We're nearly at the end of the first quarter of 2023 – a year of seeing the rise of AI (if you read Twitter enough) – and yet, we're emerging from the pandemic changed. But how much have we changed? Have ecommerce buyers’ habits also changed in the face of this year's outlook?
Whether we're concerned about global instability, the Fed raising rates, job stability amid tech layoffs, or keeping our businesses alive, we must look in the mirror and at our audiences.
You may wonder how ecommerce and buyer trends will affect you; maybe you're up at night thinking about the following:
- Will ecommerce buyers continue with our subscriptions?
- How much of a price increase is too much for ecommerce buyers?
- Will ecommerce buyers flock to discount or thrift stores?
With this article, we hope you'll come up with some of your own answers as I highlight some of the buyer habits and trends we're facing.
How ecommerce buyers affect the market
What is "the market?" Originally, "the market" consisted of physical booths in the open air – now charming places to buy organic asparagus. Then we found consolidated places to shop: supermarkets. However, Web 1.0 brought us shopping cart functions and changed how we do business forever.
Hooray! We no longer need to fight for a parking spot at Trader Joe's… or do we?
Online shopping and pandemic innovation like contactless pickup changed our habits and expectations as consumers. Two things we learned from quarantines are that in-store shopping isn't a relic — nearly 75% of consumers shop in physical stores.
Commerce isn't just physical; it's also online. Many say there is no ecommerce, only commerce yet any reduction in online buying adversely affects the entire market.
"73% of people (and 55% of Gen Zers in particular) say they'd still prefer to purchase a product in-store."
What about the stock market? In 2023, you could make an argument that "the market" doesn't exist without ecommerce buyers. With fractional stocks being sold on apps like Stash and Robinhood, the traditional stock market trading is supplemented by ecommerce.
The benefit of ecommerce in the age of data is simply the amount of data available for businesses to analyze. But frankly, knowing what to analyze is still up to humans; we'll allow computers to compile the rest.
The flipside of the consumer market in the age of data is the rise of privacy-related issues. In recent years, GDPR and CCPA have affected what data businesses and marketers know about their audience – that is, third-party data. First-party data is still valuable for determining marketing tactics, creating buyer personas, and shaping company journeys.
What factors impact ecommerce buyers?
What factors impact ecommerce buyers? It's the same as in-person buyers: They want a quality product at a good value that is convenient to buy, meaning you don't want to make it too difficult for your consumer to purchase by pricing your product too high or skimping on quality.
Whenever you make a process difficult to understand intuitively, you risk losing customers.
After three years of complications thanks to COVID-19, people are even willing to pay extra for simplicity, which isn't new to digital. Land's End, L.L. Bean, and IKEA are just three names where the idea of "simple outdoor sustainability" is at the heart of sometimes quite expensive products.
Online shopping difficulties include the user experience on your website. Is finding the shoe they're looking for easy? Can they buy the right type of mattress on your platform? Do the images show how soft your cashmere socks are? User experience includes website speed so you may not want to cut corners on hosting (hint, hint).
The growing importance of mobile commerce
Mobile commerce is more than an online shop. While mobile shopping is the first thing we think of, any goods and services can be accessed with a smartphone. When was the last time you had to return to a store to do something you couldn't do online?
It's hard to remember the last time you entered a bank branch, right? We use apps, and our thumbs do most of the shopping – even when buying cars.
- Mobile banking, insurance, and finance
- Automobile buying
- Information and location-based services
- Travel, hospitality, and delivery services
- Mobile (and individual) advertising
- Mobile ticketing, vouchers, and coupons
- Digital goods such as music, videos, and e-books
- Blockchain technology
While the outward-facing consumer goods play an essential role in courting ecommerce buyers, so do the paid memberships, lead generation and nurturing, and data collection aspects of mobile commerce.
Whether it be fitness, travel, entertainment, work, or social tools, mobile apps have a growing presence in every aspect of our lives. In the retail sector, innovative services offer a significant additional benefit to "necessity shopping."
