The e-commerce space has seen a huge boom over the past two years due to changes in consumer shopping habits. This year will likely see major changes and advancements in e-commerce, and your business may get left behind if you don’t stay ahead of the curve.
Here are the top e-commerce trends that small businesses need to be aware of as they build their 2022 e-commerce strategy:
- Increased competition for e-commerce businesses
- A rise in social commerce
- A focus on sustainability in products and packaging
- Higher consumer expectations on shipping and fulfillment
- Artificial intelligence for customer support
1. Increased competition for e-commerce businesses
Many new players have entered the e-commerce space over the past two years, and small businesses will need to work harder to differentiate themselves in 2022. Competition is particularly strong with direct-to-consumer businesses, as many hobbyists became small business owners during the covid-19 pandemic.
Social media sites like TikTok and online selling platforms like Etsy have made it easier for people to turn their hobbies into legitimate and successful small businesses. However, this can create new challenges for long-standing B2C businesses.
In addition to brand new businesses entering the market, many brick-and-mortar stores have moved to a hybrid commerce model. This means you’re no longer only in competition with other e-commerce retailers—now, everyone from the local mom-and-pop store to giants like Walmart are competing for business from online buyers.
According to a survey by Shopify, 40 percent of businesses report that they expect increased competition to hinder their commerce team from achieving its goals in 2022. This increase in demand doesn’t have to hinder your success, but it does mean that you’ll need to be a bit more strategic in how you market your products moving forward.
This is a good time to conduct an updated competitor analysis. The market has changed considerably over the past 1-2 years. Once you’ve analyzed the new competition, look for opportunities to differentiate your brand through your branding and product development.
2. The rise of social commerce
Social media is increasingly influencing consumer purchasing decisions. Now, many people are even making purchases directly on social media sites.
A poll conducted by SproutSocial found that 35 percent of survey respondents have purchased products or services directly from a social media platform. Small business owners may want to expand their social advertising to span a wider variety of platforms and leverage in-platform shopping features such as Instagram Shopping.
There are a number of services that can help you better leverage social commerce for your business:
Shopify is one of the top e-commerce platforms on the market. You may already be using them to sell your products. However, many business owners don’t realize that Shopify also has a number of tools for social commerce.
Shopify has a special partnership with TikTok Shopping that can help you boost brand awareness on one of the trendiest and fastest-growing social media platforms. Shopify e-commerce retailers can easily sync their product catalogs with their TikTok accounts to create in-app product listings in a shopping tab on your TikTok business profile.
Read more: How Shopify Became an E-Commerce Powerhouse
If you want to approach social commerce with a different type of tool, consider Sprout Social. Sprout Social is primarily a social media management tool as opposed to a dedicated e-commerce tool, but they too have great features targeted towards social commerce.
Sprout Social can help you drive sales through social media and deliver more personalized experiences within your social media marketing activities. The platform can provide more direct access to purchase opportunities in your social media ads and help you retain customer data to customize the ads and marketing experience for each person.
3. A focus on sustainability in products and packaging
Consumers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability when making purchases. They want to make purchases they can feel good about from companies that promote environmental sustainability and ethical consumption. Capgemini found that 79 percent of consumers are changing their shopping preferences based on the social or environmental impact of their purchases.
One of the biggest trends over the past few years has been eliminating or reducing single-use plastic consumption. According to Deloitte, 61 percent of consumers have reduced their use of single-use plastics.
If your business hasn’t adopted reusable or recycled products yet, consider how you can make your products more sustainable. Sometimes this doesn’t require a huge brand overhaul—you can start small by introducing a separate product line that integrates sustainability best practices.
Additionally, you may want to consider using more sustainable packaging. The extravagant packaging that used to be trendy is now often regarded as wasteful, so try to keep it simple or use eco-friendly shipping materials to pack orders. Custom QR codes can be used on packaging to enable customer engagement, as well as sustainable delivery tracking, without the use of excessive packaging material for promotions and branding. This can actually help you cut costs too. Just be sure to market yourself correctly and emphasize that plainer packaging is an intentional and environmentally-conscious decision.
4. Higher consumer expectations on shipping and fulfillment
Consumers want to support small businesses, but they aren’t quite ready to part with the fast and free shipping options offered by Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
Many small business owners may be surprised to learn how large of an impact shipping prices have on customer behavior. Easyship found that 61.8 percent of buyers consider shipping cost above all other factors, while 73 percent of customers have decided not to make a purchase due to delivery costs.
Here are a few ways you can provide a better customer experience when it comes to shipping options:
- Consider offering free shipping with a minimum purchase amount to encourage buyers to make larger orders.
- Alternatively, factor shipping into product prices rather than as a separate charge.
- Choose a reliable fulfillment software to keep your shipping and fulfillment process organized and efficient.
- Provide tracking numbers on all orders to minimize frustration while waiting for delivery.
- Offer expedited shipping options. While customers do not typically like to pay high shipping costs, an expedited option is very helpful for last-minute shoppers who are accustomed to the short shipping times offered by giant retailers.
- Offer in-store pickup or special delivery within your local community.
5. Artificial intelligence for customer service
Small businesses are using artificial intelligence (AI) to offload some of the repetitive tasks typically handled by staff. This is a great option for overextended small business owners or those facing staffing difficulties.
Increased use of chatbots is one AI-driven trend expected to continue in 2022. Chatbots allow customers to get answers to product questions in real-time, so customers typically respond positively to chatbots. In fact, a survey by LucidWorks found that 55 percent of U.S. and U.K. shoppers want a chatbot to provide support for them in finding specific products when shopping online.
Chatbots can also be used to increase purchase rates and minimize abandoned carts. Retailer Dressmann saw a 17 percent increase in the average order value on their site after they began using a conversational AI bot.
If you’re looking to delve into AI for your small business, it is easier than you think. There are a number of vendors and customer engagement platforms available to help your business leverage artificial intelligence to improve customer service or streamline business processes. Two such vendors are Kindly and Genesys DX.
Kindly helps businesses leverage AI to boost sales and customer support. This platform offers virtual shopping assistants that can provide tailored customer recommendations, conversational AI chatbots, and cart abandonment tools that help you reconnect with customers who did not complete their purchases. This can make a huge difference for your bottom line, as up to 70 percent of carts are abandoned at checkout on e-commerce sites.
The platform uses AI and automation tools to supplement your business’ sales and customer support teams in order to provide more efficient service to customers. Genesys’s chatbots can respond to common customer questions, and its predictive routing technology sends customers to the right place if they do need to speak with a live person.
Genesys’s AI technology can also be used to create personalized customer experiences and sales journeys.
Success in e-commerce requires flexibility
You can take action to improve your strategy for the year based on these five trends. The e-commerce space is ever-changing and highly competitive, so the success of your business depends on your ability to adapt to changes in the market and customer preferences. Continue to stay up to date with all of the latest innovations and trends to stay ahead of the competition.
Read next: Best E-Commerce Platforms For Small Business