If you’re thinking about starting an e-commerce business, you’re in good company. In the first quarter of 2021, U.S. e-commerce sales grew 39% year-over-year to $199 billion, as reported by Forbes. This growth is only accelerating, as global e-commerce sales are predicted to reach $4.2 trillion this year.
Not only is the demand for online shopping skyrocketing, but it’s also never been easier to start an online business. Almost every part of running an online business, from sales to logistics to design, can be easily managed through user-friendly tech platforms and software. Even so, turning your venture into a successful, revenue-generating company is still a difficult task.
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To improve your odds of success, keep these six key trends in mind to start a profitable e-commerce business in 2021:
Pick a niche with growth potential
With an estimated 12 to 24 million e-commerce sites globally (and more being created every day), it is vital to stand out from the crowd. In any business, online or not, the bottom line is that if you try to sell to everybody, you end up selling to nobody. This is particularly true in the extremely competitive world of e-commerce. Look for niches where demand is growing and carefully target your audience in order to differentiate yourself from competitors.
And once you’ve got your store up and running, a great way to narrow your niche or further define your product offerings is by surveying your current customers. Consumer feedback can help you collect in-depth information and discover any commonalities among your customers that can help you narrow your niche even further.
Today’s consumers want customization
Tailor-made products have always been customer favorites. In recent years, e-commerce stores have set themselves apart by offering customized products within their niches. In fact, some online stores have built their entire business on product customization, while others are slowly incorporating the process into their store to enrich the consumer’s shopping experience.
According to a recent Deloitte study, one in five consumers are willing to pay 20% more for a customized or exclusive product, and 46% of consumers say they are happy to wait longer to get their personalized product or service.
Consumers expect transparency
It has never been more important for businesses to manage consumer expectations.
According to Salesforce, a whopping 76% of consumers assume companies understand their needs and expectations. For e-commerce brands, a great way to do this is by clearly and explicitly communicating order information. In an Amazon Prime world where products are shipped in two days (and sometimes, the very same day), many consumers expect to receive their products relatively quickly. As happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring and during the 2020 holiday season, external factors can cause delays in producing and shipping products.
E-commerce brands need to communicate with customers before, during and after they place an order to address their concerns, including:
- Addressing shipping delays or any other known issues on your homepage and product pages.
- Reinforcing those messages during checkout, including estimated shipping and arrival times so that your consumer isn’t frustrated by uncontrollable delays or disruptions in the supply chain.
- Updating consumers with transaction emails. Typically, the two main transactional emails consumers receive are the order confirmation email and the shipping confirmation email. An additional email you may want to consider including is an order delivery confirmation. This notifies the consumer, who is waiting patiently for their order, that their package has arrived.
Instagram is the new Google
If you’re starting a product-based e-commerce business, then you understand the power of Instagram and why it should be an essential part of your marketing strategy. More and more consumers are actually using Instagram, not Google, to find new brands or to learn more information about products.
According to a survey conducted by Sprout Social, 83% of people surveyed use Instagram to discover new products or services, and 80% use Instagram to decide whether or not to buy a product or service.
If you’re not using Instagram to sell your product, now is the time to start. Your brand’s Instagram profile has to essentially become your second homepage and may even be more important than the first.
Try these cost-effective and proven ways to transform your brand’s Instagram profile into a steady source of sales:
- Build out your storefront on Instagram Shopping. With your Instagram storefront, customers can browse and shop all of your offerings across Facebook and Instagram. You can even create curated collections in your storefront to fit with trends and seasons. Your customers may even forget they’re not shopping on your website!
- Create Reels. Instagram has been testing new interface layouts that incorporate access to Reels from the homepage so users can easily watch videos. They have also been prioritizing Reels in the main feed in order to increase engagement and adoption. While Instagram built Reels to support creators and influencers, even brands that don’t invest in influencer marketing can benefit.
Pay attention to sustainability
The conversation around the impact consumerism has on the environment remains a hot button issue. According to a recent study by McKinsey, 67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials to be an important factor when they are making buying decisions.
Consumers are interested in sustainable practices and engage more closely with businesses that are socially responsible and transparent with their production and fulfillment processes. For e-commerce businesses, this could mean incorporating organic, reusable, sustainable materials and methods into their supply chain. Be sure to let customers know the steps you are taking to reduce environmental harm, and share these practices on your company blog and across your social channels.
Increasing interest in hybrid inventory models
Many e-commerce brands are testing new supply chain solutions, such as on-demand manufacturing, in order to lower inventory costs, reduce waste and streamline their operations. On-demand manufacturing is a process that emerged about a decade ago but has gradually picked up steam in the past few years. Driven primarily by the explosive growth of e-commerce and shifting consumer needs, on-demand is poised to revolutionize the supply chain industry in the coming years.
With on-demand manufacturing, products are made only when they are needed and in the quantities required. In contrast, traditional manufacturing requires large quantities of products to be made and then stored in facilities until they are ready for shipping.
On-demand is ideal for e-commerce stores because it eliminates the need for inventory, and also allows online entrepreneurs to quickly test consumer interest in new products or designs without taking much risk. Many existing brands (both e-commerce and offline) are using on-demand in combination with traditional manufacturing to expand their product lines or feature collaborations. For all entrepreneurs, on-demand allows them to outsource their supply chain so they can concentrate less on logistics and focus on what they do best — designing, marketing and selling.
Key takeaways to starting a successful e-commerce business
Starting an e-commerce business is no small task. While technology provides many opportunities for creating an e-commerce business, it has also become harder for new and small brands to compete. Understanding the latest trends can help entrepreneurs find new markets or product ideas, as well as guide you to new methods that can give you a leg up on the competition. From focusing on niche audiences to implementing product customization to setting proper customer expectations, these trends can help you create a thriving e-commerce business.