"Mobile devices account for 71% of retail traffic."
—The Future of Commerce
The benefits of mobile commerce include coupons, redeemable loyalty points, click-and-go purchases, and free delivery from online retailers such as Amazon. Don't forget the buy now, pay later (BNPL) tech (known as "layaway" by Gen X).
Gen Z is the leader in BNPL adoption in the US at over 46%, projected to be 27% by 2025. The result shows customer delight and increased customer conversions.
The online shopping income gap
Three clicks, and your new jeans are with you the next day. Companies like Amazon advertise not only a wide range of goods but fast shipping, an easy return policy, and easy payments.
This makes online shopping attractive where ecommerce buyers work more and have little time for leisure – especially in larger cities and metropolitan areas.
There's a very simple reason for this: Where people have a higher income, they spend more money shopping online. Higher-income internet users also perceive lower implicit risks in online purchases, affecting their demand for internet products and services.
"Across all three types of devices, mobile, tablet, and desktop, adults with upper incomes are more likely than middle- and lower-income adults to say they use each device to make online purchases."
—Pew Research Center
In rural America, on the other hand, fewer items end up in online shopping carts. Even in Northeast Wisconsin, where the poverty rates are low, residents struggle with one to two bars on their cell phones and lackluster broadband.
Remember when we talked about a fast website? This is where the rubber meets the road.
So, take away the idea that rural equals poor, and you may embrace "faster is better" on your loading times.
Of course, having the income to make purchases or the online ability is the deciding factor. A 2021 EU study reported that 80% of employed adults had purchased goods online in the last 12 months compared with 65% of unemployed adults and 55% of retired adults.
Digital identity and our wallets
A cashless society may mean never worrying about leaving your purse at home, but building customer confidence in the digital wallet on our phones is still a challenge. Although we are in the early days, businesses can speed up acceptance by allowing people to decide how much data they share by using digital wallet tokens.
"Digital wallets could end the digital identity crisis."
Tokens to replace third-party cookies in our web browsers are the data protection–friendly equivalent to the features we may soon find on our phones to represent loyalty cards, customer IDs, and even payment methods – Apple Pay, GPay, and CashApp come immediately to mind.
Don't get too excited, though – tokens are even more beneficial to companies than cookies, as they contain more personalized data. Cookies show companies our intent (desire), but tokens show our actions (behavior); we need actions to study trends and habits.
Who is behind an online purchase?
Behind every online purchase is the technology that makes it happen. Sometimes the IT department is simply your web host and marketing manager. In larger companies, you have product managers, sales teams, social media managers, offsite vendors, web developers, and maybe even custom code developed for your store.
For simplicity's sake, let's talk about the technology behind an online purchase or your tech stack. The basic ecommerce tech stack includes a CMS, store functionality, SEO plugin, and a payment gateway, of course.
However, the question is who will build your ecommerce store? I already have a good idea about where you could host it, but how about finding an ecommerce expert in a trusted marketplace? Would you use a freelancer from the only ecommerce freelancer network recommended by ecommerce or an expert in a trusted marketplace?
An option is to hire from a WordPress-exclusive freelancer platform where clients are connected with the top WordPress freelance developers to work on projects of any size.
WordPress may not be easy for a new-to-tech small business owner, but it is a lot easier for a company to set up, maintain, and expand later.
Some small businesses don't consider this when choosing Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace. When looking at your tech stack, especially for ecommerce, look to future-proof your business – and WordPress is free. There are no extra monthly fees for an SEO or ecommerce plugin, either.
Knowing that 43% of all websites are on WordPress helps build confidence that a) the software will be long-supported and b) you'll be able to find someone to fix your website.
WooCommerce is a fantastic tool for ecommerce stores on WordPress and the most popular in the ecommerce tech stack, dominating nearly 37% of the marketplace as of July 2022. Again, the legacy of this software, in addition to its huge market share, reinforces that it is readily supported both by knowledge workers and by the platform itself.
