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4 Biggest E-commerce Challenges in 2021

E-commerce is the future of purchasing, and it has already arrived in the present. The business world has shifted to the point where every business needs to establish an online presence and sell their products digitally in order to reach their target audiences. 2021 is prime time for e-commerce businesses to thrive, but there are some challenges that come with the boom of e-commerce. Read on to learn what the 4 biggest e-commerce challenges of 2021 are so that you can be aware of what to watch for and avoid in your digital business.

The Rapid Pace of Change

E-commerce has grown immensely in recent years from a good option for selling your product to an absolute necessity in order to stay afloat in your market. The pace of growth is only going to increase moving forwards; the website Nasdaq anticipates that 95% of purchases will be completed online by 2040.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft confirms that they have experienced the same boom in the e-commerce industry and have had to adapt their processes to keep up and accommodate customer needs.

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security—we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

This rapid pace of growth is exciting, but it also brings its challenges for those with e-commerce businesses because it creates an expectation of growth. Customers expect a certain level of accommodation and accessibility in digital shopping platforms which is more challenging for small businesses to provide.

“A challenge of e-commerce in 2021 is definitely the pressure to keep up with the industry’s rapidly growing pace. For large online corporations to update their e-commerce platforms in order to keep up with the latest demands is a fairly small inconvenience that they’re well equipped to face. On the other hand, small businesses and e-commerce stores that are newly founded have an exponentially harder time offering the same types of modernity and advancement as their larger competitors,” says Ryan Lee, Co-Founder & CEO of Rooted.

Another aspect of the rapid growth that small businesses struggle with is offering the same discount incentives as large corporations. Shipping and return policies are particular areas that can stretch a growing business to its limits of finances and possibility. 

“Global megacompanies that are well established and financially sound are able to feasibly offer benefits to customers that shoppers begin to expect,” says Yuvi Alpert, Founder and CEO of Noemie. “For example, perks like free worldwide shipping or full refunds–including shipping costs for returns and lost packages–are not a big weight on large companies, as they have the financial capacity to handle these losses. But small businesses have to strain to offer the same benefits when they are just starting out. Yet, customers who are used to purchasing with e-commerce corporations may see small businesses’ less accommodating shipping or return policies and see it as a reflection of the business’s unwillingness to provide for their customers. It is a tricky situation to manage.”

Ensuring Positive Customer Experiences

Speaking of customer relations, ensuring your customers have a positive online experience at your e-commerce store is another one of the biggest e-commerce challenges of 2021. Because everything is digitized in online shopping, customer service sometimes gets put on the backburner in order of importance.

“Even with e-commerce, the customers are everything and their experiences at your store still matter just as much as they do for stores with physical locations. Sometimes e-commerce businesses forget how important it is to ensure the visitors to your website are able to find everything they’re looking for and leave satisfied with a purchase on the way. One method to show you prioritize customer service is by having an open chat feature on your site that allows guests to speak live to customer service representatives or bots,” says Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer of

Because customer satisfaction needs to be a priority for every e-commerce store, there are certain features you can offer in order to help accelerate the customer experience. This CEO of Genexa outlines a few.

“When you enter a store you are usually greeted, asked if you need any assistance finding items, and there are also workers stationed around the store to answer any questions,” says Kelli Lane, Chief Marketing Officer of Genexa. “Also, friendliness and helpfulness in shop workers are key qualities to aid in a positive customer experience. Online stores work a bit differently but the customers are the same; their needs and satisfaction level are just as important. You want to ensure your website is just as navigable as a physical store. Incorporating an organized layout with easy search functions is important for guests to find what they’re looking for or just browse like they would in a store. Also, accessible customer service features are key.”

There are some advantages of using an e-commerce platform for your products, and this includes the ease of spreading information about specials and brand details. The leaders at Olipop recommend that e-commerce stores use this benefit to their advantage to boost sales.

“One advantage that e-commerce websites have over physical stores is the availability and spread of information. When salespeople bombard shoppers with information about specials, deals, and details about the brand, customers often find it a turn off. However, when they shop online there are advantageous ways you can get information to them. On our website we have a moving banner advertising our shipping deals and subscriber discount incentives. Guests take in the information without being overwhelmed. We also have an easily navigable layout so customers can learn information pertaining to our products and mission if they want to dig a little deeper,” says Melanie Bedwell, E-commerce Manager of OLIPOP.

Customer Retention is always an important business consideration. 

The biggest eCommerce challenge for 2021 is customer retention. In an age where returning customer rates are fluid and constantly changing, one of the best ways to combat retention is to utilize email campaigns and incentive-based campaigns. This will not only encourage engagement, but also ensure that customers feel valued and cared for on a consistent basis,” says Steven Zeldes, Founder and CEO of Avacare Medical

Crafting positive customer experiences on your website is something some entrepreneurs ignore, but it’s incredibly important to ensure a business’s site is running smoothly and looks appealing. In stores your eyes are easily drawn to displayed products and flashy signs but creating the same experience can be tricky online. Naturally, the in-person and online experience of shopping will be different, but you can try to make your site a safe space just as shops are.

