Online Shopping Trends in 2018: Forget the Fads, Welcome to Ecommerce’s New Reality

Online Shopping Trends in 2018: Forget the Fads, Welcome to Ecommerce’s New Reality

It’s easy to confuse trends with fads. They look and act so similar — both drive dramatic profitability. Both consume headlines and light up social media.

And both end up in 30 point roundup posts every January with clickbait headlines promising you a crystal ball.

But there’s one key difference: fads fade, trends endure.

Trends create fundamental, lasting changes that reshape not just how people shop, but how they live. Online shopping trends, in particular, leave behind a residual effect that makes them worthy of the hype.

Of course, differentiating between a trend and a fad is challenging. Fortunately, there are telltale signs and underlying principles if you know where to look.

We spent the last six months pouring over data and isolated three online shopping trends — along with 11 application-driven insights — to answer one question …

Mobile Commerce

By now, it’s common knowledge that mobile browsing exceeds desktop. This long-awaited inversion is due primarily to the proliferation of devices. As the Pew Research Center found, the typical American household contains around four connected devices.

However, even though more people are browsing on mobile … 

1. Browsing Does Not Equal Buying

A study by Wolfgang Digital found that mobile accounts for just 38% of revenue, despite accounting for 59% of all browsing sessions.

revenue and sessions by device

The underlying reason behind this device switching was uncovered by an eMarketer study, which found people “prefer to use a PC,” followed by concerns about privacy, security, and difficulty-of-use.

This same trend was reinforced over Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Adobe Digital Insight’s cumulative data broke down how lopsided the divide still is.

Share of online shopping revenue by device

The divide becomes even starker when you dig into the numbers behind traffic vs. revenue.

Traffic vs revenue by device over Black Friday, Cyber Monday 2017

Here’s the twist …

While desktop shopping outpaced mobile industry-wide, on Shopify, mobile won.

So, what explains this difference?

In a word, going native. Thankfully, we can get far more practical than that by unlocking two more trends: multi-channel ecommerce and mobile optimization that goes beyond mere design

Shopify Flow

Are you selling everywhere your customers buy?

Keep reading to unearth the rest of the online shopping trends. But if you want an executive guide distilling the centerpiece, download The Enterprise Guide to Multi-Channel Ecommerce.

Inside, you’ll get one-pagers detailing …

  • Comprehensive data on the opportunities and threats
  • Merchant spotlights for insights on top channels
  • A checklist for selecting the right multi-channel platform

Grab the guide today

2. Multi-Channel Ecommerce Starts Onsite

Crossing the browser-to-buyer divide lies in developing a multi-channel ecommerce strategy that connects with your prospective customers anywhere and everywhere they spend their time … and brings that experience onsite.

As an example of this online shopping trend, MVMT Watches features an Instagram shop directly at the bottom of their site to help mobile users quickly browse their product line.

MVMT watches features Instagram

After clicking, you can scroll through their latest Instagram posts, searching for the ones you’ve already mentally bookmarked after seeing them a day or two ago.

MVMT Instagram posts

Once you’ve found it, you can pull up additional images, view pricing, and click the single Add to Cart button to take advantage of free shipping.

MVMT shop Instagram

Browsing via an Instagram-like experience onsite makes it easier for visitors to find the specific products, as opposed to them diving through an entire catalog.

But, what moves browser to buyers?

3. Culminate in a Mobile-Optimized Checkout

A mobile-optimized checkout goes beyond a mobile-friendly (also known as, mobile-responsive) site. Instead of merely adjusting the size and layout of your page, the final steps in a shoppers journey must make buying — not just browsing — easy.

Again, MVMT excels:

MVMT's mobile checkout optimizes the first online shopping trend

Shopify Pay is another advantage that accounts for mobile’s surge. During Black Friday, Cyber Monday, over 400,000 people spent over $30 million 3x faster using Shopify Pay.

Shopify Pay's mobile-first approach is a perfect fit for the future of ecommerce

Alan Cassinelli — Director of Marketing at Peel — saw conversion rates double on Shopify Plus over the holiday. As he explains:

“Accelerated checkouts really take advantage of the new technologies we have to purchase. It doesn’t make sense to have to re-enter the same information over and over again across all of the Internet.”

