Across industries like retail, beauty, and restaurants, eCommerce is reshaping the ways people buy from and interact with businesses and their products. And as consumers embrace new shopping avenues like social media, businesses are adjusting their strategies to adapt to these new channels and digital tools.
Online commerce is clearly here to stay — making it essential for businesses to understand emerging and current eCommerce trends.
To uncover these emerging trends in eCommerce, Square teamed up with Wakefield Research to conduct in-depth research on what businesses and consumers are thinking about when it comes to the future of the restaurant, beauty, and retail industries. In this article, we’re sharing the top eCommerce trends for business owners to learn and apply at their companies.
Download the full 2022 Future of Commerce stats book for more at-a-glance eCommerce insights across industries.
The 15 biggest eCommerce trends
- Expanding online is a top challenge
- Delivery is the key to keeping consumers happy
- Social media selling can drive more purchases
- Back-end technologies keep eCommerce businesses humming
- Conversational commerce is here
- In-person activities are going digital
- Cross-channel consistency is challenging for eCommerce brands
- Videos have big appeal for shoppers
- Online and in person are combining forces
- Opportunities exist with curbside pickup
- Beauty customers want to buy wherever they are
- Investing in digital services may pay off
- Sharp product imagery and inventory management goes a long way
- Loyalty marketing can make an impact
- Change is constant in the eCommerce industry
#1. Expanding online is a top challenge
Retailers say an average of 51% of their revenue now comes from online sales, but a knowledge gap is holding some businesses back from taking full advantage of eCommerce. In our Future of Retail report, 32% of retailers say that not knowing enough about technology options and platforms keeps them from selling goods through newer online or social channels.
For many businesses, the biggest hurdle to reaching online shoppers is making the first foray into an additional channel — going from a brick-and-mortar store to online, or going from an online store to selling on social media. That turning point can be the time to invest in tools, like an online store or point-of-sale system, that helps you run your store digitally.
#2. Delivery is the key to keeping consumers happy
Once businesses start selling online, however, the challenge becomes getting goods to consumers on time. Forty-eight percent of retail businesses, for example, expect to continue facing supply chain delays for some time — and their concerns come at a time when customers have come to expect quick deliveries.
Still, businesses are working hard to meet the needs of the 64% of shoppers who prefer delivery to in-store or curbside pickup. Our research found that 38% of retailers say they currently offer same-day delivery, and 38% say they’ll plan to continue offering it post-COVID-19.
#3. Social media selling can drive more purchases
For retailers who sell goods online, 74% say they sell on a social channel. And social media shopping is seeing rising interest among consumers: 27% of customers say they are interested in making purchases directly on social media when it’s offered by retailers.
Out of those consumers who have recently made retail purchases online, 59% made a purchase directly from social media over the past month, buying an average of seven items off social.
Many options exist for selling on social media. For example, brands can turn their Instagram feeds into end-to-end retail shopping experiences, use them to keep customers updated about what’s available in stores, or sell items via livestream.
In the beauty industry, social media strategies and tools are proving especially useful to customers for a variety of purposes. Case in point: 47% of customers used social media to interact with their salon or stylist, and 19% have used social media to book their appointments. Thirty-seven percent of beauty businesses say they allow for booking via social media channels.
#4. Back-end technologies keep eCommerce businesses humming
Allowing booking via social media is one way beauty businesses, among others, are using technology to make processes faster and more seamless. For example, 34% of retailers are currently implementing, or plan to implement, automated inventory management, and 72% of retailers use, or plan to use, automation to increase their team’s bandwidth by decreasing time in areas like order tracking and customer loyalty.
Our Future of Restaurants report found that a full 36% of restaurants have upgraded their business technology as well, with 30% of owners saying they currently use a single integrated application to manage back-of-house operations.
(That rate is higher in the beauty industry, where 37% of businesses say they manage business operations through a single, integrated application.)
#5. Conversational commerce is here
As automation powers more areas of their operations, businesses are exploring a new form of eCommerce that — just like booking via social media — empowers customers to enjoy a more frictionless experience.
Conversational commerce is a growing area of eCommerce in which brands communicate directly with customers through text or voice in real time using messaging apps, personalized texts, push notifications, and chatbots (aka AI assistants, like Square Assistant).
And it’s on the rise: 42% of retailers say they currently sell, or plan to sell, via text or chat and 34% of salons and spas say they already allow customers to book appointments via text or chat. Thirty-one percent of consumers say they’ve bought products via text messages from a beauty business.
#6. In-person activities are going digital
The pandemic influenced many trends in eCommerce that bridge the physical-digital divide. QR code menus, for example, allow businesses to minimize contact with customers — which customers appreciate: 78% of customers say there are benefits to digital menus; when both physical and digital menus are available, 71% of customers will choose the digital menu. And 45% of restaurant owners and managers say they plan to continue offering QR code menus even after COVID-19 subsides.
Contactless payment options have also proliferated in part due to the pandemic. In fact, 77% of retailers offer contactless payment options, including mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay and Cash App, touchless card payments, and QR code payments. Retailers say an average of 39% of their customers choose contactless payments. And the preference for contactless payments is even higher for Gen Z and Millennial consumers.
#7. Cross-channel consistency is challenging for eCommerce brands
Whether they offer contactless payments or not, businesses’ in-store shopping experiences need to align with what they offer online. Some businesses need more tools to turn their omnichannel strategies into a reality: 29% of retailers say delivering consistent shopping experiences across online and in-store channels is a challenge.
