The eCommerce Design Trends Changing How We Shop Online

ecommerce design trends

Coronavirus changed a lot about the way we live, and it definitely changed a lot about the way we shop.

Reaching an all-time high in 2020, online shopping in Australia grew by 57% year on year. That equated to an extra one million households jumping on the internet to shop each and every month.

From wine subscriptions to loungewear and quite literally everything in between, Aussies channelled their usual spending into online retail therapy. And even now in 2021, that trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down – online shopping in April was up a whopping 34% on the same month in 2019.

As a result? The eCommerce space has never been so exciting – or so competitive. Digital experiences have undergone a rapid evolution, and while that means more business – it also means you’ve got to fight a lot harder to win (and keep) those customers. Easier said than done, we know.

Here a few trends we’ve had our eye on early in 2021 that we think separate the best from the rest in the Hunger Games of eCommerce.



There’s an interesting arm wrestle going down at the moment between our love of anything personalised, and our growing frustration with the personal data that’s collected and used to make those experiences happen. 

Shopify reports that eCommerce sites using personalisation convert up to 15% higher, and grow customer satisfaction rates by up to 20%. Those numbers are enough to win over just about any business owner.

A ‘products you recently viewed’ bar towards the bottom of each product page can help users get back to that item they were umm-ing and ahh-ing about, while a ‘customers also liked’ section works like a personalised online version of those chocolate bars they always put just before the supermarket checkout. 

You could also do this with complementary categories, so if someone’s looked at a top for example, showing up with bottoms or jackets to complete the look could win you extra brownie points with that customer. 

As offsite retargeting becomes more difficult (and expensive) thanks to Apple’s iOS 14.5 update impacting targeting on social media, funnel those ad dollars into building this messaging into the onsite experience instead. 

Trigger pop-ups that match a user’s browsing behaviour. First time visitor? Offer them a discount code in exchange for their email. A few items in their cart? Offer free shipping if they hit a price threshold. Returning visitor? Show them what they looked at last time, reducing the number of clicks for them to eventually hit that sweet sweet checkout button. 

Mobile Experience

Mobile traffic has exploded in the last five years – we’re talking a 40% increase in total sales here – and now accounts for over 70% of the eCommerce market share. 

Simply put? If you’re not designing for mobile-first, you’re shooting yourself in the foot pretty massively. And we see lots of businesses fall into this trap, as they’re so used to working on a desktop – so of course, they design and browse their own sites from a computer. But when we ask them if they as a consumer ever shop on a computer? Yeah, that’s a bit of a lightbulb moment. 

The cool thing about mobile first design is how much more freedom you have in how things look and how users interact with your site. 

Grid layouts, for example? They’re a thing of the past. You’re no longer bound by having design elements or even your products display in perfect alignment – these can be fluid in how they appear or move across the page, using the entire screen as your canvas. 

We’re also seeing a lot of meta design elements. By this we mean that the design takes its cues from your products or services – for example, a paint business animating its transitions between content sections as paint drips. It’s fun and really helps to make online shopping an experience.

Human Experience

As we discover new brands (one in five Australians bought from a business for the first time in 2020), one of the biggest things we’re looking for is social proof. We want to connect with a brand on more than just a surface level, and know that other people know and like this brand. 

The biggest impact we’re seeing in this space is how UGC is integrated into product pages. User-generated content (think photos of your products out in the wild, in the hands of actual people rather than a faceless model) is one of those signs that says “Hey! Someone else spent their money on this and look how much they like it – we think you will too.”

Businesses have ventured into this space before by linking their social feed to their homepage, but users want to see more of this UGC style content and less of your polished photography on your product pages.


Augmented Reality

One of the reasons eCommerce has pivoted so much towards the digital experience? Now accounting for over 16% of total retail spend, online shopping has had to go beyond the bare bones of transactionality in order to really compete with the experience of in-person shopping. 

One of the massive innovations we’ve seen around this idea of experience is in the area of augmented reality (AR). What started out as Snapchat filters has quickly grown to be a huge pillar of online shopping and looks to only be growing in 2021. 

AR tackles some of the hesitancies around online shopping head-on, by letting users virtually ‘try on’ products before they buy. There’s a difference between seeing a product, and even seeing a product on a real person, versus being able to see what that product looks like on you or in your home

35% of consumers say that being able to try on a product using AR would motivate them to shop online more, so if that’s not a sign of things to come then we don’t know what is.

Live chat support
Customers’ expectations have hit all-new highs in 2021. While the growth in eCommerce capability has put on-demand shopping at our fingertips, with that has come the need for service and support to be available 24/7 as well. 

But when you’re running a business, often the last thing you want to do is be at the beck and call of your inbox – that’s where AI-powered chatbots will be your best friend. 

A survey of shoppers revealed that the two biggest frustrations with online experiences are poor navigation (34%) and trouble finding answers to simple questions (31%). Chatbots can help you tick both of these boxes and lets you be there whenever a potential customer does need a little extra love. 

More ways to pay
If you’ve gotten a user to the checkout, the last reason you want to lose the sale is because they can’t pay. 

Having flexible payment options is less of a trend, and increasingly a non-negotiable to be a serious player in the eCommerce space. 

Offering options like Google Pay and Apple Pay for example mean that checking out can look as simple as a couple of clicks. 

And buy now, pay later services are on the up too – AfterPay saw a 15% bump in its customer base last year alone.

Headless commerce
As we add more channels, products and functionality to our eCommerce mix, we’re asking a lot of our eCommerce platforms. New experiences can take weeks or even months to implement, as the back-end functionality needs to translate to a seamless customer experience on the front-end. 

Headless commerce (sounds ominous, but bear with us) separates out the site architecture from its design, meaning your eCommerce engine can be plugged and played across a range of front-end applications. 

There are a few benefits to this – you can get to market with new features or designs much quicker; you can take your pick of technologies for each end; you can customise content across platforms, and you’re less vulnerable to site errors and security breaches.

Shopify already offers support for headless commerce, and don’t be surprised if more of the big players follow suit in 2021.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed but a lot inspired about your brand’s eCommerce potential in 2021 and beyond? We want to talk to you. Whether you want to migrate to a new platform, overhaul your UX to drive more conversions, or just need help to regroup on your strategy, The Natives can help you kick eCommerce goals. Get a complete rundown of our services here, or get in touch with us and we can have a chat over coffee (or Zoom… in true 2021 fashion).