According to a recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, global e-commerce sales grew to $26.7 trillion in 2020 — up 4% over 2018. In the UK alone, online retail sales increased 36 percent year on year, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’ve been wondering how to grow your e-commerce business in the face of decreasing restrictions, you’re in the right place.
By and large, industry experts suspect that online sales will slow down somewhat as social limits ease and people return to physical stores in 2022. They’re unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels, though — and that’s good news for e-commerce businesses and marketplace sellers in the UK.
We’ll begin this guide with a quick recap of e-commerce trends for 2021, some of which will likely continue in 2022. Then, we’ll talk about upcoming trends, and how you can use them to boost your online presence, and your bottom line. Let's get started.
Recapping e-commerce trends for 2021
When the coronavirus pandemic swept the world in early 2020, some businesses simply collapsed into administration. Organisations with weak e-commerce strategies — including well-known companies like Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group — weren’t able to continue trading effectively online.
Businesses that did thrive in spite of the coronavirus crisis had specific things in common: well-established and intuitive websites, recognisable branding and — for the most part — effective crisis management plans.
In 2021, e-commerce ‘survivors and thrivers’ jumped on board with the following trends:
- Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots like AliMe act like virtual shop assistants. They help visitors find what they need, and connect customers with helpful information and, if need be, a live rep.
- Alternative payments: Almost all businesses benefit when they expand the payment options they accept. Incorporating Klarna into your standalone e-commerce site, for instance, can increase average order value (AOV).
- Subscription services:In simple terms, subscription services keep customers coming back. Setting up a monthly or quarterly subscription service could increase your immediate revenue and make your balance sheet look better.
- Mobile shopping: If you’re on Amazon, you’re already mobile — but if you’re not, make sure your site is mobile friendly. Before taking a new product or page live, test it via preview mode to make sure it looks good on a range of mobile devices.
Upcoming e-commerce trends for 2022
Sometimes, new trends slide into the picture. In 2022, artificial intelligence is likely to play an even greater role in e-commerce optimisation, for example. Similarly, augmented reality integration will make online shopping more accessible than ever. Let’s look at five emerging trends for 2022 in more detail.
Artificial intelligence in e-commerce goes beyond chatbot integration. You can use AI and machine learning to personalise consumer shopping experiences, to make smart product recommendations via email, and to enhance the predictive search function on your website.
Broadly, AI makes shopping easier — and the easier it is for consumers to shop, the more likely they are to proceed to the checkout. You can make AI work for you as an Amazon marketplace seller, too. Several AI-based dynamic pricing tools exist, for instance, to help sellers adjust their prices in line with consumer demand.
Alibaba uses AI — specifically, big data analysis — to optimise supply chains, create personalised recommendations and even build products. Alibaba sellers can leverage the platform’s AI-driven commodity, operations and category management systems to stay on top of inventory and business performance. Alibaba’s AI technology works seamlessly with Alipay, too.
Augmented reality, or AR, is an e-commerce trend that keeps on trending. One example of AR integration is Amazon’s use of Apple’s ARKit-based ‘View in Your Room’ feature, which is available on the Amazon iOS app. If you sell furniture products on Amazon, you can use the integration to help UK consumers visualise chairs, tables and other items in situ.
Shopify has a similar feature called Shopify AR, which you can implement on your Shopify store. Amazon and Shopify AR integrations are both compatible with images and videos, but 3D models produce the most realistic results. With that in mind, if you decide to use AR on your Shopify e-commerce site, pick a 3D-compatible theme.
Today’s consumers are environmentally aware — and their habits and preferences are changing as a result. Many pundits consider the recent backlash against single-use plastics, throwaway toys and planned obsolescence a waymarker along the path to sustainability.
Is consumerism on its way out, then? No — but it is changing. As time goes on, sustainable goods will capture more of the retail market share, so it makes sense to expand your product range to incorporate eco-conscious consumables and environmentally friendly products.
Customised packaging isn’t a new trend, but it is likely to become even more popular in 2022. If you’re currently selling customised white label goods in brown boxes, for instance, you might want to consider repackaging your wares in custom cartons. Given consumer opinion and environmental considerations, it makes sense to go with cardboard, rather than plastic whenever possible.
Personalised packaging supplier options include UK-based and overseas manufacturers. Many Chinese manufacturing companies affiliated with Alibaba can produce personalised packaging for existing customers, too. If they don’t have packaging production facilities in house, they can often liaise with partners who can package products for them.
Voice search features began as a novelty, but they quickly went mainstream. Voice-enabled shopping took off in 2019 and continued to trend in 2020 and 2021. It’s worth highlighting again for 2022, however, because so many online retailers still don’t have an effective voice search strategy.
According to recent research, more than 30 percent of smartphone users now use voice search every single day. Voice search isn’t technically difficult to integrate — but you might have to modify or tailor your content toward it. We’ll write more about that below.
