesses that fail to pay attention to the needs of disabled users!

 

Headless commerce

 

Having gained momentum in 2019, we think there’ll be an increase in services offering headless with easier (albeit more simplistic) integrations. The main advantages of headless include being able to leverage the power of each platform involved and create a fast user experience with PWA architectures.

 

Checkout innovations/integrations

 

I expect to see further innovations to checkouts this year, as at the moment it is still very multi-stage with lots of repetitive filling-in of information for the user. Now there are more integration opportunities to log in automatically via Google/Apple, making the process quicker and more convenient for the user – but there’s certainly more distance to go.

 

AR

 

Although AR has been present in ecommerce for some time, it’s yet to become prevalent. Like Matt alluded to earlier, 2020 might be the year where we see AR being easier to attain.

 

Sustainability

 

As my fellow Swanky colleagues have mentioned, global recognition of the climate crisis has led to more environmentally-aware and concerned purchasers. This is being reflected in an increase in more sustainable options across the production, sales and shipping life cycle. There’s no doubt that merchants will attract more custom if they are seen to be playing their part.

 

Dark patterns awareness

 

I think another big trend of 2020 will be increased user awareness of dark patterns (tricks used in websites and apps to encourage users to buy things or sign-up to things they don’t necessarily want to). These intentionally deceptive design choices can often put the needs and desires of the merchant over those of the user. Merchants will need to recognise that users’ awareness is growing in order to prevent turning potential customers away.

 

Last but not least, our Client Marketing Manager, Stephen Rowley, discusses the trends he thinks will shape ecommerce marketing during 2020:

 

 

Optimising for voice search

 

Advancements in voice recognition have dramatically improved the experience of voice search for day-to-day activities.The instant experience of voice search and how the information is delivered will have a major impact on SEO strategy and planning throughout 2020. 

 

Marketers will need to:

– Understand the customer and how they are likely to phrase voice searches around products and brand (voice searches are often longer and the response experience is expected to be concise).

– Understand the journey that voice searchers are taking and accommodate accordingly.

– Optimise for voice featured/rich snippets (position zero).

 

Complications with cookie-based tracking

 

Google Chrome’s decision to phase out support for third-party cookies will have a huge impact on marketers this year. Everyone will be racing to understand how this will impact their current marketing activities, not just in terms of advertising, but from a holistic omnichannel approach.

 

Killer marketing tool combos

 

Depending on the ecommerce platform you are on, there are more and more connections and integrations that make it easier than ever to get around the problem of siloed data. Take, for instance, the integration between Shopify Flow, Klaviyo and LoyaltyLion – the automation that these tools can deliver is transforming ecommerce marketing.

 

There’s already a huge appetite for these ‘killer’ integrations, with merchants actively seeking the optimum marketing tool stacks for driving ROI, but I think this demand will only grow throughout 2020 and beyond.

 

Hyper-personalisation 

 

Keep an eye out for the evolution of hyper-personalised marketing due to improvements in segmentation, automation and AI-delivered insights.

 

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility 

 

Time for another shout-out to the theme of sustainability. This is going to become less of a USP and more of an expected standard practice for modern consumers who are becoming more aware of the effect of ecommerce on the planet.

 

I think 2020 will see brands working hard to stand out in their approach to sustainability, whether this is through sustainable packaging and returns initiatives, charitable donations integrated into product pricing, or providing evidence of sustainable sourcing.

 

Could Swanky transform your brand in 2020?

 

Our experts have spoken, and only time will tell whether their predictions will become a reality this year! 

 

If you’re interested in how Swanky could transform your ecommerce store with a bespoke technical toolkit and expert strategic guidance, then please do get in touch with our friendly team of Shopify Plus Experts today. We love hearing from ambitious enterprise merchants who are as passionate about the exciting world of ecommerce as we are!

 

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About the author

Dan McIvor

Dan is Swanky's Founder & Director. He has always been fascinated by what's next and eager to push the bounds of technology. Dan enjoys being the bridge between team members in different roles in order to facilitate creative and effective solutions to clients’ problems. He also enjoys working with businesses of any size, as long as they have a vision and are excited to grow and lead in their particular vertical or sector.

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