Despite claims to the contrary, the surge in eCommerce over the past two years wasn’t entirely unexpected. While it may have been catalyzed in no small part by the pandemic, the shift towards digital shopping was hardly circumstantial. It was a $25 Trillion entity whose wheels were already set in motion.
But it needed both the right road map as well as the right navigators. Because much like traditional retail, online commerce is never stagnant. If it exceeded well beyond anyone’s expectations, it was largely a pyrrhic victory in many ways; one in which necessity became the sole mitigating factor, not convenience.
But the constantly evolving medium of digital commerce demands a thorough understanding of both customer needs as well as optimal ways of reaching them. And that’s ultimately one of the greatest strengths of digital retail. It’s a two way mirror—one which drives those same needs as much as they reflect them.
Innovation, Social Media and Personalization: Who is Leading the Challenge?
Customer orientation is the very foundation of eCommerce. Unlike brick and mortar, digital retail is built around consumer needs and consumer preferences—not physical expansion and marketing returns. In 2021, those needs were driven in no small part by a sense of personalization. That’s not likely going to change in 2022. But its implications can sometimes present a challenge for many brands.
Consumer trust is enabled by personalization. But while a 2020 survey from Salesforce revealed 76 percent of online shoppers expected consistency in sales, service and marketing from a brand, 54 percent indicated the information they received in the process failed to serve those needs. And in a user-driven medium, social proof can account for the ultimate success of a brand as much as the actual product itself. Social marketing may not be a new development, but the integration of shoppable commerce with social media is on the rise, with sales expected to grow by over 35 percent to an estimated $36.6 Billion in the US this year.
An impressive number for a relatively new solution. But it pales in comparison to China, who is projected to see social commerce revenues of over $363 Billion by the end of this year. With over 4.2 billion active social media users, China has driven innovation in social commerce with a vengeance, expanding its reach and developing new creative solutions unimaginable just two years ago. Even the current buzz surrounding user generated content is now old hat in the Chinese digital market, spawning new outgrowths such as livestream shopping which have yet to be fully embraced by their overseas counterparts.
Leveraging social media will not be enough in 2022. Brands won’t just need to rely on social proof alone. They’ll need to innovate—especially as the demand for cross border eCommerce is now estimated to account for 20 percent of all online consumer spending. And a thorough understanding of the social strength in both global and domestic markets is critical if brands hope to evolve their scope beyond 2021.
Mission-Driven Brands Take Center Stage
Green-friendliness will continue to be a key driver in eCommerce, with a 2021 survey from Stifel revealing that 71 percent of American consumers indicated growing concerns over product sustainability. But while brands and retailers alike have been stressing their commitment to sustainability over the past few years, the reality paints a less than convincing picture. Despite an estimated 78 percent of US consumers being more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products, nearly two-thirds of shoppers have difficulty properly identifying them. The EPA has indicated that over 82 million tons of municipal solid waste in landfills are generated by disposable packaging per year while an estimated 20 percent of industrial water pollution and 10 percent of global carbon emissions were the direct result of textile manufacturing—an industry which saw a 21.8 percent increase in online apparel sales during 2020.
Those figures may not necessarily see an immediate decrease as eCommerce continues to reach unprecedented heights in 2022. But what is seeing a dramatic increase is the combined purchasing power of both millennials and their younger Gen Z siblings—now estimated at $1.4 Trillion and $143 Billion respectively, with both spending up to 125 percent more than pre-pandemic levels. Not only are both demographics the first digital natives, they’re also the most sustainability focused. While over 75 percent of both considered sustainability to be a decisive factor in purchasing a product, a 2021 survey from Deloitte revealed that only 47 percent of Millennial and Gen Z consumers considered businesses to have a positive impact on society.
As significant of an impact sustainability has, environmentally friendly products are only one characteristic of a mission-driven brand. As diversity & inclusion initiatives become an increasing priority in today’s workplace, brands in the new digital future will also have to broaden the scope of their audience. A recent survey from Adobe indicated that 38 percent of consumers were more likely to trust brands which reflected a diverse representation in their advertising. Yet that same survey revealed up to 120 million US households feit their identity was underrepresented in most advertising while recent estimates have placed multicultural marketing at only 5.2 percent of total advertising and marketing spending.
The digital consumer in 2021 is just as aware of a purposeful brand as they are of marketing gimmicks. In particular, those which leverage social impact as a selling point. Transparency is the fundamental guideline of any mission-driven brand; one that’s as applicable to product development as it is to marketing. Yet there’s still a thin line between inclusivity and outright patronization to be aware of. The marketing landscape is littered with more than a few recent casualties as a result of brands attempting to highlight social impact only to be met with declining sales and outright mockery. Digital consumers demand both action and vision from the brands they support, not lip service. And brands who fail to estimate the strength of either ultimately overestimate the strength of their product.
Authenticity: The Engine of eCommerce
Products aren’t simply material assets in the digital realm. They’re reflections; mirrors of how a consumer sees both themselves and their relationship to the world at large. That’s precisely why social commerce is seeing a 37.9 percent growth rate in 2021. It’s also why more consumers are embracing socially aware brands than ever before. In digital media, it’s the consumer who holds the ultimate power. Brands who fail to recognize this will find themselves to be just another statistic in the graveyard of eCommerce.
Authenticity brings authority. That’s why smaller businesses frequently have the upper hand in online retail. They can more accurately gauge the hopes, needs and motivations of their audience precisely because of their relatability. They may not ever reach nine figures in sales. But they possess one defining characteristic which no Fortune 500 entity can ever reproduce: a genuine article.
Color More Lines provides white glove, global account management of your eCommerce platforms so mission-driven companies can focus on new product development, branding and growth strategies. Find out more at Color More Lines.