Concerning SEO and websites, there are few rivals to Yoast. The founders cultivated "SEO for everyone" in their ethos, and it continues today under the new ownership, Newfold Digital. The basic functionalities needed by most websites are free with their plugin and low-cost premium options are available for ecommerce stores like yours.
Of course, your ecommerce website will need to accept credit cards online as taking cards over the phone or in plain emails isn't PCI compliant. This is where GoDaddy comes in with GoDaddy Payments just to make it easier.
Research and knowledge play a significant role
We just talked about how tech is behind a good online purchase process, but it's people who make it all possible. We build systems to solve problems and make people happy because happy customers mean successful companies, right?
Investing time in researching the pain points of our customers – and our teams – is just as important, if not more important, than investing in a great tech stack.
Macy's, Ford, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and many more companies have successfully made millions of customers happy long before mobile shopping apps appeared. The question is, how did they do it? They probably asked themselves this: Where are customer needs highly important but poorly satisfied?
Today, sustainability, accessibility, and data protection are just as important to ecommerce buyers when they shop online as choice, price, and overnight delivery. Know your customer, and they'll trust you.
Understanding the return to valuing community
Uncertainty surrounds us. The ability to empathize and direct our feelings toward the dignity of people and nature is a growing need: the Slow Food movement, yoga, exercise, mindfulness, and vinyl music.
We seek to return to the basics where possible.
We are taking the time to appreciate things in more detail, which takes time. It's a luxury people are willing to pay for. Attention and consideration include respect and positive feedback, i.e., acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of our rights, personal data, time, and choices underpin community.
"Loyalty and participation are at a tipping point, and creativity is on the edge of unlimited possibility."
Even top companies understand the benefits of returning to sustainable, healthy practices and slowing down. If they're investing in the future, then perhaps we should too.
In "Slowing Down to Speed Up," McKinsey & Company writes: "Speeding up isn't the answer. In fact, we find that if top teams slow down, they eventually achieve their objectives more quickly."
This isn't a call to tune in and drop out, and it may sound quaint to "stop and smell the roses," but it isn't. We're huddled, multitasking on our phones, and maybe losing sight of the value of mentorship, community, inclusion, creativity, and (healthy) innovation.
Return policies – the future of ecommerce is customer delight
Nobody likes waiting for their jeans to arrive only to find they don't fit. How many of us order two or three pairs and return those we don't like?
The struggle is real. Returns can be a hassle for both the consumer and the seller.
Problems don't need to be a dead end, though, because you can turn them into an opportunity where everyone is happy. Today, we don't have to stand in line at the store to return that chip-n-dip bowl; we can probably just return it from home with free shipping.
"According to research by the National Retail Federation, 2021's return volume exceeded $761 billion, accounting for nearly 16.6% of all retail sales in the U.S. During the holidays … the average national return rate … can go as high as 35% for online purchases."
A lot has changed in how we shop, but even with a shopping mall on our phones, ecommerce buyers still want hassle-free processes. When it comes to returns, we probably all want the same things:
- Free returns
- An easy return process
- A fast return
Simplicity and ease in ecommerce processes have gone from being factors for "customer satisfaction" to "customer expectations."
We return a lot, so how can we fix the return problem? There are some basic solutions – nothing too delightful, but they will probably save you a few returns:
- Create detailed product descriptions and offer alternatives.
- Conduct regular quality testing of your ecommerce processes.
- Increase the return time window – will an extra week really break you?
- Identify trends in commonly returned items – you might find the problem right there.
Customer delight was where we began, so here is a great return idea: The Front Door Return. You print out a QR code, stick it onto your package, leave the package on your doorstep, and a company will pick it up and return it to the sender.
Amazon has done this with its partnership with UPS Stores – to a degree. You still have to go to the store, but they scan a QR code and repackage it for you. If you don't mind repackaging, you may be able to schedule home or office pickups from UPS, too.
Many of the larger delivery companies in the EU offer a variation of this concept as well.
