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The massive growth of ecommerce in 2020 – what it means for merchants in 2021

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The massive growth of ecommerce in 2020 – what it means for merchants in 2021

After what has been a year of massive eCommerce growth, there are plenty of insights that can help you plan for 2021 to win and retain more customers.

Last year was defined by its ability to create uncertainty. But one thing is for certain, everything is changing, and fast. This has been great news for businesses that were already online who have enjoyed a huge boost. Brick and mortar retailers on the other hand have had to re-think fast.

But with rapid changes in consumer behaviour, all businesses both on and offline need to raise the bar for their online customer experience.

So, what were the key eCommerce insights and trends in 2020 and what can they tell us about what you should expect in the years to come?


The first few months of 2020 saw the start of what would later become a devastating pandemic, that to this day, continues to disrupt the lives of millions of people around the world.

In an effort to slow the spread, the UK initiated its first lockdown in March 2020, which meant that the vast majority of brick and mortar retailers had to completely close their doors to customers. Merchants and consumers that relied on physical stores saw their world quite literally change over-night.

For many first-time online shoppers, once they tried it, they loved it. In July 2020, a survey suggested that 17.2 million UK shoppers now plan to permanently shift to online to do their shopping.

Since then, new research has emerged, revealing that online sales accounted for 27.6% of total retail in September, a figure that was only 20.1% during pre-COVID times in February.

After a second lockdown in November, the importance and reliability of eCommerce was once again an essential lifeline for consumers. For the first time ever, Black Friday 2020 became an all-digital experience for almost every retailer and smaller online businesses saw a 150% surge in their online sales.

It’s safe to say this is the perfect time to get involved in eCommerce.


Even after the re-opening of brick and mortar stores in July 2020, concerns around health remained, furthering encouraging retailers to consider a hybrid approach.

Queues at physical stores were almost guaranteed and footfall was limited over fears of spreading the virus. This came at a time when eCommerce had just seen a huge boom in adoption, with more people than ever before discovering the convenience, accessibility and safety of doing their shopping online.

While brick and mortar businesses were allowed to invite customers back in, it’s clear that the in-store appeal was beginning to fade.

However, this didn’t go unnoticed by traditional retailers, as many began seeking out ways to merge physical and digital channels to create a more positive and enjoyable experience for their customers.

Omni-channel selling was the ideal solution for many of these retailers as it allowed customers to carry out their shopping through multiple touchpoints both online and offline. This approach proved popular with consumers, with more than 80% of UK retail shops now offering click-and-collect, an increase of 32% since 2019. This growth is only expected to continue, with 41% of consumers intending to increase their use of click-and-collect in 2021.


Whilst shopping was becoming increasingly digital, staff were strongly being encouraged to work from home. This created a number of logistical challenges for customer support teams. Hold times increased by 34% at a time when 88% of consumers expected a response within 60 minutes. These findings should be a concern to merchants, as 66% of Gen Z consumers said they’d drop a brand due to poor digital customer service.

Fortunately, chatbots and other AI-based technology has the potential to keep customers happy due to their ability to provide fast response times in an automated manner. According to a 2020 report65% of consumers believe bots and AI have the potential to enhance the customer experience.


One of the biggest challenges that eCommerce faces is the rising cost of returns and 2020 was no exception. An eCommerce logistics report suggests that 54% of consumers are regularly returning products they bought online.

Fortunately, augmented reality (AR) proved to be an effective solution for many merchants as it provided a digital “try-before-you-buy” customer experience right from the comfort of their own home. For merchants using AR, customers can view and place products on or around themselves to get a better idea of what to expect before they place an order.

With more retailers adopting AR technology it seems customers are warming up to the idea. A GetApp survey in September 2020 suggested that interest in AR had increased, with 47% of respondents changing their perception and becoming more willing to use it.

With mobile commerce growing 30% during the first lockdown and ongoing improvements to AR functionality on smartphones and tablets, this technology is becoming a very appealing way for merchants to enhance and improve the online shopping experience for their customers.


As consumers set their sights on eCommerce, so too did the fraudsters.

In the UK, online shopping fraud increased 37% during the first half of 2020 with consumers in their 20s said to be the most likely victims.

Unfortunately, many businesses were not prepared for this increase in fraud and many vulnerabilities in security software were not being addressed. In April 2020, an estimated 2.5 million card transaction records were exposed to the internet for three weeks, due to the lack of a password on the database server.

However, this shortfall is being addressed. Data gathered by LearnBonds suggests that nearly 70% of major organisations plan to increase their cybersecurity spending following the COVID outbreak.


The last 12 months have shown a very clear direction for the future of shopping – consumers will be expecting merchants to become more digital, more accessible and more secure. So how can you make sure you meet these growing demands from your customers?


The rapid adoption of digital payments has created a huge surge in demand for eCommerce. In order to avoid disruptions, risks of data breaches and potential downtime, you should invest in reliable systems and security, both for running your online store and accepting payments.


With so many merchants making the move to online, competitive pricing will only get you so far. To truly stand out from the crowd it will become more important for you to create a customer experience which is not only positive, but innovative.

Whether it’s incorporating augmented reality or embracing omni-channel selling, going the extra mile to make your customers’ lives easier will be the key to gaining their loyalty and maintaining an edge over your competitors.


More customers shopping online means higher demand for support. While human interaction is great, it can be expensive and unreliable in lockdown. Fortunately, the use of chatbots can provide your customers with instant 24/7 support instead of keeping them waiting and can help avoid strains being put on your customer service team.

It’s not just consumer preferences that are changing. Last year saw many employees being introduced to the concept of working from home with many starting to prefer the idea on a permanent basis. With this in mind, it will be important to review how your customer service team is able operate. At any given moment are they able to easily and effectively transition from office and remote-based environments?


For more tips on growing your ecommerce business, search #PixxlesPowerUps. Watch our ecommerce video guides here or visit our resources page to read more helpful blogs.

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