“It’s kind of like going into your favorite coffee shop, and they all already know what your order is going to be. It’s a more personal experience. You’re not just some random person on the web. It’s just more convenient and, as everyone knows, convenience is the number one driving factor of ecommerce.”

As mobile commerce continues to grow, businesses need to provide an integrated and seamless experience across all consumer touchpoints that makes multi-channel selling as natural as possible.

The commitment to mobile and multi-channel applies especially on one front …

Social Selling

A few years ago, ecommerce orders from social media grew a staggering 202%. Social conversions have only continued to skyrocket since then as people spend more of their browsing time on mobile devices.

Teens spend up to nine hours a day on social platforms, while social media makes up 30% of all time spent online. And the amount of time people spend on social media is constantly increasing.

Messaging app usage surpassed social networks for the first time in 2016 as well.

messaging app usage surpassed social networks

In addition, new technologies like social buy buttons, smart TVs, near-field communications, and mobile wallets (like Apple Pay) are driving this shift toward social commerce.

Former editor-in-chief Tommy Walker wrote about this in “The Death of Advertising as We Know It,” saying:

“Through various combinations of these technologies, the ‘advertisement’ will no longer be a prompt that encourages you to buy somewhere else, but instead, serve as its own sales channel where a customer purchases direct, without ever experiencing ‘the funnel.’”

5. Social Selling Shortens the Funnel

Social commerce capitalizes on two the core benefits of ecommerce itself: ease-of-use and accessibility.

Ashish Mistry, the managing partner at BLH Venture, said:

“An interesting way that brands are deepening the customer experience is by using social media to sell. Millions of consumers are on social media daily, and recently companies have been racing to find ways to convert sales directly from social platforms.”

That’s why Facebook Messenger added a new feature allowing payments to be made from Messenger chatbots in September 2016. Similarly, WhatsApp recently unveiled a business app with the objective to reel in large enterprises to better connect with where customers already spend a majority of their time. 

In response to these developments and the rise of messaging use, Oracle found that 80% of businesses want chatbots by 2020. It’s easy to understand why. Millennials are about to move into their prime spending years, and people 35 and younger prefer messaging apps to email.

The same is true of social media in general …

Of course, brands have been marketing through direct-response ads on Facebook and selling from Instagram since the beginning without these native tools. Frankies Bikinis shows how to tie the updated bio section to individual products being featured that day (or week).

Frankies Bikinis products featured using bio section

Clicking on the first option reveals model Alessandra Ambrosio wearing the same bathing suit style (Rib Collection) being featured in the bio’s direct link.

Frankies Bikinis featured bathing suit using 2018 ecommerce trend

Using chatbots and taking advantage of Instagram’s limited linking are good jumping off points into this online shopping trend. Still, there is an even better way …

6. Make Your Ecommerce Native

There’s that word again: native.

First, it was Facebook, who in 2015 went beyond ads and allowed merchants to create and run their own native shops:

Soon after, Pinterest added native functionality with Buyable Pins:

Then came the bots and Messenger integrations mentioned above.

Finally, last year, Instagram rolled out Shopping on Instagram that function in largely the same way:

Arm the Animals mixes the very best of native social-selling by combining influencer marketing — e.g., their collaborations with both micro-influencers and mainstream accounts, like Juniper Foxx — audience-delighting content, and shoppable posts:

The primary benefit of multi-channel software is that you’re able to sell on these social platforms directly. To do that …

7. Integrate with Built-In Listing Tools

Shopify has a one-click integration with WhatsApp built-in, allowing customers to share product details and specs seamlessly from your store. The same goes for selling on Instagram and Pinterest.

In fact, you can add a product once and sell it across over 20 different channels, from massive retailers like Amazon to niche-specific ones like Houzz.

Shopify channels

You can also create a fully-integrated Facebook store and sell from within apps with Shopify’s embeddable buy button and mobile SDK.

Frankies Bikinis also takes advantage of this latest feature to sell directly on Facebook. Page fans can browse products highlighted at the top.

Frankies Bikinis sell directly on Facebook

Clicking on an individual product will bring up a standard ecommerce-like experience, complete with sizing, quantity, and related products.

Facebook cart ecommerce-like experience

Shoppers can then purchase their entire cart without ever having to leave Facebook. They can fill in shipping information and make last-minute cart adjustments. All payments are safe and secure.

shopping cart without leaving Facebook

Capitalizing on native social selling techniques like these can shrink your sales funnel and reduce conversion friction to accelerate sales.

