How to meet the needs of online shoppers in 2021

As the internet evolves and the ability to shop spreads to more and more devices, it’s increasingly important for retailers to promote themselves through a broader range of channels.

Search engines such as Google are still a major driver of traffic and both search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising will remain the foundations for most marketing campaigns, at least in the near future.

But to attract shoppers in 2021 there are many more considerations. Because whenever you’re not visible, you’re missing out on sales. And, more than likely, those sales are going to the competitor who had the vision to adopt new technologies early.

Here are some of the main innovations that shoppers will use to find products and services in the year ahead.

Mobile devices

This is not a new trend, as mobile traffic has been growing each year of the last decade, but in 2020 mobile traffic exceeded desktop traffic. A visitor to your website is now more likely to do so on a handheld device than a regular computer.

Why that’s important: This means that your site must be optimised for mobile browsers. If it isn’t then not only will shoppers become frustrated and switch instead to a more user-friendly site, but also Google promotes mobile-friendly sites above alternatives, meaning that if your site isn’t correctly optimised, it’s already handicapped by lower search engine rankings.

Voice search

More and more homes have smart devices in them: Alexa, Siri, Google, even smart watches, headphones, TV remotes and other devices. As the number of voice-controlled devices increases, so does the number of searches they perform, and the idea of typing words into a search engine becomes less popular.

Why that’s important: Firstly, people don’t search the same way with their voice as they do by typing. They use different phrases, and are more likely to ask questions than simply state key words. And if the way people are looking for businesses and products is evolving, you need to evolve the way you can be found to match. You can read our in-depth guide on this topic here.

In addition, many smart devices can also perform shopping tasks, adding items to a virtual cart, so it’s important that you’re engaging with these back-end systems, too.

Alternatives to search engines

The second most popular search engine in the world isn’t a direct competitor of Google, it’s YouTube. Another site that ranks incredibly high for search is Amazon. It seems people don’t want to start fresh searches from the absolute beginning. They know that a YouTube search will yield videos, and with Amazon they’ll see a long list of rated-and-reviewed products that can be purchased with as little as a single click.

Why that’s important: Google is still of major importance, but it’s not the only way shoppers find new products and services. Now that many people begin and end their search through a specific service, you should be increasing your visibility on the sites your potential customers use.

Purchases through social media

Social media continues to be one of the most popular ways to spend time online, so it was only a matter of time before retailers tapped into it as a revenue stream. Browsers can now buy through platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, and YouTube has reportedly made the first steps to adding an ecommerce element to user videos, too.

Why that’s important: Almost bypassing search altogether, shoppers can now buy products without ever leaving their favourite apps. It’s a great way to promote brands and specific products, but you’ve got to be on these platforms to be in with a chance of a sale. Otherwise, potential customers will simply shop with a competitor instead.

Round-the-clock customer service

One of the great bonuses of ecommerce is that shoppers can complete a transaction at any time of day or night. It’s extremely convenient. But sometimes shoppers have questions, and if you’re not available to answer them, that convenience is lost. And so, potentially, is the chance of a sale.

Why that’s important: More and more customers are coming to expect the brands they interact with to respond quickly. Fortunately, you don’t need to employ a dedicated team to monitor the inbox every hour of the day. Chatbot software has come a long way in recent years, and is now intelligent enough to answer customer questions without the need for human input. The technology is relatively inexpensive these days, and means that ‘you’ are always available to connect with your audience.

Additional payment options

Most businesses accept card payments online – though some still don’t, and they are considered the dinosaurs of ecommerce. But that’s no longer enough by itself. With the introduction of services such as Klarna, customers are coming to expect the ability to delay payments until goods are delivered and inspected, to be able to split payments across weeks and months, and other flexible options.

Why that’s important: There is such a vast array of options available to online shoppers that they will only buy from retailers who meet their exacting needs. Because if one retailer doesn’t, another one will. If one of your customers wants to split their payments over three months, and you don’t offer that option, you’re not making the sale. This makes alternative payment services something of crucial importance to investigate in 2021.

AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence can be used to track shopper behaviour in real-time and predict and guide what they may do next. This can be used to create a smoother shopping experience, but also to generate product recommendations based on shopping history and items in the cart. It can even be used to manage discounts and utilise flexible pricing on the go. The best uses of this will make it simpler for customers to find what they’re looking for, and gives the retailer a chance to upsell in a more effective way.

Why that’s important: This technology is still relatively new, but the current rate at which the internet is advancing means that this could be mainstream quicker than you might expect.