Biggest eCommerce Takeaways from 2021

Biggest eCommerce Takeaways from 2021

The world of eCommerce is always evolving. Between chasing trends that come and go, the rise of new platforms and channels, and – of course – the ever-growing competition that demands new marketing strategies to win customers, it’s hard to keep up. Just when you think you have the recipe to success perfected, the ingredients change!

However, there is one thing about eCommerce that never changes: Brands and strategists use the past to guide the future. From using past data and performance to make future decisions to leveraging negative customer reviews to create a positive experience for the next wave of shoppers, there cannot be growth without reflection. 

To properly and preparedly take on this new year, we must first reflect on 2021.

While no one likes to dwell on the past, the patterns, events, and trends of the last year can help guide us through 2022 a bit more smoothly. So, before we can begin buttering our pans and lining our trays, let’s take a quick peek back into 2021 at some of the biggest eComm takeaways from last year. 

Competition Is at an All-Time High

There’s no surprise with this one: competition in the online space has never been more intense. For those brands who lacked proper digital marketing strategies to compete in 2021, they may be feeling extreme pressure to win business this year. 

In 2020 alone, eCommerce grew 32% due to shut-downs and stay-at-home orders. But even with the market (for the most part) re-opened, online shopping is projected to continue to grow and with this growth comes continued competition. To be competitive in this space, employing strong digital marketing strategies is a must.

Think of it this way: You can’t bake a cake without the most fundamental ingredients – flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. Without these essentials, your cake wouldn’t stand a chance, nor would your bakery! Creating a mouthwatering masterpiece begins with your ingredients – or, in the case of eComm, your digital marketing strategies. 

When it comes to competition, one strategy that really made a difference for brands in 2021 was storytelling. The ability of a business to connect and resonate with people in the digital space through their storytelling made all the difference in winning conversions over competitors last year. 

While hundreds of businesses can offer the same or similar products and services, what sets them apart are the little things that make their brand unique, like culture and values, customer service, and craftsmanship. The story you craft around your brand can have an immeasurable impact on competitiveness and conversions. In fact, in 2021, storytelling and brand-boosting content will build brand awareness and customer retention.

If your business is short on storytelling, it’s time to start writing a story that will resonate with customers. It may make all the difference in performance this year. 

The Importance of Your Website

In 2021, eComm sites played a prominent role in shoppers’ product research, price comparisons, and discovery. Leading up to making a purchase, many consumers relied on eComm sites more than any other channel to gather information, compare similar products, and – ultimately – in the decision to convert. 

Using what we now know about the importance of a business’s site in 2021, brands should take the time to make sure their online platform has all the necessary information shoppers may need to make a purchase. The details do matter! Highlight what sets your brand’s products or services apart from the competition, and be sure all the necessary information is present and accessible to users for best results. 

Digital Ads in the Decision to Purchase

While marketing specialists often question and debate the value of online advertising, 2021 showed that digital ads are useful to the buyer’s journey and shopper’s decision to purchase. In fact, 54% of users exposed to an online ad or promo while browsing said these campaigns functioned as a “digital reminder” of something they meant to buy or prompted a new desire to purchase the featured product. 

So, if you’re still doubting the effectiveness of digital ads, it may be time to turn over a new leaf, as they could help boost conversions for your brand this year. 

Growth of Retail Media

If you aren’t familiar with retail media, this strategy essentially markets to shoppers close to their point of purchase. Retail media can appear to customers as incentives like loyalty programs or coupons to drive them to the finish line (AKA, make a purchase). 

Though it may seem like retail media is all about driving sales, it served a greater purpose in 2021. Last year we saw businesses making significant investments in brand promotions and retail media to help build brand awareness. Now, given retail media’s outstanding success for brands in 2021, it has become a standard and mandatory investment strategy to improve competitiveness. 

The Reality of Returns and Ad Spend (ROAS)

Brands overly concerned with returns and revenue from their ads limited themselves significantly in 2021. Though making a profit from your digital marketing investments is – of course – important to an extent for assessing business efficiency, measuring success from ROAS is not the only way to gauge ad performance. Believe it or not, not everything is about conversions. 

While some ads can drive users to purchase a product or service, this isn’t their only use and purpose. Sometimes ads will just drive traffic or spread brand awareness. We now ask ourselves in 2022, “Is this enough?” Sometimes, yes! 

