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A sustainable vision for growing ecommerce.

There’s a concept in investing called “permanence of gains” which seems especially relevant at the beginning of 2021. Markets always rise and fall with the times, but the recent growth of ecommerce will almost certainly be a foundation rather than a spike…if we learn how to wield it.

The majors may have led the shocking 30+% growth of ecommerce as a total percentage of retail in 2020 vs 2019, but Amazon, Target, and Walmart were only part of this story. SMBs of every stripe embraced and leveraged digital selling tools like never before, guaranteeing a non-subtle shift in the very nature of consumer culture.

For a long time we’ve been saying that ecommerce is, believe it or not, still in its infancy. By necessity, Covid has catalyzed a leap into what we now might think of as early adulthood.

Early in my own career, success was predicated on raw energy—the “hustle.” And so it was throughout the first two decades our industry. It took sheer force of will to convince manufacturers, retailers, and customers that doing business online was viable. Ecommerce platforms like our own had to invent the rules as we went along, discovering problems in the physical selling space and creating digital workflows and features which addressed them. Payment and delivery networks, at first a patchwork, only gradually crystallized into the beacons of trust we now expect. Brands redefined identity and communication into an entirely new language oriented to capturing attention online. Entrepreneurs leaped into gold rush after gold rush, across product categories and audiences. The cleverest among them transformed hacks and workarounds into reliable business models. 

Just as I personally experienced as I moved from sales into leadership, the question for ecommerce now becomes, “how do we build a sustainable vision?” The answer is by shifting from the catch-as-catch-can hustle into mature decision-making driven by expertise.

The very positive results that we saw during holiday 2020 may well be the new standard year-round. With good leadership and good luck, the Covid nightmare may be behind us by the end of this year, but it’s likely that the public’s total embrace of ecommerce will not be rescinded any time soon.

So we must meet them with data-driven, reason-driven, ethics-driven, experience-driven stewardship. That’s the core of a sustainable engine for prosperity which empowers individuals, companies, and nations to thrive long-term. 

Willingness to reflect, learn, and evolve—quickly—is key. We’ve seen many examples of it in the broader ecommerce space. DTC and B2B brands from across the spectrum moved fast to solve for the most urgent crisis in our industry’s history, drawing upon all the strengths of digital commerce to connect consumers with products safely and efficiently. It’s been very inspiring to see.

What will the reward be for this investment? Growth, growth, growth. By 2023, JP Morgan predicts a 10.5 percent compound annual growth rate for all ecommerce, up to 14% for just mobile. This is probably under-selling it. 

The future for online sellers is bright, as an increasing percentage of U.S. GDP will be bought and sold online. Ecommerce sales will continue to breathe new life into retail. More sophisticated delivery networks will ramp up access for rural areas. Social commerce will continue to grow, with ever more pinpointed integrations between the worlds of social media, gaming, and traditional selling. Customer shopping experiences will surge forward with jaw-dropping advances in creativity and effectiveness.

However, if you want to understand the deeper trends in ecommerce, it’s not going to be about AR glasses or Alexa placing an order, it’s about how we are reimagining our lives around technology.

New markets are established when a sea change happens. 2020 was just such a sea change—a total transformation of consumer behavior. Yes, there are still many, many challenges ahead. We are still dominated by a handful of tech/retail/marketplace monopolies. The Covid crisis is still exacting a terrible daily cost. Our nation is weary from navigating a truly punishing year. But we have the toolkit to move forward on every front which challenges us now.

After 20 years of moving from being that “young buck” to becoming a true partner in the global economy, that tool is the wisdom gained from all we have built and experienced.

Now is the time to exercise it.

For an in-depth discussion on this topic, please listen to the new episode of the Dragonproof Ecommerce Podcast here.

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