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34. What We Learned About eCommerce in 2020 + How to Win in 2021

34. What We Learned About eCommerce in 2020 + How to Win in 2021

Life moves pretty fast… if you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you might miss it! 

2020 flew by and most of us were just doing our best to keep up. But now that it’s coming to an end and the new year is just around the corner it’s time to look back to see what this year has taught us, how it affects our businesses, and what the future of our industry is going to look like. 

The status quo isn’t going to cut it, so let’s dig in and figure out what’s in store for next year and how we MIGHT need to change our approach.

What a year it’s been, eCommerce friends! Working with so many entrepreneurs, I’ve seen a lot of amazing growth. New businesses have been created and are flourishing, and others who have struggled. It’s been quite the fucking roller coaster, hasn’t it?! But with such big shifts and changes come lessons… and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. 
This year's overarching lesson: the eCommerce industry is still in its infancy and there is tremendous room for growth. 

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Business growth in 2020

Did you see growth in mid-2020? You might not be holding onto to all of that increase but you’re definitely keeping some of it. No doubt you gained a good amount of new customers, right?

In fact, you probably ended up with more new customers than you ever thought possible. When you’re in the eCommerce business, you’re completely consumed by it… and we think everyone else is too. 

If you’re an Amazon Prime user, you assume everyone has Amazon Prime. If you do the majority of your shopping online, you think everyone else does too. 

But when Brick + Mortar stores shut down at the beginning of the year, the numbers showed us the complete opposite. Lockdown and supply chain issues meant more people were moving online. Smaller eCommerce businesses were being discovered and consumers’ top priority was availability.

The resulting increases in eCommerce were SO BIG, it showed us that before COVID, eCommerce was a VERY SMALL percentage of retail spending as a whole.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, even with all that increase, eCommerce sales only accounted for 16% of retail sales in the second quarter of 2020. Sure, it was a 44% increase over the same time the previous year, but it’s still only 16%. 

Online is the future but Brick + Mortar stores are here to stay

Here’s the deal. I don’t think Brick + Mortar is ever going to truly go away. There are some products, that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to replicate the in-store buying experience. Plus, some people shop in person just for the fun of shopping!

I’m definitely one of those people. Whether it’s with friends while grabbing lunch, or even time to myself, the experience of shopping in store — touching and feeling merchandise, trying things on — I don’t see that experience completely going away anytime in the near future. 

The good news about eCommerce growth

We know now that there is still room for a lot of growth in eCommerce, but what does that actually mean? What is this telling us? 

  1. The eCommerce space is going to become even more competitive 
  2. There will be more innovation in the eCommerce space

Competing for online space 

When it comes to competition, expect to see more entrepreneurs and DTC brands pop up, especially because the barrier to entry is so low. With the innovation we’ve seen this year, that barrier is even lower.

Big companies that had a large brick + mortar footprint are not renewing leases, closing stores and are reallocating resources to the eCommerce division of their businesses. 

Technological innovation and advances

Over this past year there have been a huge number of technological advances. Shopify and Facebook partnered to launch Facebook Shops. Shopify also updated their platform to support more small businesses and restaurants so they could easily operate online.

New platforms starting to make a name for themselves like Gatsby, who helps you identify influencers from your customer base. 

Expect that to be just the tip of the iceberg … if you thought the internet moved fast before, brace yourselves friends. 

Preparing for eCommerce in 2021

Okay… so it’s not all great news, right? It’s going to be more competitive and move faster. So how do you keep up and win in 2021?It comes down to two simple — not necessarily easy — things. 

  1. Dig deep to understand your customer
  2. Be nimble

Not only do we have to understand their wants and their needs, we need to adjust what we’re doing to meet those as we go. 

We know that younger generations are typically more brand loyal than their older counterparts. At the height of the pandemic when supply chains were struggling and push came to shove, the availability of products was the number one deciding factor in where people made purchases. This worked out for a lot of smaller eComm brands, so there was definitely a plus side to this. 

Meeting demand through quick pivots  

There were a lot of brands that made quick pivots in their businesses to meet those demands. We saw companies making masks and hand sanitizer even if that wasn’t traditionally part of their business model. 

That’s a pretty extreme example of course, but it's a good way to illustrate how keeping your finger of the pulse and making adjustments quickly can hugely benefit to your business. 

Another good example was the shift in apparel. At the height of the pandemic, people were no longer going to the office and they were living in loungewear. If you only carried work apparel and made no attempt to expand your line, your chance of survival was slim.

It’s not enough to just exist

eCommerce and customer behavior is a living breathing organism. As CEOs and marketers, we need to be along for the ride. 

This trickles down across your organization — from your inventory management and operations to your email marketing and social media. 
Who remembers the email from one airline about going on vacation when everything was locked down and you couldn’t go anywhere? That’s where being nimble comes in and it’s a power you have by being a small business. 

I spent the majority of my career working in corporate companies. If you’ve ever done that you know it TAKES FOREVER to make change and implement new things. There’s too much red tape, too many levels of approval, it can be a real nightmare. 

As a small business CEO you have so much more power. You can react to trends in the marketplace much faster than anyone else. 

Keep progress at the forefront of your mind

The best advice I can give you is to create an environment that allows for progress. This means:

  • Keep your ears and eyes open
  • Don’t run your business in an echo chamber
  • Put your customer first

At this point, a lot of the chaos has subsided — thank goodness — and while change is happening, it’s likely going to be at least a BIT slower. It’s not going to go back to the way it was before, so 2021 is the perfect time to step back and take a look at your business. 

Review your entire 2020

I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about Campaign Post-Mortems or campaign recaps… you can use the same concept for your entire business in 2020. If you need a refresher, go back to episode 11 and take a listen. 

Block out some time to gather up your team and look back over 2020. 

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you screw up?
  • What did you miss?
  • How does your business look different today than it did before COVID?

Get as many people in your company involved in the discussion as possible. Everyone will have a different perspective based on how they interact in the business on a day-to-day basis. 

What needs to change?

If you had an in-person component to your business before that you might not be able to bring back for 2021, how else can you infuse that into your eCommerce business going forward? 

What content should you create? 

More video content on social, live sales or trunk shows? Maybe even individual product videos with an actual person talking about a product the same way you would in person?

Do you already have content you created that you can repurpose? Go back through your archives. Do you have videos you can use in a new way, either adding them to your website, making a library of them, or even reposting them as fresh content on your website?

How does your business fit into the new landscape? 

Do you have to make adjustments to your product assortment? Are you leaning more heavily into loungewear or items that are visible on a zoom call?

Does your messaging need to change? Maybe you already did that half-way through the pandemic and now you realize, sweet this is landing well let’s keep moving forward with it. 

How can you make the customer experience better?

Are there tools out there to help you do that? Is it time to consider advanced site personalization or a better customer service platform? Maybe it’s time to get those email automations set up and optimized to build better relationships with your customer. 

There is always more to learn, to test, and improve. And if you need help figuring all that out, let’s chat. I would love to support you in the growth of your business, it’s what I do! Book a free 30-minute call with me.

Your action steps

Put a date on your calendar to meet with your team (or yourself if you’re a one-person show) to revisit the post mortem. Start working through what 2021 is going to look like for you and your business. 

Stay tuned for next week’s episode. I’m getting a bit more personal by sharing some of my own personal reflections of 2020 and what’s coming for eCommerce Badassery.

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I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. 

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