20 ecommerce trends that surprised and inspired in 2022

Ecommerce leaders reflect on a year of change.

20 ecommerce trends that surprised and inspired in 2022

Think back to January 2022.

Holiday ecommerce sales had just broken records. Omicron and supply chain snarls were making headlines. Inflation and reopening were not at the top of the conversation, yet.

A lot can change in a year.

In the spirit of reflection, we posed a question to ecommerce leaders as we looked back on a year of change:

What ecommerce trend in 2022 surprised or inspired you?

The answers dig deep into operations like checkout and CX, and step back to consider the big-picture shifts in media and technology that are reshaping commerce.

Below is a look at the responses in full. Once you're done reading, check out the trends that leaders believe will shape 2023.

Hybrid shopping

Consumers are embracing hybrid, connected shopping experiences more than ever as they head back into stores after the pandemic spurred a period of ecommerce acceleration. Brick-and-mortar locations will continue to be a driver for ecommerce activity going forward while interactions with the service or sales teams are holding increased value. And as part of this hybrid experience, we're finding that consumers expect frictionless experiences and flexibility. From alternative payment options to BOPIS to social commerce and beyond, these options allow consumers to shop how they want, when they want, and where they want. We are moving into a blended world of digital and traditional shopping and it will be exciting to see how brands navigate those nuances to come out on top.

–Scot Gillespie, GM and EVP of Commerce Cloud, Salesforce

Inventory imperative

Between ongoing supply chain challenges and inventory issues dominating headlines for the better part of the year, it's no surprise that 77% of U.S. consumers were worried about product shortages heading into the 2022 holiday shopping season. This made it all the more important for ecommerce businesses to get a handle on their inventory – especially if they’re selling across a variety of channels like their own ecommerce site, Amazon, Etsy, social media platforms and more. Businesses didn’t just need to know their current inventory levels, they had to figure out ways to communicate that to customers in real-time. We’ll continue to see the importance of real-time inventory management and customer communication in 2023.

–Shilpa Reddy, VP of QuickBooks Commerce, Intuit QuickBooks

Rising CAC, retail media and recommerce

How hard and fast customer acquisition cost (CAC) escalated: It has long been going up, but Meta and Google have just gotten prohibitive. I don't need to go into all the litany of why, but the impact was devastating on DTC business models.

'22 as the year Retail Media Networks (RMNs) achieved mediocrity: Not unrelated to the first point about the difficulty of growing direct brands with traditional social and search channels, even the poorest department stores and big boxes are now rolling out RMNs and marketplace platforms. While not all are good yet (hence the mediocrity), at least it’s an area for a brand's revenue officer or marketer to fund some revenue growth. Let's hope for a continued maturation of these in '23.

Recommerce & returns interception: Instead of commenting on the gross over-production, promotion and inventory this holiday season, we could talk about the positive side in folks actually doing something about climate change. I'm very excited about Zara's rollout of customer-to-customer recommerce in the UK with XRC portfolio startup Recurate. I, like most ecommerce customers, love the customer-to-customer recommerce model, and I hope many other brands will explore this in the future.

-Al Sambar, general partner, XRC Labs

The fall of Kanye West

Seeing multiple companies ensnared in the toxicity of Kanye West’s meteoric fall from grace has spurred others to reevaluate how they work with high-profile personalities moving forward. Despite star endorsements being a hallmark marketing strategy, the unpredictability of public perception and celebrity behavior means retailers should be proactive and start scenario planning to avoid getting “Kanye’d” should a brand ambassador suddenly be caught up in controversy.

Bob Debicki, Sr. Director, Global CPG & Retail Industry Solutions, Anaplan

Aggregator meltdown

The meltdown of the ecommerce aggregator market took many by surprise – and most surprising of all was the speed at which conditions for these companies changed. These businesses started the year as movers and shakers, sponsoring every ecommerce event and pushing to acquire brands as quickly as possible. Then the shake-out began in earnest. To some extent, consolidation and right-sizing of a new industry segment is to be expected. With negative economic pressures and quickly rising interest rates, everything changed. Some struggling aggregators began to look for bailouts or to be acquired themselves, while others just laid low and tried to make it through the storm.

–Lesley Hensell, cofounder, Riverbend Consulting

​DTC meets wholesale

In prior years, brands were identified by their channel strategy. You were either DTC or wholesale. Amazon or Shopify. Over the last year, many brands realized that a single channel strategy was no longer enough, and brands expanded their presence across channels. For evidence, look no further than Target aisles, where endcaps now highlight DTC favorites that were once most commonly viewed in Instagram ads. While this motion was building, the acceleration of this omnichannel embrace in 2022 seemed to catch many by surprise. At the heart of the shift was a recognition that the best strategies involve combining the unique data assets of DTC with the ubiquity of marketplaces and the scale of wholesale. As part of this, it was inspiring to see more brands investing in data ownership and the downstream decision making capabilities afforded by such an asset.

–Jesse Leikin, cofounder and chief product officer, Tradeswell

Charging for returns

Retailers charging for online returns gained traction in 2022. Doing this runs counter to what many consumers want, but economic realities and pressures on the bottom line have necessitated some retailers to make this move. Online returns is a huge issue, especially in a category like apparel, and retailers need to take action to reduce the volume.

