It’s no secret that ecommerce transactions set new records in 2020. Revenues from online shopping surpassed estimates for 2025, due to the onset of Covid-19. Ecommerce sites brought in more than $790 billion in US sales last year, a whopping 32% over 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Since 2020 brought shelter-in-place orders, curbed most brick-and-mortar retail, and inclined us all to avoid social activities, it’s little wonder that online shopping grew exponentially. We found ourselves stuck at home, but with the luxury of time; we sought to connect with, control, and consume the outside world via our laptops.
Thus we were given an accelerated education in online shopping tactics. While the number of new online shoppers exploded, seasoned online consumers also doubled down on time spent browsing and buying. The pandemic unleashed a new super-savvy ecommerce shopper.1
We took a look at three ways in which consumers got so much smarter in 2020 — and what merchants need to do to catch up.
We got better at comparison shopping and the dark funnel grew.
The dark funnel describes the idea that merchants can’t always know where a consumer researches or browses the same or similar products on another site before finally converting. With more time on our hands, we’ve become happy to spend even more of that time shopping around: comparing prices, quality, customer service, and shipping costs and speeds. We are researching deeply, gleaning product information from multiple sources, and finding the best place to convert. Merchants need to answer the question savvy consumers are asking: “I might browse here, but why should I buy here?”
Merchants need to reach beyond the basics (informative PDP, frictionless funnel, well-timed promotions) and ensure they know who they’re dealing with in real time, so that they can offer differentiated experiences that resonate. Yes, I’m referring to personalization.
Personalization, already a proven strategy and powerful trend in ecommerce pre-covid, has now leapt ahead of other priorities. Now more than ever, merchants will need to make visitors feel something they don’t feel elsewhere: a targeted promo that speaks to their profile, dynamic content that guides and responds to their behaviors in real time, a personal touch in an exchange via chat. Conversational commerce done right means customers engage with a brand more deeply, they connect in a way that makes their purchase more meaningful, they’ll stay, and they’ll return.
Being led down a generic funnel -— the tiresome “wait, don’t go” popup, the insipid 10 percent discount email following an abandoned cart — seems too familiar in 2021. Merchants who invest in gathering and connecting customer data, and leveraging it to provide personalized journeys, will pull ahead of the pack.
We got wiser and more conscientious about who we buy from.
As we were forced to slow down and re-evaluate much in our lives last year, we embraced introspection and self-improvement. This was true of all demographics, but especially younger consumers who are driving revenue more strongly now. Sales in health, wellness and personal care industries skyrocketed.
With consumers spending more time looking inward, asking, “Who am I?” a natural progression to the question, “Who are you?” follows. We’re not only taking stock of ourselves, but looking closer at who we give our business to. In 2020, we saw a growing awareness of our communities, the environment, and sustainability. It followed that we began showing deference for brands who demonstrate authenticity, transparency, and accountability. Customers are taking notice of merchants with a story, a purpose, and paths for social good.2
Merchants need to ensure that the online experience reflects their company’s passion and purpose, balances selling with story-telling, and encourages honest engagement. Again, conversational commerce, facilitated by chat, reviews, stories, and boosted by storied content and exceptional product detail pages will allow visitors to understand the brand holistically and empower their buying choices.
We (unfortunately) got a lot more clever about scamming your promo.
In 2020, with great ecommerce growth comes great ecommerce fraud. As honest consumers became smarter, so did the fraudsters, trolls, and scammers. Fraud comes in many forms, but an easy way to combat it is by knowing your customers.
Yes, we’re back to personalization. Deep insights into customer data not only improve the accuracy of fraud detection but also enable powerful personalization techniques. Furthermore, highly-targeted, data-driven promotions, layered with rules-based applicability, are particularly resistant to fraud given their narrow scope — and they reduce spend for the same reason.
Summary: As online consumers, we’ve come a long way in 2020. Turning the tables, merchants need to follow their customers’ lead and ask the same timely questions; “Who am I?” “Who are you?”
In other words, if you don’t understand who you are as a brand, that will be obvious to savvy online visitors now more than ever. And if you don’t understand your customers’ wants and needs well enough to cater to them, it’s time for an overdue education.
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