2019 Wrap-Up: The 5 eCommerce Trends That Defined Consumer Spending Last Year

2019 was a bumper year. We look at eCommerce trends and which product categories sold best and which are tipped to sell well in 2020.

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2019 Wrap-Up: The 5 eCommerce Trends That Defined Consumer Spending Last Year

It was a strong end to 2019 for eCommerce sales. Despite falling short of some analyst’s predictions, holiday sales grew significantly. Data from Digital Commerce 360 shows that eCommerce made up 19.2% of all U.S. retail sales in November and December 2019, up from 17.6% in 2018. These are the eCommerce trends — and trending product categories — riding that record wave in 2019.

Athleisure Leads the Apparel Category

Apparel performed better than any other category during the 2019 holiday sales season. Research by Mastercard shows the category grew 16.5% in 2019; specialty apparel grew 20% year-on-year.

Mastercard’s research backs up the findings of a report from marketing intelligence company MiQ, which showed that more people in the U.S. planned to buy clothing and apparel as gifts than any other product category in 2019. 

Apparel is a broad category, however, and athleisure is where the most significant growth can be found. From sneakers to yoga pants, athleisure is seriously hot right now. 

Case in point: Sales of sport leisure footwear rose in the 12 months leading up to August 2019, according to research by NPD. That’s in sharp contrast to fashion footwear, which declined 5% in the same period. The company expects strong sales growth to continue in the years ahead, with sport leisure surpassing fashion as the largest footwear category in 2020.  

“More brands will effectively respond to the shift away from performance and fashion footwear to focus on what has become the new norm: athleisure footwear,” says Matt Powell, NPD’s Senior Sports Industry Advisor. “Consumers are looking for shoes that are less technical and instead more versatile and every day.”

Brands at the top of the athleisure category led from the front. Market leader Lululemon continued to experience exceptional growth in 2019. In Q2, the company generated more than $217 million online, a year-on-year change of 30%, The Motley Fool’s Jason Lee reports. 

The company is continuing to invest heavily in its online experience to make sure that growth continues, notes Lee. This includes enhancing the search and browse functionality of the site, improving checkout, and enhancing data-collection practices to provide a more personalized experience to shoppers. 

Athleisure appears ready to continue its dominance. “Over the next five years, the sportswear market will be one of the leading retail sectors,” says Honor Strachan, Principal Retail Analyst at GlobalData. “Activewear brands are selling consumers a lifestyle and fashion retailers are leveraging their style credentials to produce affordable fitness ranges to sell alongside core casual and formalwear collections.”

Smart Gadgets Were the Smart Choice for Holiday Giving

Smart devices continued to grow in popularity throughout 2019. In particular, they topped the lists of best-selling items on 2019 Prime Day, reports AMZ Finder’s Lynn Sweet. This included Amazon’s Fire TV stick with Alexa voice remote, the Amazon Echo Dot, video doorbells and robotic vacuum cleaners. 

Amazon’s smart devices, in particular, saw significant growth. While it took the company four years to sell 100 million devices, it more than doubled that number in 2019 alone, reports CNET’s Ben Fox Rubin. On top of that, the number of engagements with Alexa doubled, too. 

The growth of smart devices isn’t limited to North America, either. The IDC found that more than 4.5 million smart speakers were shipped to Europe between July and September 2019, 36.6% more than the same period in 2018. 

This product category should continue to grow significantly in the future. Research by Insider Intelligence has forecast the number of connected devices to hit 64 billion by 2025. 

Online Groceries Deliver Promise

The number of people who buy groceries online is certainly growing. A recent study by Coresight Research found that more than a third (36.8%) of U.S. consumers purchased groceries online in the last year, up from 23.1% in the previous year’s study. 

Online grocery sales now account for just 6.3% of total grocery-related spending by households in the United States, according to Brick Meets Click, a strategic advisory firm focused on digital transformation in the food business. But eCommerce is a fast-growing sales channel, whereas brick-and-mortar stores are not. At a time when overall grocery sales are virtually stagnant, online sales grew 15% on a year-over-year basis, Brick Meets Click reports. In 2020, the firm expects online sales to represent 7.0% of the U.S. grocery market.

Walmart, the country’s largest grocery retailer, has said grocery sales played a “meaningful” role in growing digital sales by 41% in 2019, reports CNBC’s Lauren Thomas. Both Walmart and its biggest competitor, Amazon, used 2019 to implement a number of changes aimed at increasing online grocery sales, notes the team at PYMNTS. Amazon made two-hour free grocery delivery for Prime members available in more than 30 cities. Walmart, on the other hand, introduced curbside grocery pickup. 

Focus on Sustainability in the Year Ahead

In 2019, many brands used Black Friday to promote sustainability, writes EDITED’s Kayla Marci. Everlane, for example, partnered with ocean protection and restoration charity Oceana to donate $10 from every Black Friday purchase. Allbirds shut up shop altogether, closing down its London Seven Dials store to host interactive workshops with consumers. 

Brands are taking notice of customer demands for sustainability, notes Ecomdash’s Matt Ellis. Many brands are creating eco-friendly versions of everyday products. “One of the fastest rising products is reusable food wrap like Lilybee Wraps, which aims to reduce single-use plastic wrap with cleanable (and prettier) food protection,” he says. 

“Another niche to go environmentally conscious is feminine hygiene, with eco-friendly pads like Lunapads seeing more and more interest (as the site claims, each one replaces over 125 disposable pads).”

Nielsen actually predicts that sustainable products will make up 25% of total store products by 2021. 

Personalization Must Still Take Center Stage

Manish Dudharejia, Founder and President of E2M Solutions, believes the personalization of products will be a key eCommerce trend in 2020. 

It’s happening already. “Many online stores are taking advantage of interactive content – like quizzes and surveys – to build entirely customized products that cater to each individual’s needs or preferences,” Dudharejia writes. Personalization is particularly effective in the health and wellness space, where stores like Curology and Gainful customize products based on the customer’s individual goals, he says.

Big brands are already adding personalization to their websites, writes Sellbrite’s Michael Ugino. Madewell, Ugino points out, displays a customer’s size on product pages to make shopping quicker and easier. 

“In 2020, customizable products will see a substantial increase in popularity as shoppers will become capable of creating personally designed clothing items, laptops, scents, dishware and just about everything else for which there is demand for personalization,” says Visiture’s Ron Dod. Dod says customers will be willing to pay premium prices for personalization, too.

2019 broke all sorts of eCommerce records, and there’s no reason 2020 will be any different. The good news is there’s still plenty of time to catch the wave and ride any of these trends to success in the year ahead. 

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