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Throughout 2020, COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce, with many brands having to transform their online strategy to keep up.

We’ve seen the term "brands need to thrive, not just survive" bandied about this year; but what does this mean for 2021? What changes can we expect to see in the year ahead? And, how can those that lagged behind in 2020 survive what’s to come?

While there are many trends set to influence the e-commerce world in the year ahead, there are a few that stand out.

In the year that we stayed at home, consumers shopped online more than ever before – including those who had never previously done so. Brands need to find ways to keep new shoppers engaged online, so they evolve into loyal customers. One of the ways brands can do this is by providing a seamless, user-friendly customer journey across multiple channels – or as it is now known, omnichannel retail.

The importance of digital transformation has been a hot topic for what feels like years. However, only a few brands have managed to execute their transformation effectively.

With consumers shifting to online shopping and the expectations for this channel growing, brands who have been lagging behind will feel the pressure even more so in 2021.

For brands to accelerate their digital offering and stand out from the crowd, they’ll need to provide a seamless online customer experience, engage with consumers and ensure the smooth-running of D2C channels, both online and offline. We expect there'll be a high demand in 2021 for industry experts who can provide businesses with the knowledge and tools to digitally transform.

With platforms like Instagram updating their apps to put shopping at the forefront, we believe social media commerce is going to be big in 2021.

Data shows that 43% of internet users currently use social networks to research products online. During the 2020 lockdown, research from ParcelHero revealed a 20% increase in social media shopping, which is predicted to continue into the new year with Millennials and Gen Zs taking inspiration from bloggers, celebrities and friends online.

Influencer marketing has also been on the rise in recent years, with a growing number of consumers taking product recommendations from online personalities they trust. With word-of-mouth and customer reviews being some of the main factors that inform purchase decisions, influencers have the power to drive direct traffic and sales more successfully than other forms of digital marketing.

The most popular channel for influencer marketing is Instagram, with 79% of brands using the platform for influencer campaigns. While it may have taken some brands a while to recognize the power of influencer marketing, data from the Business Insider Intelligence Influencer Marketing report suggests brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022.

Devices with voice search capabilities, like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and mobile devices reside in the homes of pretty much everyone we know. Research from "The State of E-Commerce 2021" report by Catalyst and Kantar found that 64% of online purchasers own a voice-enabled device, with over a third of consumers using their devices to search for products, and just 28% using them to purchase products. The same report revealed that 51% of respondents who hadn’t used voice assistants for shopping said the fact that it’s not a habit had prevented them from using it. Could 2021 be the year of voice search?

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