–Neil Saunders, managing director, GlobalData Retail

Storytelling on Amazon

Brand story went mainstream on Amazon. I have encouraged the selling community for years to tell a story and to tell it well. It was inspiring to see so many FBA sellers pivot and focus on this in 2022. Sellers used tools like video and A+ content to really deliver on this and bring something to the market rather than just a "good product." Expect to see more development here as sellers become more "DTC-like."

–Jon Elder, Amazon seller consultant and founder, Black Label Advisor

Multi-step checkout

Multi-step checkout forms have been incredibly successful in 2022. The overarching idea of user experience and a clear flow, omitting multiple steps in the process, makes a lot of sense at first. However, the real outcome is a long, overwhelming form with dozens of fields, scaring users away and cluttering the web or digital experience. Multi-steps forms provide better experience, clear flow and the ability to remarket users once they submit their email first.

–Mario Peshev, CEO, DevriX

Ecommerce democratization

The growth of social networks and the democratization of ecommerce capabilities has truly changed how merchants can build their business. Capabilities once limited to retail giants with massive budgets and access to advanced technologies are now readily available. Now more than ever, anyone who wants to create a retail brand can do so by leveraging ecommerce platforms to create an online store with advanced ecommerce capabilities, as well as generate awareness by leveraging social media and quickly begin selling their merchandise.

-Oren Inditzky, Vice President of Online Stores, Wix

Convenience redefined

Pre-pandemic, consumers defined ecommerce convenience as speed, better prices, and broad product selection. In 2022, however, that definition has shifted. According to Pitney Bowes BOXpoll research, convenience is now about consumers’ ability to shop whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.

–Gregg Zegras, Executive Vice President and President, Global Ecommerce, Pitney Bowes

Going live

One of the most surprising trends this past year was the growth of streaming ecommerce – or live commerce – especially in the North American market. This form of selling had been growing in popularity in certain Asian markets in recent years, and 2022 saw considerable uptake in the western hemisphere. Streaming ecommerce leverages popular online influencers in combination with an integrated buying tool, allowing viewers to make purchases directly while watching the stream. Of course, this idea isn’t particularly new; it’s a modern take on the television infomercials that were popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. But with the massive growth in online streaming content in recent years, brands will likely see a renewed opportunity to connect directly with a large and highly engaged audience.

–Ruslan Fazlyev, GM, ecommerce, Lightspeed

CX improvement

What was most surprising was this year’s nearly 2% decline in average CX quality scores in the U.S., the first decline since 2017, according to Forrester’s 2022 US Customer Experience (CX) Benchmark.

We’re increasingly encountering companies with a growing commitment to improving omnichannel CX as they realize the best way to ensure their continued success is to keep pace with consumer expectations.

–Michael Scharff, CEO and cofounder, Evolv AI

AI applied

Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) has continued to revolutionize ecommerce and retail, as companies work to personalize the shopping experience for consumers and optimize their own operations. This greatly inspires our team at GS1 US as interoperability is key and standards, like those from GS1, help to ensure that different systems and technologies can integrate seamlessly, enabling consumers and businesses to easily conduct transactions online. Insights garnered from AI are only as effective as the data provided, and organizations risk business inefficiencies and unhappy customers if the data is not standardized and accurate.

–Melanie Nuce, SVP of Innovation & Partnerships, GS1 US

Data ownership

The awakening of brands to the power of owning and leveraging their own datasets across customers, campaigns and product catalogs. Thanks to iOS, many marketing leaders are vowing to never get caught flat footed again and investing in building this insurance policy. The truly innovative are already deploying machine learning models off these for segmentation and predicting future cash flows.

–Jake and Eulalie Cook, cofounders, Tadpull

Curbside staying power

Curbside pickup is sticky, showing magical things happen when a consumer approaches a retail store in buyer mode. Retailers are selling an additional item in addition to the original curbside order to 30%-45% of their customers. That means consumers show up to pick up their order, and 30%-45% of them are walking into the store to buy an additional item(s) not a part of the original curbside order.

–Spencer Kieboom, CEO, Pollen Returns

Profit center

The refocus on getting to profitability. The leaders who can get to profitability will not only control their destinies, they will be creating stronger and better brands and setting themselves up for the best possible exits.

-Ben Tregoe, CEO, Bainbridge Growth

Standout brands

The success of companies like Vuori or FIGS inspired me. They zigged when the rest of the DTC industry zagged. Vuori intentionally optimized for wholesale distribution with retailers like Nordstrom—a song as old as time—and outflanked all competitors who rode unsustainable digital ad growth for direct models. Meanwhile, FIGS intentionally focused on customer acquisition channels that weren't paid ads, and were one of the few public direct-to-consumer companies who did okay in 2022.

–Jason Murray, CEO, Shipium

A new post-COVID landscape

A first surprise, at the beginning of the year, was actually the broken trend of the post-Covid growth. The numbers expected were far away from reality and the whole industry had a "black" quarter (Jan-Mar) that ended up into strategy reshapes over the year.

On the other hand, we had confirmation of how the social network industry has been revolutionized (mainly by the TikTok impact). They aren't proper "social networks" anymore, as they connect people less and less, but rather provide content sharing means that became the main channel used by brands to generate awareness and demand. An average Chinese consumer spends 4-5 hours a day on apps as they are caught by them through content. This is where the industry is going.

–Simone De Ruosi, cofounder and CEO, Go Global Ecommerce.

(This story was updated at 3:14 p.m. on 1/5/23.)

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