Nobody could predict what the rise of eCommerce would look like and how it would change whole industries. But its effect on our culture and economy is hard to overstate.
And while nobody can know the future—there will always be new surprises in store for us—we can make some educated guesses about what’s to come based on the current state of eCommerce.
Here are a few predictions of what may be in store in the future of eCommerce.
1. An explosion of new eCommerce businesses will rise in the wake of COVID-19.
The coronavirus has already started to reshape how the economy looks. Brands that previously had a business model entirely dependent on people showing up in store must now either evolve or shutter. And evolving in the age of shelter-in-place orders means eCommerce.
In addition to the existing businesses scrambling to evolve, the U.S. has seen an increase in unemployment numbers unheard of since the great depression. Those workers both have a strong incentive to consider new career paths and a lot of time on their hands. It’s a safe bet that at least some of them will treat this as an opportunity to explore entrepreneurship. And the most obvious type of business to start in the current state of things is an eCommerce one.
While there aren’t good numbers yet as to how many new eCommerce businesses this crisis has spawned—and even less known about which of those businesses will survive to the other side of it—it seems highly likely that the coronavirus will produce an influx of new online businesses. Some will be an evolved version of brick-and-mortar businesses from before the pandemic, and others will rise entirely in response to the new world.
2. Many services that go online during the pandemic will stay online.
Some types of services require in-person meetings. You can’t organize someone’s closet without going to their house, or draw someone’s blood for tests without having them come into the doctor’s office. But service providers and their customers are now learning just how many services can be effectively provided over digital channels.
Telemedicine and teletherapy are nothing new, but people who may have been hesitant to try them before are now forced to. Some of those that do will find that the digital version works just fine, and removes the headache of sitting in traffic or dealing with parking. The same calculations will happen for other types of service-based businesses, like coaching and IT consulting.
While there will definitely still be people who prefer the in-person experience with service providers they hire, others will come to take for granted at least having the choice for a more convenient option.
3. Website builders will be the design option of choice for small eCommerce businesses.
The influx of new eCommerce businesses we predicted above will largely be started by people with little coding or web design experience. In the past, that would have been a significant hurdle to getting an online store off the ground. But in 2020, it’s no problem at all.
Now, new website owners have a number of affordable (or even free) eCommerce website builders they can turn to for creating a website, regardless of their skill level. Website builders provide templates designed by professionals that incorporate user experience (UX) best practices. New eCommerce entrepreneurs can change up the templates by switching out colors, uploading custom images, and moving elements using drag-and-drop functionality. And in a matter of hours, or even minutes, they’ll have a functional customized eCommerce website ready.
In uncertain economic times like these, the ability to get an online store up fast and affordably will be more attractive to most than taking on a more complicated web design project. Many of the next wave of online stores will therefore be built with the popular website builders now available—or potentially with new ones that come onto the market to address the growing interest.
4. Online marketplaces will take over a significant share of the eCommerce landscape.
So far, we’ve mostly addressed the eCommerce businesses that create and sell through their own website. But that ignores what’s already a big sector of the eCommerce industry: online marketplaces. Sites like Amazon, Etsy, and ebay give individuals and businesses a way to tap into the audiences built by a larger band. You can set up an account on the relevant marketplace(s), list your products, and sell through their eCommerce platform.
Some eCommerce brands base their entire business model on finding buyers through popular marketplaces. Some start there to test out a product idea, then branch off into building their own website once they’ve confirmed there’s a market for their services. And others use a hybrid model—selling products both through their own website and on the marketplaces.
While there are pluses and minuses to selling your brand’s products on a marketplace, there’s no denying that the influence of these eCommerce sites—especially Amazon—on the way people shop and buy makes them an important part of the eCommerce landscape. Competing against them is difficult, and a certain portion of online businesses will choose instead to work with them.