The e-commerce market has been a rollercoaster over the past few years, and it seems like each day alternates between good and bad trends to cause excitement and worry. If we look past some of the immediate, smaller items, then some larger patterns emerge. Thankfully, these come with significant opportunities. While the challenges might be significant, there are some ways to protect yourself against what’s happening in the market. So, let’s dive in and see what the current state of the world looks like.
Exciting: When people are shopping
A recent study from Xaxis found that not only are today’s shoppers buying online more, but they’re shifting when they shop. In the US, 54% of online shoppers are specifically increasing their shopping during work-from-home (WFH) hours. This means your audience is less likely to be out driving to nearby stores after work — both from WFH eliminating many commutes and because they’re buying during work.
This shift presents significant opportunities for e-commerce stores. Not only could you push your marketing campaigns during these hours, a shift in time-sensitive work from after the nine-to-five, but you’re competing with less convenient physical retail. People are looking for your message more than their neighborhood store, creating a place for you to capitalize.
Worry: How much people are willing to spend
The counter to that opportunity comes from a Harris Poll report that shows Americans are at least considering reducing their overall shopping. According to its survey, a large portion of American shoppers are considering cutting back on spending, such as eating out (55%), impulse purchases (52%), driving (33%), entertainment venues (33%), and clothing (31%).
There is some opportunity here, but you’ll need to be smart about it. Gas price increases are likely behind the decline in driving, which means more time at home. That may boost the WFH shopping, which presents an opportunity for online sellers of staples and non-clothing goods. The worry is that this might expand into more categories if inflation, recession, and gas prices worsen.
Exciting: Rise of ‘retailtainment’
From the customer perspective, there’s a new and exciting trend that pandemic-era shopping is pushing. “Retailtainment” is the latest buzzword to define the combination of online and offline experiences where a retailer provides entertainment. For e-commerce companies, this means creating engaging content around products paired with in-person events. Those can be in-store opportunities if you have brick-and-mortar locations or things like sponsoring concerts and community events if you don’t.
It’s a natural extension of the buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) trends that have been growing over the past five years. That Xaxis study notes that nearly two-thirds of Americans have tried this hybrid shopping, which is expected to contribute more than 12% of e-commerce’s growth this year.
If you have shoppers in specific regions, there are now plenty of ways to engage them and build both awareness and loyalty. Even better is that these don’t have to be significantly large events. For example, you could collaborate with corporate owners of large apartment buildings and get a table of goodies placed in multiple lobbies for little to no cost (because the landlords position this as a benefit to their residents). There’s plenty of room for flexibility here.
Worry: Gas and diesel prices
On the operations side, rising diesel prices are going to hurt e-commerce companies. A detailed analysis of fulfillment rates shows that carrier fuel surcharges and shipping rates are staying near record highs. In a typical year, fulfillment costs would decline through the first three quarters and then pick back up with holiday-related fees. So far in 2022, there hasn’t been any softening, and ongoing issues with COVID outbreaks and international conflicts are harming production while keeping fuel costs high.
Carriers face higher costs than usual while also seeing higher demand due to overall increases in e-commerce shopping. There’s not a lot of room for prices to go down. The worry is that this cost rises for your inbound freight to warehouses and your last-mile deliveries to customers. Now is an excellent time to review your sales and restocking numbers to ensure you’re buying what you need but have capital on hand to be flexible.
Both: The “Meta” push
Meta and Facebook have been pushing the “Metaverse” in big ways with mixed results. There is a recent red flag that can give you pause or time to celebrate. The e-commerce side of Meta has been trying to create retail experiences in digital and VR spaces for roughly two years. However, according to news reports, the company is struggling and has lost five senior executives recently.
Part of the stumble and frustration is the inability for brands to display goods in colors and sizes if they’re not directly sold on Facebook or Instagram. There are also different e-commerce fulfillment limitations that restrict customer locations. While Facebook is pushing e-commerce heavily, the company itself has seen e-commerce sales slowing, and 97% of all profits come from ads right now. At the same time, Meta expected to have a larger e-commerce presence.
For online stores, there are two things to take away. First, your Facebook and Instagram audience may have reached maturity. It might not be a platform for explosive growth with new products but more of a traditional channel. This will slow some discoverability and may mean you need more channels if you want to scale.
The good news is that you’ve still got plenty of time to get involved in the Meta VR space if you want. Meta hasn’t cracked the code to make VR shopping enjoyable for the average person. If VR is on your roadmap, you’re not behind the curve. Or, if you don’t want to dip a toe into VR, the report shows that you’re not missing an ample opportunity — at least not yet.
Facebook and Meta are excellent places to watch to see where the market is going, and sometimes it’s nice to see that they can make mistakes and sprint in the wrong direction.
Jake Rheude is the Vice President of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of e-commerce. He has years of experience in e-commerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.