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The 5 ‘Make or Break’ Trends in E-Commerce for 2020

When you think about the state of e-commerce, it’s easy to be deceived by some of the “big picture”statistics: The first half of 2019 saw more than 7,000 retail stores close in the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. e-commerce market grew by 15% in 2018. It’s now worth more than half a trillion dollars.

Written by Ignacio Pascual

As we look ahead at 2020, there are a few key e-commerce trends that current market leaders like Amazon will leverage to create even more distance between themselves and competitors, and that promising newcomers will use to catapult themselves to the front of the pack.

Here are 2020’s ‘make or break’ trends for e-commerce retailers.

Contextual Advertising and Marketing Automation

In the early days of e-commerce, the onus was on customers to track down the things they wanted. First-movers mostly used the same playbook as the newspaper industry when it came to advertising: Space and banner ads that hardly took into account who would see them.

Some e-commerce shops — particularly the new players — have barely advanced past A/B testing for space ads. They’re in for a rude awakening…

Contextual advertising, digital ads that are served based on data about what a person is browsing online, and marketing automation, digital tools marketers use to automate repetitive tasks across multiple channels, are methods e-commerce stores leverage to help turn data into loyal customers. As retailers get better and better at it, ads become even more timely and relevant to the customers they reach.

“In 2020, e-commerce customers will get more and more accustomed to retailers reaching them with exactly what they want at exactly the right time. The question for consumers won’t be so much ‘where should I go to get the things I need?’ but rather ‘who is going to offer me what I need before I know I need it?”

Subscription Models and Memberships

Recent research shows that retail customers, above all else, prefer two things: The first is a sense of belonging; a sense that makes customers feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. The second is minimal effort to get the things they need.

This is why so many e-commerce merchants are finding such great success with subscription models in their shops: In a five-year span beginning in 2011, e-commerce retailers saw sales from subscription services shoot up a staggering 4,461% to the tune of $2.6 billion.

Amazon Prime continues to be the dominant force in e-commerce subscriptions, with more than 100 million members in the U.S., thanks in large part to their ability to insert themselves into micro-moments — moments when people turn to their web or mobile devices for information to help them make decisions. In 2020, e-commerce retailers who offer subscription models that provide customers with a sense of belonging while also inserting themselves into micro-moments in the decision-making process that drastically reduce the effort for a customer to make a purchase, will see an increase in loyalty and engagement with their brand.

Blockchain Enhancements and Crypto Payments

In June of 2019, social networking giant Facebook announced plans for Libra, an ambitious cryptocurrency project that the company touted as the next evolution of global finance, sparking both excitement and criticism from the public and regulators.

It’s possible that Facebook’s foray into the blockchain and cryptocurrencies could bring a total sea change to the way transactions take place in online stores. With a potential user base of more than 2.7 billion people, Libra may very well disrupt the entire financial establishment — not just e-commerce.

Of course, much of this will depend on what Libra decides it will be and how financial authorities choose to regulate it. In any case, the data says that crypto adoption is on the rise in 2019, suggesting that e-commerce stores that are blockchain-powered — or at least blockchain ready — are the ones that will attract and retain the most customers in 2020 and beyond.

E-commerce stores in 2020 will leverage the blockchain to make transactions faster and more secure, and even shore up their supply chains. Merchants who are crypto-ready in 2020 will be glad either for keeping up with the pack or getting ahead of the curve, depending on the fate of Libra.

AR for Product Visualization

When we consider the reasons many consumers continue to buy their goods from brick and mortar retailers, among the most significant is the ability to try something on and see it in person before making the commitment to buy it. Many e-commerce stores have flexible return policies, but it’s still a hassle for customers to buy things they don’t want in the end.

Augmented reality (AR) is offering a way for e-commerce merchants to close the gap with this advantage — one of the few that brick-and-mortar shops still retain. The number of AR glasses sold in 2017 doubled from the previous year, and more than 22 million are expected to be sold worldwide by 2022.

For online shoppers, this means understanding what they are buying ahead of time like never before. In 2020, seeing how a couch is arranged in your living room, checking the fit of a pair of jeans or how a necklace might hang are no longer going to be cool party tricks for online shoppers; they are going to be requirements.

Voice Search

Who has time to use their hands anymore? These days, a fifth of all searches on Google happen via voice. In 2020, half of all internet searches are going to be performed with voice commands, rather than typing. The e-commerce retailers that are ready to facilitate this will have one fewer customer churn problem to worry about.


In a market where user tendencies seem to shift more frequently, staying on top of trends is vital to growth and flexibility in the coming weeks, months and years. Information is power for any e-commerce merchant. But knowing how to execute is another story. Businesses fortunate enough to prepare for the above e-commerce trends will find themselves far ahead of their counterparts and competitors.