The 10 Biggest Ecommerce Trends of 2018

From Amazon expanding into more private labels to pop-ups galore

Some of the top trends seen over the last year in ecommerce. - Credit by Kroger

There’s virtually no ecommerce story this year that doesn’t feature Amazon, but it’s not the only company that made waves. Ahead are a few of the biggest ecommerce trends from 2018 and many—like Amazon’s quest for dominance to the rise of more permanent retail stores of digital darlings—are likely to continue in 2019.

Amazon, Amazon, Amazon

With nearly 50 percent of market share, the conversation about ecommerce in 2018 clearly starts with Amazon—at least in the U.S. Time and time again, wherever Amazon goes, everyone else follows.

But after its acquisitions of smart doorbell company Ring in February and prescription delivery service PillPack in June, along with reports of adding doctors to its payroll, it’s clear Jeff Bezos isn’t going to rest on his laurels. Instead, the platform seems to be worming its way further into our homes and cars, and according to Bloomberg, Amazon is even developing a domestic robot code-named Vesta. It suddenly doesn’t seem that outlandish to envision a world where Alexa diagnoses our ailments and orders prescriptions from PillPack to be delivered into our homes using Ring doorbells.

Digital groceries

If 2018 is the story of anything else in ecommerce, it is online grocery. No retailer or delivery platform has quite figured it out yet, but they sure are trying. That includes bringing last-mile delivery companies in-house, like Target did with Shipt; working with third-party delivery platforms, like Walmart and Postmates; offering pickup options such as pickup from other stores, like Kroger and Walgreens; and testing autonomous vehicle. Meanwhile, Instacart thinks it has a more universal offering, and with online grocery sales projected to quadruple by 2023, the odds are likely that these experiments will continue.

Walmart as a competitor

While it’s sometimes tempting to think of Walmart as Amazon’s pesky younger sibling, the retailer made a number of moves in 2018 to prove it shouldn’t be underestimated. That includes its $15-billion acquisition of Flipkart to fend off Amazon in the world’s second-most populous nation, as well as purchases of U.S.-based platforms like Eloquii and Bare Necessities and a partnership with Rakuten for ebooks on Kindle. There are also rumors of an Everlane rival in the works, along with a streaming service.

Then there’s its subsidiary, which gained ecommerce wunderkind Marc Lore and an expanding grocery delivery service, and its exclusive high-end service Jetblack. There are also rumors of cashierless tech, another iteration debuted at sister brand Sam’s Club.

Pop-ups from digitally native brands

It certainly feels like this year was the year of the pop-up, considering companies like Wayfair and Facebook played around with the concept. Some were perfect for the holiday season sales rush, but many tested the concept to see whether they could translate their online presence offline and gather new customers while doing so, especially from direct to consumer bands like Brandless, Winky Lux and Away. There’s no doubt that companies will continue to test more pop-ups next year, but permanent footprints are also expected.

An end to the retail apocalypse

No ecommerce story is complete without the mention of the retail apocalypse, which is a thing of the past to some digitally native brands. Companies like Cuyana and Dirty Lemon opened up standalone shops and even new iterations are coming to the scene, proving that perhaps retail still has life. A June 2018 study by Oliver Wyman, an international management consulting firm, found that brick and mortar still counts for 80 percent of clothing and shoe buys, proving that retail is far from dead.

Expanding subscription services

Subscription models are nothing new, but companies either expanded the array of products to choose from or started to experiment in this space. Retail companies like Express and Ann Taylor tested clothing subscriptions to get new and old customers alike. MeUndies even pivoted its subscription-based model to one geared toward membership. Dollar Shave Club is entering what it calls Dollar Shave Club 2.0 and is offerings its members more products that go beyond shaving, like cologne. It’s a trend that many more will definitely experiment with in a bid to do anything to capture a shopper’s wavering interests.

Amazon’s growing group of private labels

Amazon’s quest to create private label brands out of every category continues, but not without a little data help from other notable companies such as a J.Crew Mercantile that joined Amazon’s storefront this year. Amazon also announced its Amazon Accelerator Program in October to grow its private label business. The list goes on and on with Amazon introducing Rivet, a private label mattress, and a private label pet brand with Wag.

Amazon’s new headquarters

In yet another demonstration of its relative omnipotence, Amazon kicked off 2018 by announcing its shortlist of cities for its second headquarters, a saga that played out for nearly 11 months before it announced New York City and Northern Virginia as victors. In New York at least, a city well-known for both high rents and a crumbling Subway system, the announcement was met with some derision as the company run by the world’s richest man nets $1.25 billion in incentives.

Amazon wants a makeover

If Amazon has an Achilles heel, it is fashion. That’s perhaps because its algorithm was created for books and signals of book popularity, like length of time on a bestseller list and overall sales, are not signals of popularity when it comes to clothes, where consumers want what is new each season. With the debut of its easy return service, continued push of Echo Look, partnerships with more fashionable brands like J.Crew and even a new show featuring Project Runway alums Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, Amazon is clearly trying to up its game. That being said, its post-Christmas announcement said 129-year-old workwear brand Carhartt was one of the most popular fashion brands with over one million items ordered.

The bad stuff

In perhaps a sign of the times we live in, both Amazon and Walmart found themselves in hot water after third-party sellers listed products advocating slavery and impeachment. Both instances inspired outrage and prompted the retailers to pull merchandise. Clothing retailer H&M also made a grave error when it modeled a black child in a sweatshirt reading, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” It later apologized and removed the product.

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.
@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.