The Outlook for E-Commerce Sales in 2021


According to McKinsey, e-commerce market penetration in the United States experienced the equivalent of 10 years of growth in the first quarter of 2020. With vaccines providing hope of returning to normalcy in 2021, what is the outlook for e-commerce sales?

Here are a few expectations.

Peak Selling Seasons

E-commerce stores can expect to be busier than ever during the holiday seasons this year. As we saw with the December 2020 holiday season, customers will begin their shopping earlier this year. They’ve grown accustomed to delayed shipping due to the virus. E-commerce vendors should start preparing at least a month earlier than usual.

Clients will buy their usual fare. During Easter, for example, candy sales are highest. Consumers won’t break with tradition this year.

Slowing Sales Overall

In 2020, global online sales grew by a massive 27.6%, while brick-and-mortar sales dropped 3%. In 2021, we’ll start to see that trend reversing. Expect growth to slow to 14.3% as consumers venture back into stores.

One sector that is likely to buck this trend is the B2B sector. Business owners and decision-makers in 2020 found it convenient to deal with salespeople remotely. This trend will continue to gain momentum in 2021.

Growing Competition Online

Pre-COVID-19, it was advisable to have a website. During the pandemic, stores survived by offering e-commerce solutions. In 2021, consumers expect retailers to have a web store.

2020 saw businesses scrambling for turnkey solutions to get online. We’ll see this trend continue as companies start to move over to a digitally based model. Firms will have to improve their client’s experiences on the site to remain competitive.

The Rise of Niche Marketplaces

Forrester, in particular, points to the increasing popularity of B2B marketplaces. However, B2C companies will also notice an uptake in customers on these sites.

Being on a credible online marketplace assures clients of a minimum level of service. Your business benefits from the trust the site engenders.

Provide Social E-commerce Solutions

Consumers expect businesses to provide integrated solutions on channels important to them. Your social media campaigns should include options that allow clients to buy then and there. These sales not only benefit the bottom line but also provide social proof of your brand’s popularity.  

Value-Based Brands Will Grow Faster

Value-based brands are another growing trend this year. Consumers will now rate brands on their social impact as well as their products and pricing. Solely profit-driven companies will lag behind those that help to improve their communities.

E-commerce stores should look into:

  • More environmentally sound products and packaging
  • Partnering with charities to actively assist them. They can, for example, donate a portion of the proceeds of each sale. Some fashion brands also allow clients to drop off clothing at collection points for donation.

Final Notes

The massive growth in e-commerce in 2020 wasn’t sustainable. Sales will slow in 2021 as consumers re-enter brick-and-mortar stores and online competition increases. B2B vendors may expect less of a slow-down as businesses continue to appreciate the convenience of online sales.

Firms must be ready for holiday sales earlier this year as clients are less likely to leave everything to the last minute. Clients will increasingly demand a better customer experience and expect brands to have a social conscience.

Companies that don’t step up their game will lose out.

Hristina Nikolovska is the team lead at

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