Whenever a package is being delivered, the driver will take back packages that have the return sticker attached. For example, DHL takes DHL packages, and Hermes takes Hermes packages. This cuts the extra costs of organizing a third-party pick-up company.
Social media influences ecommerce buying habits
Not too long ago, the main purchasing influences happened in your neighbor's living room at Tupperware parties (now at Target). Those types of MLM transactions continue.
Have you ever purchased a Cookie Lee bracelet or Zyia leggings? Amway is an $8bn dollar business, Herbalife is $4.6bn, and NuSkin is $2.2bn. That type of peer influence is still in your living rooms but more likely virtually.
Would you be surprised to know that women follow more social media influencers than men do? So when you think of the beauty industry, you're probably thinking about makeup and hair tutorial videos.
You wouldn't be wrong, but it's a 48-billion-dollar industry in 2023 and that's no small market. Consider how many beauty products are purchased online; that's the commerce of influence – social commerce.
"Social commerce is critical for brands to reach their target audiences and is expected to generate $30.73 billion in sales in 2023, accounting for 20% of global retail e-commerce sales."
—The Future of Commerce
However, we're not leaving men out of this section. Although men don't make as many purchases because of social influencers, they are likelier to purchase high-ticket items this way. Search #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt (over 2 million Google results) and you'll see why ecommerce loves TikTok influencers.
"TikTok and other short-form video platforms will become increasingly popular for advertisers."
Short-form videos can be funny, interesting, and even mind-numbing, but this way of influencing consumer behavior works despite how consumers feel about platform ownership. Although privacy concerns over TikTok's owners are surfacing, consumers love shopping on TikTok, but we're not just picking on TikTok.
People who have issues with Meta left Instagram and Facebook, while others came to Twitter (or returned) after Elon Musk bought it out. Knowing who your buyer is and their belief systems is important. This ultimately shapes the platforms they're on – more so than their generation.
Understanding shopping personality types
Do you need to survey your ecommerce buyers' personalities with a Meyers–Briggs test? How about the Enneagram? Or do you simply lump everyone by their year of birth and generation? Understanding shopping personality types isn't quite that straightforward, though many marketers would like you to believe it is.
Why? Let's talk about highly sensitive people.
HSPs represent about 20% of the general population and are easily overwhelmed in physical stores, making it difficult to determine certain characteristics of things they are buying online – such as the quality of a fabric and whether it is soft or rough.
A seasoned HSP shopper will most likely read several online reviews and research a store's return policy. They may also brave the shopping experience and then purchase – or repurchase – online. For the HSP, omnichannel marketing is a differentiator. They may also brave the shopping experience and then purchase – or repurchase – online.
Sure, we can also go by the cliché of generations, though it's always best to survey your own users, and we can use generational trends as a guide.
"Millennials and Gen Xers prefer to discover new products on social media through ads or sponsored content – while Gen Zers prefer discovering new products on social media through short-form videos."
With that said, it is good to keep in mind that the oldest Zoomers are 26, and the youngest will be 21 before you know it. They don't follow traditional celebrities either, preferring to follow influencers, and like Millennials, Generation Z prefers to buy from brands that align with their values.
Adopting a multi-channel approach to connect with consumers
Multi-channel marketing is no longer something ecommerce sites can ignore. People want to buy how they want to buy when they want to buy. Even TJ Maxx, known for its discounted fashion and home items, sells on its website. Amazon has shown retailers what is possible since its early days of selling book titles from A to Z.
More than multi-channel retail, however, omnichannel brings cohesion to your entire brand as experienced by your consumer. Brand cohesion is an integral part of consumer loyalty, and who doesn't want repeat customers? We sure do.
2023 ecommerce trends remain the same – good customer service
Closing this out, if I had to sum up 2023's ecommerce buyer trends in two words, they would be “customer service.” From companies being omnipresent to offering a fast website and easy returns, consumers want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged.
Their money is especially hard-earned in this era of inflation, and they are becoming more cognizant of how and where they spend their shopping dollars.