The cross-channel challenge is a little less prevalent in the beauty industry, however, with 38% of beauty businesses saying their online presence is completely aligned to their onsite experience.
#8. Videos have big appeal for shoppers
Using video content as part of an online presence is another big eCommerce trend in 2022.
Video has been on the rise in eCommerce for years — from product videos to ads to marketing and branding videos. Now, livestreaming is here; businesses are increasingly embracing “live commerce,” in which they sell goods via real-time video (often with audience reactions and messaging built in). Thirty-five percent of retail managers planned to implement livestream shopping in 2021, appealing to the 34% of Millennial and Gen Z consumers who are interested in shopping via live video.
“We’re seeing retailers take a QVC-style approach on TikTok or do flash sales on Instagram where customers have to direct-message the brand at a certain time to get the product,” says Dave Rusenko, Head of eCommerce at Square. “It creates a sense of urgency.”
#9. Online and in person are combining forces
Creating a sense of community through physical spaces, on the other hand, is where businesses’ brick-and-mortar stores play a significant role.
Consumers say 37% of their monthly retail purchases are done online — leaving a large 63% still happening in person — and they value the service and interactions they receive from staff when shopping in stores. In fact, 31% say chatting with store employees would make them more likely to stay and browse in-store.
#10. Opportunities exist with curbside pickup
When making their retail purchases online, consumers tend to opt for delivery — with 64% preferring it — but 26% prefer to order online and pick up in store (BOPIS). Just 11% of consumers prefer curbside pickup, but they still want the option: 39% say they want it to stick around even after COVID-19 variants subside.
Consumers coming inside to pick up their orders may buy other things, making it smart for businesses to devise strategies (such as email marketing offers or in-store signage) designed to spark customers’ interest when they’re making curbside or BOPIS pickups.
#11. Beauty customers want to buy wherever they are
Beauty is understood to be an in-person business, but it’s increasingly going omnichannel.
Online sales, for example, are more common in the beauty industry than you might think. Our Future of Beauty report found that 26% of consumers have bought retail products from salons or spas — and while 70% of them have made those purchases in person (likely as an add-on to their service), 37% have purchased through the website, 30% from marketing emails, and 28% from social media sites.
Customer engagement in beauty is going digital, too. Fifty-one percent of beauty businesses say online tutorials will continue as a customer engagement tactic post-pandemic, and 52% say the same for virtual classes and 41% for livestream tutorials.
#12. Investing in digital services may pay off
For eCommerce businesses, integrated tools that make it easy to sell across channels can help manage the new omnichannel reality.
And for both beauty businesses and retailers, cataloging inventory into a digital system can be a wise first step toward establishing a multi-channel or omnichannel retail strategy. It’s an upfront investment, but it can set businesses up to sell on a variety of platforms and be present where customers are and however they want to interact.
#13. Sharp product imagery and inventory management goes a long way
Selling online, on social media, or via livestream requires businesses to think visual-first. And providing highly detailed product descriptions is one way to cut down on wasteful and inefficient return processes and make them more sustainable.
When it comes to moving a business online or adding a new channel like social media, “getting your inventory counted, well photographed, and tagged with proper descriptions really affords you a lot of flexibility,” says Megan Karande, Product Marketing Manager for Square for Retail. (Note: Square customers can ship products to Square Photo Studio to have them professionally photographed.)
Square Photo Studio
Product photography to help you sell.
#14. Loyalty marketing can make an impact
Across any and all channels, loyalty marketing can turn new buyers into repeat buyers and get those repeat buyers purchasing more. And businesses benefit from making loyalty programs easy to participate in.
With Square Loyalty, for example, customers can sign up quickly and easily by entering their mobile number right in the register or online when completing a purchase. From there, they earn punches no matter how they pay.
Restaurants are proving especially conscious of the value of loyalty programs, with 41% of restaurant owners saying they have recently added or improved customer loyalty and incentives.
#15. Change is constant in the eCommerce industry
Adding or improving loyalty programs was just one of many changes embraced across the restaurant industry in 2021. And businesses in the beauty and retail sectors have likewise shown a fighting spirit and adaptability to change.
By making eCommerce trends their own, businesses across all three industries are inspiring and converting customers in new channels and ways. With the help of digital tools, businesses are staying connected to consumers and meeting them where they are — which will make 2022 a memorable year for the future of commerce.
FAQs on the top eCommerce trends
What are the top trends in B2B eCommerce?
B2B businesses are focused on delivering more user-friendly experiences across the customer journey, from attracting new customers to completing the sales process to facilitating loyalty and retention. IDC estimates that B2B companies that provide frictionless experiences will experience a 20% decrease in customer attrition. Data security and compliance are — and will — remain important to eCommerce businesses.
What are some future trends in mCommerce?
One-click ordering — which allows mobile device users to complete a purchase using saved billing information — is poised to grow more popular on mobile websites (not just shopping apps).
Social media shopping and the use of mobile wallets for payment are also trending, especially among younger consumers. (Sixty-five percent of young Millennials used a digital wallet in 2021, for example, compared to 59% in 2020; 57% of Gen Zers use digital wallets, up from 50% in 2020.)
What about voice commerce trends?
Consumers already use their voice-enabled devices to shop and search, but the next step will increasingly be completing purchases simply via voice. Voice commerce was projected in 2018 to reach $40B by 2022.