Online Shopping Trends in 2018: Welcome to Ecommerce’s 11 New Realities

Online Shopping Trends in 2018: Welcome to Ecommerce’s 11 New Realities

It’s easy to confuse trends … with fads. 

Both drive profitability, make headlines, and light up social media. (They also end up in 50-point roundup posts at the half-year mark with clickbait headlines promising you a crystal ball.)

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

To help guide you, we spent the last year pouring over data and isolating …

11 online shopping trends shaping ecommerce in 2018 and for years to come
  1. Mobile Browsing Does Not Equal Buying
  2. Multi-Channel Ecommerce Starts Onsite
  3. Optimize for Mobile Buying, Not “Responsive”
  4. Take “Symbiotic” Advantage of Amazon
  5. Social Selling Shortens the Funnel
  6. Make Your Ecommerce Native
  7. Integrate with Built-In Listing Tools
  8. Follow the Money Across Borders
  9. Anticipate the Common International Problems
  10. Take Taxes “Off the Table”
  11. Create Local Shopping Experiences Online

Download all 11 trends as a guide

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

1. Mobile Browsing Does Not Equal Buying

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, a 2016 study by Wolfgang Digital found that mobile accounts for just 38% of revenue, despite accounting for 59% of all browsing sessions.

The underlying reasons? In eMarketer’s words, people “prefer to use a PC,” followed by concerns about privacy, security, and difficulty-of-use.

While many have expected this trend to invert, 2017’s online holiday shopping did nothing but reinforce it: 56% of browsing took place on a mobile device, but people turned to desktop when it came time to purchase.

Holiday shopping share of revenue by device

Data via Adobe Digital Insights and compiled within the downloadable Guide to Online Shopping Trends in 2018 and Beyond (PDF)

Here’s the twist …

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

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

So, what explains this difference?

In a word, going native.

Thankfully, we can get far more practical than that by unlocking two more trends: next, multi-channel ecommerce and, after that, mobile optimization that goes beyond mere design.

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 native experience onsite.

We’ll get into offsite strategies later on, but by far the biggest and easiest win for this trend lies in mimicking those offsite platforms within your storefront.

For instance, MVMT Watches features an Instagram shop — powered by Foursixty — at the bottom of their site to help mobile users quickly browse their product line.

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

After clicking, you can scroll through their latest Instagram posts, pull up additional images, view pricing, and click a single “Add to Cart” button.

MVMT onsite multi-channel approach

Browsing via an Instagram-like experience onsite bridges brand-awareness and product-discovery.

In addition, MVMT also leverages a host of traditionally offsite multi-channel and mobile-first elements like:

  • Full-screen product images
  • User-generated content and reviews
  • Additional “Styled on Instagram” visuals
  • Omni-present Add to Cart Button with price

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Since partnering with Foursixty, Pura Vida — another multi-million-dollar brand with a fully optimized ecommerce toolset — reported:

  • Foursixty accounts for ~17% of ecommerce revenue
  • 11% visitors who engage with the shoppable gallery click through
  • 5% add item(s) directly to their carts
But, what moves browser to buyers?

3. Optimize for Mobile Buying, Not “Responsive”

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 shopper’s journey must make buying — not just browsing — easy.

Again, MVMT excels as a starting-point template:

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.”

Lastly, dynamic checkout buttons can also significantly improve mobile buying. MMA Warehouse, for instance, uses this approach by adding a Buy Now button immediately below Add to Cart on all their product pages (see panels one and two below).

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Once a customer has selected their preferred payment method — ApplePay, PayPal, or Amazon Pay — Shopify’s backend remembers their choice and automatically presents their choice on all future visits. (All three options are shown in panel four, but only one is presented to returning customers.)

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

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.

4. Take “Symbiotic” Advantage of Amazon

Roughly half of all product searches now start on Amazon.

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Data from the Mary Meeker Report

Of course, there are plenty of reasons businesses fear Jeff Bezos’ monolithic beast:

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Data via Sellbrite

Those fears — coupled with the sheer size of Amazon, which is expected to generate 50% of all ecommerce sales by 2021 — are exactly what makes it such a valuable sales channel to expose new customers to your brand as well as drive new revenue growth.

But, how do you strike a balance?

“There’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Nolan Walsh, Co-founder of Thursday Boots Company, “where Amazon advertising works great — more the manual stuff than the automatic. We don’t put all of our products up on Amazon. It’s really more the best sellers where we’re not strapped for scarcity.”

Amazon Advertising offers sellers a number of tools to stand out from the millions of products sold to its millions of customers like:

  • Amazon Search for product searches
  • Amazon Ad Platform for static and video assets
  • Amazon Media Group for higher-end managed services

If you are going to sell via Amazon, you must provide a seamless brand experience and offer a consistent fulfillment process for all orders.

As Lee Elliott, vice president of digital media at VaynerMedia, explains:

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

“Sales and marketing on eBay and Amazon are not enough. You have to be able to keep up with the orders from an operations and fulfillment standpoint. You also need to give your customers the same brand experience no matter where they’re shopping.

“We see a direct correlation between the ability to offer exclusivity or a different, more core-branded experience onsite with people’s success with that highly symbiotic ‘and’ relationship with Amazon. Site exclusives and exciting release cycles onsite are tremendous.”

Going mobile and multi-channel applies especially on the next trend …

5. Social Selling Shortens the Funnel

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.

Social commerce capitalizes on two of 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.

To capitalize on this trend, Chubbies uses Facebook Messenger to send transactional messages in lieu of email (for those that opt in):

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Pura Vida Bracelets has automated abandoned cart message for both Facebook Messenger as well as SMS:

To rescue abandoned carts via Messenger Pura Vida uses ShopMessage

ShopMessage alone has:

  • 26% clickthrough rate
  • Over 400,000 messages sent
  • 10% lift to top-line revenue from subscribers logged into Facebook

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 native shops. Soon after, Pinterest added native functionality with Buyable Pins. Then came the bots and Messenger integrations mentioned above.

And, as a sort of native-social-selling crescendo, last year Instagram rolled out Shopping on Instagram that function in largely the same way.

ORO Los Angeles was an early adopter of this feature and saw an immediate 29.3% lift in month-over-month revenue directly attributable to Instagram.

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

As another example, 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:

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

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

The connection between revenue and multi-channel selling is clear …

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

Data compiled within The Enterprise Guide to Multi-Channel Ecommerce

That connection is why, as of publication, Shopify Plus offers native integration with over 20 different sales 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.

8. Follow the Money Across Borders

Worldwide ecommerce sales will almost double in the next four years. Statista anticipates a 246% increase, 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

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.

Online Shopping Trends In 2018 And Beyond: Ecommerces 11 New Realities

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 of 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.