The American consumer remains undaunted in the face of record inflation and a global pandemic. They are currently spending at a rate that is 12% higher than was forecasted pre-pandemic, with mobile and online shopping leading the way.
However, eCommerce’s increased growth has resulted in a significant shift in consumer expectations for their online shopping experience and preferences.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say their expectations for shopping online are higher than they were three years ago, and among the demographic of 35-44-year-olds, this percentage spikes to 77%. To better understand this trend, we commissioned the 2022 eCommerce Trends Report and uncovered key factors driving this shift in expectations and buying behavior.
Brand Loyalty? What is Brand Loyalty?
A lasting hallmark of the pandemic on shopping behavior was a massive disruption in brand loyalty. Customers who were once fiercely loyal to a brand suddenly became agnostic as performance, convenience, and user experience took precedence. As is common human behavior during times of high stress, consumers prioritized their physiological and security needs over esteem and aesthetics during the pandemic. Their buying behavior reflected this shift and favored retailers who could meet those needs quickly and with the least amount of friction.
Thirty percent of shoppers aged 18 to 34 stated that they would be willing to shop with independent eCommerce sites if they provided a quicker path to purchase than big box retailers—that number rose to 44% for consumers between the ages of 35 and 54. In fact, 44% of consumers 18 to 44 years old say they have bought more from independent brands this year than last (for some reason, this trend applies to men more than women by nearly 2 to 1.) Research from McKinsey & Company indicated that 75% of consumers tried out new shopping behaviors. Many of them cite convenience and value as the driving force for change. Nearly one in 4 (39%) deserted trusted brands for new ones.
Speed Over Selection
One way retail brands can maintain loyalty is to develop quick and simple purchase functionality. Nearly two-thirds of consumers ages 18 to 44 said they’d look to buy elsewhere if a website takes too long to load or if it takes more than one search to find what they are looking for.
Choice and selection also took a backseat to speed during the pandemic, as 57% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers would choose retailers who provided a faster buying experience over retailers with a larger variety of items.
Interestingly, this “need for speed” applied primarily to the online shopping experience itself and not necessarily the fulfillment. While one-click functionality was preferred, the need-it-now mentality fell by the wayside in the face of delivery disruptions during the pandemic. Consumers have become more patient and willing to wait to get the things they want or need. In fact, 66% of Americans said they would be willing to make sacrifices as long as the purchase process was quicker, and almost one-third (32%) were willing to wait at least three days longer on shipping to receive the item.
The Social Experience
Social eCommerce isn’t new and saw modest but steady growth before the pandemic. But lockdowns turbocharged that trajectory, and in 2022, social commerce sales were estimated at $51.8 billion. This behavior has outlived quarantine, and by 2028 it is estimated that $145 Billion in revenue will be attributed to social eCommerce.
Our research indicates that almost half of Americans (43%) find it easy to buy items online straight from social media. This is perhaps why one-third (34%) say they prefer shopping experiences that remind them of social media experiences (those numbers increase to well over 50% among digitally native consumers.)
Much like social media, many consumers are shopping on their mobile devices at all hours of the day and from literally anywhere. Fifteen percent of Americans say they’ve made a purchase while in bed with their significant other, and 9% admit shopping while “tipsy”.
The ubiquity, functionality, and seamless user experience of social media have led to extremely high consumer expectations. Fair or not, your store is competing against other online outlets and being held to the UX and performance standards of multi-billion dollar social platforms. Because today’s consumers carry these lofty standards over into their purchase preferences, many eCommerce vendors are turning to headless commerce platforms to offer consumers an effortless yet sophisticated shopping experience.
A headless commerce approach allows eCommerce retailers to link the best technologies to create a more streamlined purchase experience. By decoupling the commerce “backend” (payment processing, inventory, CRM, etc.) from the traditional front end (say, an eCommerce website), retailers can allow for a multi-channel approach and directly integrate the shopping experience into social media, articles, blogs, and other commerce platforms.
Accommodating the Digital Lifestyle of Online Consumers
It is no longer sufficient for retailers to rely on variety, inventory, and coordinated logistics and delivery to differentiate themselves in the e-commerce marketplace. They need to deliver a buying experience that fits seamlessly into consumers’ digital lifestyles and meet expectations that have been reshaped by both the pandemic and inflation.
Online consumers demand a seamless, one-click experience. They have demonstrated that they are willing to seek new, faster buying options at the expense of selection, faster shipping, and brand loyalty. Social media is quickly becoming the norm for online purchases, and the social media experience has reshaped consumer expectations for speed, convenience, and performance.
E-commerce brands that prioritize efficiency and speed are well-positioned to win now and, in the future, will benefit from the social shopping trend, increase sales and maintain customer loyalty in a highly transitional market.