How to grow your e-commerce business in 2022
Wondering how to grow your e-commerce business in 2022? Simple: harness the power of enduring, current and upcoming trends to expand your customer base and the amount of revenue you bring in.
Find additional sales channels
One of the best ways to grow your e-commerce business is to expand into new sales channels. Every time you add a sales channel, you add another pool of consumers — another captive audience — to your marketing strategy. Some sales channels are more lucrative than others: well-known auction sites, for instance, generally have greater potential than local classified ads sites.
Popular sales channels in the UK include:
- Amazon: Nearly 90% of UK consumers use Amazon, and 15 million of them are Amazon Prime subscribers.
- Etsy: Etsy connects sellers and buyers all over the world, and in 2019, 50% of Etsy sales went to UK consumers.
- Shopify: Nearly 127,000 UK businesses have Shopify stores, and between them, they contributed £17.3 million to the global economy in 2020.
- Social media: Businesses with social media presences in the UK had access to a collective 48.63 million users in 2020.
Other UK-centric online sales channel options include privately hosted websites, platforms like Wix and BigCommerce, and WordPress plugins like WooCommerce. Some companies also go door to door, sell their products at domestic trade shows and open air markets, or operate affiliate networks.
Expand into new markets
If you’ve been doing well in the UK, expanding your business into one or more international markets could bring you even greater success. International expansion takes significant planning — and success isn’t guaranteed — but it can greatly increase growth potential. Many marketplace sellers use this seven-step approach to market expansion:
- Conduct a marketplace analysis: Analyse your target market to determine which of your products will do well, and which ones won’t. What do consumers in your target marketplace want, and how much are they willing to pay? Which sales channels do they usually use?
- Segment your marketplaces: If you plan to move into more than one foreign market, use known data to estimate the potential number of customers in each region. If you’re not sure where to start, a global consulting agency might be able to help.
- Identify your product: With a comprehensive analysis in hand, pick a product, or products, to trial in your target marketplace. Use domestic sales figures and your knowledge of the new target marketplace to project overseas sales for your product.
- Perform a competitive analysis: A competitive analysis can help you identify marketplace rivals. You’ll also learn how well positioned you are to capture a slice of the consumer pie — and what you can do to improve your chances of success.
- Create an export strategy: If you need to ship your products overseas, think about how you’ll do that. It can be simpler to partner with a new manufacturer via Alibaba.com if you plan to expand into Asia.
- Follow the rules: Before you begin selling products overseas, familiarise yourself with packaging and labelling requirements for toys, food, pharmaceuticals and other products. Don’t skip this step: if you do, you might end up in hot water.
- Launch in a low-barrier environment: If you test your expansion strategy in a low-barrier marketplace first, you can assess its effectiveness before moving on to other markets.
Tailor your content for voice search
When a person performs a voice search, they’re only given one answer; your job as a business owner is to make sure the answer they receive comes from your website. If you list products on Amazon, the same sort of thing applies: ideally, your listing will appear when consumers use Alexa devices to find products on the marketplace.
Optimising for voice search isn’t wizardry — it’s entirely tactical. Most people use voice search to ask questions; you, then, have to provide answers. According to Google Voice Search guidelines, retailers perform well when their answers emulate natural speaking patterns. Take this real-world example:
- Consumer voice input: ‘What is the best Apple computer?”
- Voice search-optimised answer: ‘The new MacBook Air is the best MacBook for most people.’
When they ask what the best Apple computer is, consumers are led to an article by Laptop Mag. The answer isn’t at the top of the page — it doesn’t have to be — but it is conversational. Other best practices for voice search optimisation include:
- Keep your content concise — under 30 words, if possible
- Target trigger words, like ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’
Take Amazon seller recommendations seriously
If you’re an Amazon marketplace seller in any country, you’re also an Amazon customer. As such, your bottom line could improve if you follow Amazon’s personalised suggestions for your business. In a nutshell, this means paying attention to Amazon’s recommendations for your store, which might include:
- ‘Almost out of stock’ alerts, which tell you that you need more inventory
- Fulfillment recommendations, which can help you plan ahead for the upcoming season
- Pricing recommendations, which you can use to position your products appropriately
Take advantage of all the tools at your disposal, and make the most of your Amazon marketplace seller account. If you treat Amazon as a business partner, rather than a static sales platform, your revenue could increase.
Use an international payment partner
You can springboard off current and future trends like AI, AR and voice search to grow your e-commerce business in 2022. If you decide to expand into international markets — or if you want to source products from an overseas manufacturer — one of the savviest things to do is partner with an international business payment provider like WorldFirst.
With more than ten years experience in UK-China payments, WorldFirst have made over 1 million payments into China in the past 12 months alone, valued at almost £13bn. The WorldFirst network also enables flexibility to pay Chinese suppliers in CNH, USD, HKD, or EUR.
To find out more about WorldFirst’s reliable network and intuitive online platform, contact us or take a look at some more of our guides.
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