Well, that was fast! 2020 is suddenly behind us, and in the blink of an eye, we’re well into the start  of another busy year.  

While you may have been diligent over the holiday break preparing your eCommerce strategy for 2021, there’s a chance you may have missed some of the trends and projections for the year ahead that depart from the obvious: eCommerce is booming, and staying competitive in the digital marketplace today is harder than ever.  

With the surge in digital activity that occurred throughout 2020, existing online retailers saw traffic skyrocket while many brick and mortar shops significantly expanded their digital footprint—some even brought their business online for the first time!

As the world of  eCommerce has expanded, standing out, keeping customers on your site with easy-to-use search and navigation, and making sure transactions process quickly at scale, have all become differentiators for the thousands of businesses in every sector that are doing more business online than ever before.

While we don’t have to tell you that a fast-loading, engaging website is a basic requirement for keeping your online store competitive, here are a few other ideas based on predictions and trends for 2021, to help you differentiate your eCommerce business and better prepare you for the year ahead. 

Changing consumer trends, digital-first demand.

Here’s a silver lining for eCommerce that came out of 2020: the resistance to online shopping is all but gone. While many consumers still prefer the physical connection of an in-store experience, factors such as convenience and safety continue to make the demand for online shopping stronger than ever.

In addition to the ongoing shift in where consumers prefer to shop, 2020 also changed what they’re shopping for—from sanitation products to home-related goods to other pandemic-related purchases.

While both of these areas may seem like staples of 2020, they didn’t simply disappear with a new calendar year. Both the reliance on digital shopping and a significant change in product preferences will be a carry-over well into 2021. Here are some tips for ways you can respond.   

Increasing reliance on content.

You’ve likely heard the mantra “content is king,” but if your focus has been on building an online store, creating content to generate interest and activity around your products may have fallen by the wayside.  

Building your storefront was priority #1, but as your store grows, investing in or expanding your marketing strategy to amplify it isn’t a new trend, it’s a proven method for increasing sales and revenue. 

What is new, is the increase in eCommerce sites connecting a blog and other content channels back to their store and using it to attract, convert, and retain customers. 

With lingering economic hurdles and the growing need to differentiate online, 2021 will see a heavier reliance on content marketing for eCommerce specifically, as businesses and brands increasingly view their websites as more than an eCommerce platform

From improving your visibility in search rankings and bringing more visitors to your site, to generating buzz around products, discounts, and promotions, building content to complement your online store can have a significant impact on the growth of your business. Check out this article for tips on how to get started. 

Growing demand for Omnichannel experiences.  

The editorial experience detailed above lends itself to a larger concept—the overall experience of an online shopper across the digital and physical channels they encounter.  

Content is a wonderful way to drive awareness and interest in your eCommerce efforts, but taking readers from your blog across a detailed, personalized, and convenient customer journey, is a more ambitious and more rewarding pursuit. 

Omnichannel commerce captures much of this idea in that it provides shoppers with a seamless experience across desktop, mobile, and other devices, and spans the customer journey, from first click to fulfillment. 

While 2020 accelerated the demand for Omnichannel experiences, 2021 will see more businesses and brands adopt this strategy, as a growing number of consumers come to expect it from their retailers of choice. Check out these examples of brands that are crushing Omnichannel strategies for added inspiration. 

Rising security threats surrounding plugins and themes. 

The eCommerce boom and the rapid adoption of WordPress have certainly led to the creation of more eCommerce WordPress sites, but with all that activity, unfortunately, comes increased attention from the bad guys.

The rise in WordPress usage alone has attracted the attention of hackers for years, but with an increase in eCommerce activity, that interest has become even more nefarious. Fraud, phishing, malware, and DDoS attacks are just a few of the threats eCommerce sites have long had to protect against, so the need for a vigilant security posture shouldn’t come as a total surprise. 

What is important to keep in mind, is that hackers targeting WordPress sites are continuing to do what’s worked for them in the past—looking for plugin and theme vulnerabilities to exploit and use as unauthorized points of entry. 

Indeed, WordPress plugins have become a convenient way for hackers to gain unwarranted access to sites, and once they’re in, everything from ransomware to code injections to the outright theft of customer data are all possible outcomes. 

If you’ve fallen behind on site security, now is the time to re-examine your stance. Just as in years past, 2021 will see its share of vulnerabilities, exploits, and other evolving security threats—this is one area where you can’t afford to be lax. Check out this article for more information. If manual plugin maintenance is bogging you down, it might be time to automate your process using Smart Plugin Manager!  

The ever-present need to keep design fresh and intuitive.

Another area that unfortunately gets overlooked in today’s fast-paced eCommerce market is site design. 

That’s right, the way your site looks, its aesthetic, and the thoughtful touches you add to make it more user-friendly are all critically important. Design matters, now more than ever, as potential customers will bounce in seconds if they find your site to be clunky, difficult to navigate, or less-than-engaging.

That’s because customers have a wide choice when it comes to shopping online—if you don’t provide an exceptional online shopping experience, someone else will. 

In addition to the trends and recommendations listed above, the need to focus on site design will increase in 2021 as more retailers optimize their online presence. Check out this article for key website design tips and trends that will help you stay competitive and increase your online conversions. 

The growing need for a trusted managed hosting partner.

Focusing on any of the above eCommerce trends for 2021 is a surefire way to sharpen your competitive edge. Another way to stay on top of your game? Partner with a world-class managed WordPress host that offers top-tier speed, security, and support as part of an eCommerce solution.

WP Engine arms you with a scalable platform that includes an integrated set of tools, bullet-proof security, and site performance analytics together with lightning-fast WordPress managed hosting

It’s the best solution for your eCommerce store, built on WordPress, and a key differentiator for your business in 2021. Find out more about about WP Engine’s WooCommerce hosting solution!