Spencer Stumbaugh, Director of Marketing at MVMT Watches, says:

“It’s really important to cut out steps in the purchasing process. It’s almost like having a new landing page, but one customers can purchase from instantly.”

Meet your customers with product offers wherever they spend the most time online. Start with social … but don’t stop there.

Borderless Business

Worldwide ecommerce sales will almost double in the next four years. Statista anticipates a 246% increase in worldwide ecommerce sales, from $1.3 trillion in 2014 to $4.5 trillion in 2021.

total worldwide ecommerce sales in trillions of US dollars

Sales from the rest of the world are growing so quickly that the United States’ share of global retail ecommerce sales is steadily falling.

US share of global retail ecommerce sales

How does this online shopping trend shape your own strategy?

8. Follow the Money Across Borders

Western continents are expected to make up only 16.9% of global ecommerce sales by 2020, with Asia taking the lion's share. And according to, China is already the largest ecommerce market by far at $672 billion, almost double the United States.

10 largest ecommerce markets

China’s off-the-charts growth forecasts that their total ecommerce sales are expected to double in three years, adding $1 trillion.

China driving global ecommerce boom

Image via Atlas
As the world’s markets converge, ecommerce must adapt to borderless commerce to stay competitive.

Economist Pankaj Ghemawat wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

“Business leaders are scrambling to adjust to a world few imagined possible just a year ago. The myth of a borderless world has come crashing down. Traditional pillars of open markets—the United States and the UK—are wobbling, and China is positioning itself as globalization’s staunchest defender.”

9. Anticipate the Common International Problems

It’s not just businesses that are adjusting to a borderless world. Shoppers are increasingly looking outside their country’s borders, too.

Nielsen’s Connected Commerce Report found that “more than half of online respondents in the study who made an online purchase in the past six months say they bought from an overseas retailer (57%).”

Nielsen Connected Commerce Report

Eugene Zhang, founding member of TEEC Angel Fund, said, “Ecommerce will continue to grow, and penetrate more verticals in many local markets. The space will widen its reach cross-border.”

Still, problems present themselves.

“Businesses will have to overcome cultural differences and foreign regulations,” says Zhang. “Technology and modern global logistics will play an important role in enabling consumers to purchase affordable products directly from overseas retailers.”

Those problems expand to a range of logistical issues, such as:

  • Local online payment preferences
  • Having a website in the local language
  • Offering products for sale in the local currency
  • International shipping and supply chains
  • Local VAT taxes
  • Global commerce ethics

10. Take Taxes “Off the Table”

Shopify Plus helps you overcome many of these hurdles by providing over a hundred different payment gateways for each location. Tax calculation headaches are also alleviated with Avalara’s Compliance Cloud integration that reaches over 70,000 jurisdictions.

You can set up tax rates for each country inside your account, with overrides and sub-regions to ensure proper compliance.

set up tax rates

For example, you can customize each major Canadian region based not only on the tax rate but also specific filing requirements.

customize Canadian tax rates

Shopify will then automatically update how that tax will be displayed to users browsing from each location, swapping out the calculation for consumers in real-time, so they know exactly how taxes will affect their ultimate purchase price.

tax display automatically updated

You should also anticipate the need to cater immediately to international shoppers.

11. Create Local Shopping Experiences Online

Merchology catches browsers the second they hit their site, helpfully redirecting them to the most appropriate storefront for their geographic location.

Merchology geographic location redirect

Then they add taxes to the total product price to reduce any last-minute cart abandonment.

Merchology add taxes added to total product price

Rebecca Minkoff serves their international audience through a robust geography and currency selector supporting hundreds of countries and more than 70 currencies.

Our guide to Global Ecommerce: Massive Opportunity Ahead For the Borderfree Business, can help you sort through the challenges of international expansion. So too — if you want to get serious about the global opportunities — take a look at:

Now is the time to make your business border-free.

Online Shopping Trends that Matter

Fads will continue to come and go at a faster clip.

But, if you know which underlying principles will last, you’ll have a better chance identifying the 2018 ecommerce trends that are already taking over:

  • Mobile commerce
  • Social selling
  • Borderless business

Instead of chasing down fads, invest where the reality of ecommerce is … and where it’s going.

About the Author

Aaron Orendorff is the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.