If you’re Extremely Online, you’ve probably heard the hype building for something called a Hot Vax Summer. This catch phrase means something different for every fully vaccinated person heading into this impending summer of optimism and glee. For some, it means they’re booking trips left and right. For others, it means they’re looking for a lot of casual…friendships.
Whatever the goal, though, it’s clear that as the US inches ahead in vaccination rates, people are inching out of their homes and back into the greater population. En masse, people are hankering to make up for whatever fun they missed out on last summer, which means big plans to double down on going out and having fun.
As we sit on the precipice of this generation’s very first Hot Vax Summer, it’s important to mull on what lies ahead for an already stressed ecommerce ecosystem.
You might think this summer is going to be totally different than last as the pandemic mindset flows away as smoothly as a yacht rock playlist, but not so fast. Many pandemic-induced consumer behaviors are here to stay, which means no returning to what worked for the last “normal” summer in 2019.
This summer is not the time for ecommerce merchants to get rid of their makeshift pandemic strategies, shaking them off like sand from a beach towel. Instead, consumers expect those tactics to stick around and that sellers have nailed those strategies by now.
Much like the pandemic, this first post-pandemic summer will mark yet another unprecedented marker in time, but here are five tips and trends for online sellers heading into Hot Vax Summer.
The Summer That Changed Ecommerce for Good
With the global coronavirus pandemic, staying safe meant staying at home. This reality meant avid in-store shoppers had to move their typical shopping habits from brick-and-mortar storefront to online channels. This move to online shopping also pushed more people to become first-time ecommerce consumers, further increasing ecommerce’s share of the retail pie.
Throughout 2020, global online sales grew 24% while in-person sales dropped 7%, crushing ecommerce growth forecasts made the year before. The unforeseen pandemic punted well-laid, thoroughly planned ecommerce strategies out the window. While every online merchant scrambled to navigate an influx of orders, inventory, and logistics, traditional retailers had to crank their ecommerce plans to warp speed.
If retailers weren’t selling online, they had to pivot and prop up a storefront. If they were lucky enough to already be selling online but were still focused on in-person transactions, they had to take a hairpin turn and focus on digital tactics. Plus, all of this had to be conquered basically overnight as every plan, priority, and process was kicked out at the knees.
On top of tackling a technological headache, brands still had to keep their top priority in mind—the customer. Last summer changed how shops operate, but it also changed consumer behavior dramatically. The entire experience of shopping was shifted, behaviors changed, and expectations moved in ways no one saw coming.
While some of the advancements in online shopping were already underway pre-pandemic, new methods to make shopping safe, convenient, and efficient surged. The most raved about strategies include:
Buy Online, Pick up In-store (BOPIS)
BOPIS made it possible for consumers to safely shop and pay online, drive to their nearest store, and pick up their purchase at their convenience in no time at all. Not only is BOPIS clean and relatively contactless, it’s perfect for people who don’t have much time to spare. Entire sections of retailer parking lots were suddenly dedicated to BOPIS, and favorites like Target streamlined the service with its easy-to-use app.
Not only was adding BOPIS to the shopping menu a huge driver to get people to shop online for the first time ever, it quickly became wildly popular. More than 70% of consumers have made BOPIS purchases throughout the pandemic, May 2020 saw a 554% spike in sales, and the majority of shoppers were swayed toward a brand solely because of BOPIS capabilities.
BOPIS expertly weaves together online shopping while still enabling retailers to engage with shoppers in-store. Even as “normalcy” returns (what is that anyways?), 60% of consumers expect to continue using BOPIS at their current cadence or increase usage in the next 12 months.
Similar to BOPIS, curbside (or drive-up) makes it possible for consumers to order their stuff online, drive to a location, and pick up their purchase in a quick and seamless fashion. However, curbside has the added luxury of not even requiring shoppers to leave their vehicles.
In 2019, a paltry 4% of retailers offered curbside pickup. Today, it’s a must-have service offered by nearly 60% of stores. This service has been critical for restaurants’ survival throughout the pandemic, and roughly half of consumers expect to continue using curbside offerings.
This self-explanatory model involves drivers delivering orders without ever coming into contact with the consumer. Food and grocery delivery services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, Postmates, Instacart, Shipt, and more have all shot up in popularity and usage over the course of the pandemic.
These models enable shoppers to order from a variety of restaurants and stores, stock up on must-haves, and do so from their computer or right within an app. Once an order is placed, they’re sent up-to-the-minute updates about their order status and when they should expect the big drop. Unlike BOPIS or curbside, this model makes it possible for people to not even leave their homes, which worked well for people who had COVID-19 as well as those taking the extra precautions to keep the germs away.
5 Ecommerce Trends to Take on This Summer
This wave of fresh consumer behaviors isn’t heading anywhere fast, and this all could have been just the nudge to evolve that ecommerce needed. The pandemic pushed brick-and-mortar retailers to value the online experience while inventing new ways to engage with, sell to, and help a new blend of consumerism.
Brands were able to find even more ways to prioritize and enhance the customer experience, engage with shoppers through hybrids of channels, and differentiate themselves from competition. In the midst of the pandemic, people were able to connect with brands in ways they hadn’t imagined before. Instead of ecommerce continuing on its march toward cold, careless pandering, it pivoted to become empathetic and human.
The hottest thing ecommerce can do this summer is continue fostering this newfound relationship between people and brands. But what exactly does that look like? Check out these five hot trends to keep on keepin’ on:
1. Remember: Brick-and-mortar Still Matters
If you run a brick-and-mortar store in tandem with your ecommerce presence, don’t let that experience fall through the cracks—even as you invest more in online strategies. Even though in-store revenue dipped throughout 2020, the forecast for a comeback looks bright.