Though a brand’s ultimate goal is to make a sale (or more sales), these other little things matter just as much. They are, after all, part of the buyer’s journey. So, don’t get hung up on ROAS because, while an ad may not have driven as many conversions, it could have helped your brand in other ways. In 2022, we are going beyond ROAS! 

A Dramatic Shift to Online Shopping

Since the beginning of the pandemic, stay-at-home initiatives and shut-downs have pushed online shopping to the forefront of retail. In 2021, the shift towards online shopping accelerated significantly, and 24% of surveyed consumers reported they now do most if not all of their shopping online. 

Despite this ambitious move to eCommerce, online-only retailers are facing consumer backlash and distrust. In fact, 34% of consumers said they don’t trust brands that exclusively have an online presence. So, even though shoppers are shifting to online retailers as opposed to shopping in-stores, they still prefer to purchase from brands with a physical store location in addition to their online shop. Seems confusing, right? Well, you know what they say: The customer is always right! And if brands want to keep up in 2022, they will have to adhere to their customers' needs and wishes, no matter how contradictory they may seem.

Trust Is Carrying the Retail Industry

Consumer and brand trust reached a whole new level of importance in 2021, given the inconsistent state of the retail industry. With stocks consistently low across the board and demand at an all-time high, you’d think brands struggled with aggravated customers and loss in loyalty. However, despite low supplies and high demand, the retail industry saw zero devaluation in consumer trust. 

The takeaway: When it comes to customer loyalty, even the greatest challenges can be overcome. So, when and if things get a little dicey, find creative ways and new incentives to keep your customers loyal. 


Guaranteeing refunds was a critical incentive for 2021. In fact, refusing to offer customers a guarantee on their money could lose brands about 50% of purchases from potential customers. So when it comes to offering refunds, play it safe in 2022 to earn customers’ trust and incentivize conversions. 

Shopping Small 

Despite consumers advocating for and expressing their desire to shop small – especially during the height of the pandemic – and move away from large-scale retailers like Amazon, when it came down to it, they faltered. In 2021, we saw shoppers fall short of their promises and struggle to follow through with their commitment to shop from local businesses and smaller, independently owned brands. 

For major retailers, this was great! But for smaller businesses and online brands, the struggle was real. We at CAKE encourage you to find new incentives and engage with your target audience. Remind them of the value in purchasing from small retailers.  

Consumers Have High Expectations (and Demands) 

The last year was filled with natural disasters and socio-political uproar, and these concerns were (and still are) top of mind for consumers. For many shoppers, choosing brands that make more sustainable choices was a step in the right direction. In fact, 55% of shoppers said they consider a brand's sustainability before making a purchase. 

Historically, online shopping isn’t the most sustainable practice. With many shoppers – especially younger audiences – conscious of the environment and climate crisis, many consumers are now taking a stand. Customers are turning to brands that prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. Given the current social climate, consumers expect brands to acknowledge and speak on our major social and political issues. 

While this is a very new trend in consumer behavior, it is not surprising. Now more than ever, a brand’s ideals have value with shoppers. Customers want their values to align with those of their suppliers. 

With many brands engaging in this socio-political discourse, taking a stance, and moving towards more sustainable practices, it’s clear customers have been heard and answered. If your business chooses to abstain, this could ultimately cost you loyal customers. Speak up, speak out, and get involved this year! 

Cyber Week 

Two of the biggest cyber week takeaways are that brands are promoting earlier, and consumption is increasing. To see the most success and returns this holiday season, your business needs to start running cyber week promotions earlier than ever before to get ahead of the competition. Simultaneously, we can expect sales to continue to climb this year, so ensure your seasonal inventory is prepared to take on an influx of orders. 

Agency-Structured eComm Strategies 

Let’s face it: No one does eCommerce marketing strategies quite like an agency. While an in-house team is not a bad way to go, partnering with an experienced eCommerce agency like CAKE can take your brand to the next level (or tier!). eComm specialist agencies have a very prominent role in the success of businesses and the performance of their marketing strategies. 

For an agency that is sure to sweeten up your marketing strategy and deliver success on a silver platter, partner with CakeCommerce. To learn more about our services, contact our team!