“A lot of people turn to shopping or browsing as a stress relief. They want to be able to enter a store, walk around for a bit, and temporarily escape from reality. This understanding is what malls are designed around, with a windowless layout that allows for a complete escape from time, weather, and the outdoors. This experience is why many people shop. You can try to create the same effect by designing your site in a way that makes visitors feel as though they’re shopping in a store, but it will be even better because they can do it from wherever they’re located,” says Cindy Le, Co-Founder and COO of Revela.

The design and layout of your e-commerce store matters supremely for the customer experience. They want to be able to navigate around the site without issue or frustration. Spending time updating the site’s features and conducting regular checks to ensure all links are working properly is a wise idea.

“Your website should be navigable, eye-catching, easily searchable to be able to locate what is sought after, and free of any technological glitches or viruses. Your goal is to have your visitors forget they’re shopping and simply enjoy looking around at your products, as they would in a store,” says Max Greenberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Stoggles.

Maintaining Cybersecurity

This discussion of website cleanliness and accessibility takes us to one of the most important and challenging elements of e-commerce in 2021: maintaining cybersecurity. Your whole business is online, so you can be certain that online security is a number one priority.

Victor Congionti, the Chief Information Officer and Co-Founder of Proven Data talks about how essential a strong cybersecurity framework is for e-commerce stores, especially small or startup businesses.

“Small businesses that focus their attention in the e-commerce space need policies and procedures to create a solid cybersecurity framework for the organization. In the case of a cyberattack, a small business cannot afford to have downtime in operations and sales, because every transaction is a marginal financial success that the business depends on…In the case of a ransomware attack, the organization might not be able to access files and data that is necessary in providing service to customers (such as inventory reports). Having a response plan can help the business reduce downtime in operations and continue providing service to clients through other means (such as phone sales)” said Victor Congionti, Chief Information Officer and Co-Founder of Proven Data.

Part of the need for added security in e-commerce stores is due to the more sensitive information they collect on customers. When you shop in person at a store you are generally an anonymous customer and your payment information is never fully revealed or saved in the systems. Personal information like your name, address, and email are not stored in a profile for you unless you elect to volunteer it as part of a rewards or membership program. However, when you complete an online purchase all of this sensitive data, including your payment details, are processed on the site. Plus, there are data processing platforms every e-commerce business should be using like Google Analytics that show information on customers–where they visit the site from, their demographic, how long they spend on the site, and what they purchase are examples.

“Security breaches are immense threats for e-commerce businesses due to the sheer amount of sensitive information that is processed through online purchases. If your security is not top notch you could reveal highly sensitive data about customers and site traffic, and having a reputation as a business that does not adequately protect its customers’ information can be detrimental,” says Jay Levitt, Founder and CEO of Lofta.

Small businesses especially need to protect their data for multiple reasons. Firstly, they are newly establishing their brand and reputation and do not want to lose their audience’s trust as they work to establish a loyal customer base. Also, small businesses may be more easily targeted for security breaches due to the expectation that they may not have prioritized security when just starting out, or that a smaller budget hasn’t lead to strong cyber protection. As a small business, you need to prove these assumptions wrong and take every security precaution.

“My advice to small business owners is to prioritize your cybersecurity immediately. Don’t put it off as something you will enhance once you have built up a larger budget. Even before you launch your e-commerce store you need to ensure you have the finances to protect your customers’ sensitive information and avoid leaks of any kind. If you can’t reasonably protect cyberdata yet, wait to launch your business until you can. I cannot stress enough the importance of a strong security framework for your company,” says Tri Nguyen, Co-Founder and CEO of Network Capital.

Digital security attacks can also negatively impact the layout and effectiveness of your website even if your sensitive data is not compromised. And a faulty website or e-commerce shop that doesn’t lead to sales is not a benefit to your business.

“Cyber-attacks will sometimes target the framework of your website, installing viruses or creating glitches in the layout. You need your customers to trust that your website is a safe page for them to visit, and any kind of shady encounter they experience on your site could lead them away from your brand for life. Protect your business and invest in solid cybersecurity,” says Katie Lyon, Co-Founder of Allegiance Flag Supply.

Standing Out Against Your Competitors

Another major challenge e-commerce businesses face in 2021 is the pressure to stand out against their competitors. With the rise of e-commerce as a quintessential mode of shopping in today’s highly digitized world, business owners have to fight against essentially every competitor out there selling products within the same market.

“Never before has competition been so steep for businesses now that e-commerce is many customers’ ideal way to shop. Before e-commerce, small businesses would be in direct competition with the similar stores and products in their area or region, but now that customers can shop from any store located anywhere in the world, e-commerce businesses have to view every business selling the same or similar products as their direct competition,” says Anish Patel, Founder of Tinto Amorio.

Marketing plays a huge role in standing out against competitors but this also puts pressure on e-commerce businesses to get really good at their marketing efforts really fast. This necessity can place a great deal of duress on small businesses that have meager budgets and smaller resources to work with.

“In order to stand out against your competitors in today’s highly competitive e-commerce dominated marketplace you need to be able to market your brand to attract customers. Investing in a solid marketing team that can draw attention to your business is an essentiality,” says Judy Nural, President and Founder of MicrodermaMitt.

With these 4 common challenges of e-commerce in 2021 you have a solid understanding of what your business will be up against. By proactively learning the hardships of digital consumerism you can set in motion plans to avoid the challenges so that your business will thrive in 2021.


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