Fewer than half of consumers feel like their in-store shopping habits will change when the time comes, but that comes with some caveats. Stores will have to keep communication clear for customers and help them feel safe and cared for when shopping in person. Stores should also keep their eyes peeled for more opportunities to engage and relate through the BOPIS experience, since that’s clearly sticking around in the future.
“Communicate with your customers about how you’re prioritizing their safety, either graphically or through associate interaction.”
— Bergmeyer Report, The Future of Shopping
So even though your ecommerce store may have skyrocketed, the people looking to splurge and spend money on a hot vax summer are hungry to go into a store to feel, touch, and try on the goods to make it all possible.
2. Get on Board with the Internet of Things
The future is now, which means whether you like it or not, tech plays a big role in everyday living—including shopping. And as tech keeps evolving, from apps to smart speakers and beyond, ecommerce is going to have to keep up. Sellers who want to continue the best experiences for all, including their early-adopter tech-savvy customers, should keep an eye on what’s cookin’ this summer.
As people start leaving their home office setups and heading back to a life of daily commutes, they’re going to spend more time in their cars, which happen to be more advanced than ever. The average person spends just shy of an hour in their car each day, and more devices are simply being built into the cabin. Stereo systems are no longer just about that sweet, sweet bass—they’re about connecting passengers to a host of smart opportunities, like making a voice-activated purchase before even pulling up to the store.
Patrick Gauthier, president and director of Amazon Pay, knows a thing or two about streamlining the purchasing experience. During the pandemic, one in six people made their first-ever contactless payment, with 86% of those first-timers saying that they’ll continue well into the future. Gauthier knows that contactless payment is going to keep gaining momentum (as it’s also safe and sanitary in our more germ-conscious world), but he also predicts that truly connected experiences are the future.
“When you listen to consumers, they do not focus on touchless payments but their entire brand journey. They’d like everything integrated between stores and online properties. And it’s our belief those experiences will not involve a smartphone or similar device. They will be voice-driven.”
— Patrick Gauthier, Adobe Interview
3. Streamline the Fussy Stuff
The more time your team is tied up in tedious tasks like answering endless “Where is my order?” questions, clarifying product details, and managing returns, the less time it will have to spend on innovation, high-value customer engagement, and more.
Before summer hits and the post-pandemic splurging takes off, track how much time is spent answering inquiries and handling returns. You might be surprised by the extra minutes dedicated to stuff that could be done automatically.
For instance, 30% of consumers intentionally buy too many goods with the idea that they’ll try things on, find their best fit and style, and return the items they choose not to keep. This overbuying means roughly one-quarter of online purchases end up getting returned, causing major day-to-day disruptions for nearly 60% of retailers.
By adopting automated return processing (which, of course, Amazon is well on its way to perfecting), you give customers the power to easily start a return, print out a label, and get their refund—all without bogging down a single soul on your staff.
Plus, the same goes for stuff like package tracking. “Where is my order,” or WISMO, inquiries are at an all-time high. As more people shop online, more packages are en route at any moment, and more are craving transparency about the delivery process. A massive 93% of customers want proactive shipping and delivery updates, and with ecommerce only growing, now is the time to hop on the trend.
Partnering with Route is a foolproof way to engage with customers from purchase to delivery in a branded, efficient, and automated way. It’s free for merchants and consumers—but it could save you thousands of dollars in eliminated support needs.
4. Optimize Those Pivoted Pandemic Strategies
The pandemic caused many ecommerce trends and innovations from Summer 2020 to show up basically overnight. There’s been so much talk around “staying nimble,” “hustling,” and “pivoting quickly” to adapt to such unprecedented times, now is the time to finally take a breather and get to optimizing the strategies propped up in a rush.
Pore over the customer journey from “just browsing” to repeat purchase to pinpoint gaps or tactics that have been barely squeaking by. The methods brought to life throughout 2020 evolved ecommerce faster than ever, so it’s expected that growing pains are happening right now. But if new customer expectations continuously aren’t met because of a bug in a payment add-on or a lack of package protection, they’ll head to the nearest competition.
5. Seriously, the Customer Comes First
As Hot Vax Summer takes off, the very last thing your customer wants is to emerge from their stay-at-home cocoons only to feel ignored and rejected by the brands they’ve come to count on. This trend is far from new, but this summer, it means more than ever to 👏 put 👏 your 👏 customers 👏 first.
This has been a rough year, and they’re going to need empathy, care, compassion, and honesty from every corner of the earth, including ecommerce. Conscious capitalism took off throughout the pandemic as more people sought to do more with their dollar. Initiatives surrounding Black Lives Matter, coronavirus relief, and the environment grew in importance to consumers, with 70% wanting businesses to be vocal about social issues—with 90% of up-and-coming Gen Z shoppers saying it’s important when making purchase decisions.
The pandemic tied consumers and brands closer together than ever before, and this summer is not the time to let those relationships wither away and “go back to normal.” Keep building the connection, engage where it makes the most impact with your customers, and craft a community—not just a product. That is going to be the hottest trend brands can hop on in the hot summer months ahead.
This Summer Isn’t the Time to Skip the Trends
The year 2020 will always be remembered as a time that changed each of us. How we value connection, prioritize our day-to-day living, and the essence of our once-mundane chores are all shifted by the universal coronavirus experience.
Sure, things may seem to be “going back to normal” for some parts of the world, but the truth is that “normal” will always look a little different. Hot Vax Summer sounds like a good way to kick off a transformed summer season, and consumers are itching to treat themselves to new wardrobes, trips, restaurants, and more.
These trends are all ways your store can make sure that this summer is everything they want it to be.