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How to meet ecommerce customer expectations in 2021

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If there’s one thing we know about ecommerce, it’s that consumer expectations are always shifting – and this can put a lot of pressure on ecommerce brands to keep up if they want to stay relevant.

But in 2021, this has taken on a new significance as this sector experiences a surge in growth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As consumers rely increasingly on ecommerce to meet their needs, their expectations have shifted in tandem.

In this post, we’ve provided a handy list of 5 ways that you can meet ecommerce customer expectations this year. Read on for the latest insights!

1. Shipping: fast, free, AND sustainable

Increased demand for fast and free shipping is old news in the ecommerce sector. The so-called ‘Prime Effect’ has seen smaller vendors rushing to keep pace with new benchmarks set by the online giant – but this doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for independent online merchants in 2021. As the ecommerce sector grows, so does the number of options available for offsetting these costs.

While shouldering the cost of shipping does impact your profit margins, there is another interesting trend at work; 88% of consumers report being willing to pay more to receive same-day delivery – yet only around half of merchants offer this service.

Furthermore, a rise in conscious consumerism has added a new dimension to order fulfillment that the Amazons and eBays are still struggling to scale – the desire for a greener approach to packaging. Sustainable packaging continues to be a powerful brand differentiator, with three-quarters of consumers saying that packaging design influences their purchasing habits.

These trends provide smaller vendors with a powerful fulfillment and shipping strategy to meet consumer expectations – as well as a valuable edge within a competitive marketplace.

2. Branded delivery experiences

As the ecommerce sector grows more saturated, it’s become increasingly challenging for brands to differentiate themselves at the point of delivery. The so-called ‘Amazonization’ of online shopping has seen merchants offer a virtually indistinguishable experience from ordering to delivery – meaning that it’s virtually impossible to foster brand recognition in consumers.

But as greater numbers of consumers migrate online to fulfill their shopping needs, there’s been a noticeable shift in the desire for cohesive brand experiences – especially when there’s an absence of a physical retail presence. Digitally-native brands such have set themselves apart from competitors by offering memorable unboxing experiences that cement the importance of delivery as a powerful touchpoint.

By integrating premium or custom-branded packaging and inserts into your order fulfillment process, you can instantly transform your brand’s delivery experience from mundane to memorable.

3. Flexible returns management

There are a broad variety of reasons for customers wanting to return items, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a change in this behavior. Quite simply, more ecommerce customers in 2021 mean more returns – but also more opportunity for your business to foster loyalty through a more flexible and intuitive returns process.

Demand for easy returns been an ongoing trend for a while now. But as the pandemic forces’ greater reliance on online shopping, consumers showing increasing expectations for a plurality of return options to suit their personal circumstances. According to Magneto Solutions, 69% of consumers want to ability to return items bought online in a physical store, while over half want to see longer windows for returning or exchanging products.

By offering a less dogmatic approach to returns (especially during a difficult time for the economy) consumers will be far more likely to make repeat purchases from you, thus strengthening your revenue.

4. Bringing in-person experiences online

While many consumers gravitate towards ecommerce stores for convenience, there’s still a growing appetite for associated services that made up for sometimes impersonal shopping experiences.

Tools such as live chat functionality, AR (Augmented Reality), and on-site personalization are helping to bring the best parts of in-store shopping into people’s browsers – enhancing the online customer experience at a time when lockdown restrictions make this impossible or impractical.  

AR has been a real game-changer by offering the immersive quality that ecommerce often lacks, allowing consumers to ‘try’ products in advance and visualize how they will look. Paired with real-time conversations with customer service personnel via live chat or personalized recommendations, such techniques go a long way towards helping to lower return rates – 22% of returns take place because the product looks different from how the consumer imagined.

As these tools become commonplace, not embracing their capabilities could make your brand look out of step. In short, the more relevant your store experience feels to consumers, the more likely it is that they will convert to paying customers.

5. Rewarding loyal customers

We’re in a climate where acquiring new customers has never been more difficult – or more expensive. Even as more consumers flock online, increased competition, lower organic reach, and higher costs for ad spend and paid search have made many customer acquisition strategies untenable.

The more cost-effective alternative? Retaining the customers you already have.

Customer retention is around five times cheaper than acquisition, and also results in higher average transactions over the long run. But if you’re going to improve retention, you need to make it worth your customers’ while to keep buying from you.

Communicating directly with customers via email and social media helps to build community and generate a sense of belonging, while a well-targeted loyalty program can provide a tangible incentive to keep supporting your brand over competitors.

By putting retention first and foremost in your customer relations strategy, you’ll be much better-placed to maximize sales opportunities – and to handle the economic uncertainty of the current times.

As the sector continues to evolve rapidly, there are numerous opportunities for ecommerce merchants to grow their footprint by catering to changing consumer demands. By partnering with a scalable ecommerce fulfillment platform like Whiplash, businesses will gain access to streamlined order fulfillment and third-party integrations for the best end-to-end customer experience.

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