The last two years have seen unprecedented changes to how entrepreneurs start and run small businesses. If you’re feeling a little lost, or unsure of what to expect next, you’re hardly alone.
As a small business owner, the best tool you have is information, both about how other businesses are keeping the lights on and about how customers want to shop in this time of change.
Thankfully, we have data that can help you with both.
In our annual Future of Commerce report, we asked both business decision-makers and consumers what matters to them in this new era of commerce. With that information, we’ve identified seven key small business trends to pay attention to in the new year, including what customers are looking for, how to gain an edge in how you ship, and how businesses plan to invest in themselves.
These insights will help you future-proof your small business and remain resilient.
7 small business trends for 2022
We combed through the data to find the trends that will matter most to small business owners through 2022. Here’s where to invest your energy in the upcoming year.
1. Prioritise customer experience
As an entrepreneur, you already know that providing a memorable experience for customers is what builds loyalty to keep them coming back again and again.
With that in mind, this is an area where businesses know they need to invest. According to a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Shopify, 27% of businesses said improving customer experience was their first or second-biggest priority for 2022.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, but customers also gave us insight into what they look for when shopping online.
When asked what they find “valuable” or “very valuable” when shopping online, accurate pictures were the top answer, with 77% saying so. This can be a challenge if you’re doing product photography yourself, but with good lighting, even a smartphone can be used to take excellent photos.
The next most important thing customers consider is the ability to easily find all product information, which 76% of customers said was “valuable” or “very valuable.” Writing product descriptions is an art unto itself, and you can look at this guide for tips on how to get them just right.
Localisation is also important. In the data, 74% said seeing their local language was “valuable” or “very valuable,” and 71% said the same about seeing their local currency. Shopify’s app store has dozens of options for ways to add this functionality to your shop.
Finally, 70% identified seeing customer ratings and reviews as valuable, which you can also find solutions for in the Shopify app store.
2. Focus on online revenue—including marketplaces
Even for those with a brick-and-mortar operation, small business trends show that online sales remain the key to growth.
In our data, 54% of businesses said their commerce team must focus on online revenue to achieve their 2022 priorities.
Digging into that, 49% of businesses said they plan to increase investment in their company-owned online store. One way to do that is to evaluate the design of your store. Is it visually appealing? Does it work well on mobile? Here’s a list of excellently designed shops to inspire you.
Businesses also noted the importance of online marketplaces, with 56% saying they plan to increase investment in e-commerce marketplaces. This is a smart strategy, as 55% of customers said they purchase from online marketplaces either weekly or monthly.
Amazon is the best-known marketplace to get started on, but there are many others that are worth looking at as you expand where you sell online.
The last place to look is social media platforms. Our data showed that 49% of businesses plan to increase investment in social commerce. We already talked about social shopping integration, but you can also think about fostering an online community and potentially working with influencers.
3. Optimise for uniqueness
One of the worries about expanding to online marketplaces is increased competition. It’s a common concern—40% of businesses said they expect increased competition to hinder their commerce team from achieving its goals.
But we also know how you can convince customers to choose your brand over another. In our data, customers told us what they consider a “significant” or “very significant” influence on their decision to purchase from a specific brand.
First up is a strong quality or satisfaction guarantee, with 61% of customers identifying this as important. This is something you can write into your product descriptions and features in your website copy as you consider what your brand’s unique selling proposition is.
Next is an excellent past service experience, with 60% saying this was a “significant” or “very significant” influence. That just goes to show that building customer loyalty begins before that first purchase is even made.
Finally, 58% of customers voted for the ability to reach customer service in the channel of their choosing. That means providing multiple avenues of contact, whether via email, social media, or live chat using a tool like Shopify Inbox.
4. Invest in solutions for supply chain issues
The pandemic has truly shown how kinks in the supply chain can impact even small businesses.
Our data showed that 40% of consumers said global supply chain delays will somewhat impact orders, and 28% said they will strongly impact orders. The top concerns are additional shipping delays and costs, followed by manufacturing delays.
But rather than cutting costs to deal with these issues, a clear small business trend is emerging as founders invest in solving them. Forty-five percent plan to invest in manufacturing capacity, 44% plan to invest in improving collaboration with supply chain partners, and 44% plan to invest in increasing the speed of their supply chain.
5. Build trust with customers by making shipping faster and more transparent
It’s increasingly becoming the norm when shopping online to find free and fast shipping that gives a clear anticipated delivery day. Marketplaces like Amazon have made it so customers expect this transparency, but that can be a difficult bar for small businesses to meet.
Businesses identified three areas where they’d be investing in shipping for 2022: reducing shipping costs with free and flat-rate shipping, improving flexibility of shipping and return policies, and changing shipping strategies to reduce the impact of global shipping delays.
Free shipping is a proven method for increasing conversion and order values and some simple calculations can help you decide whether this is something worth offering your customers.
Customers also identified free shipping as an important factor in choosing where to shop. In our data, 76% said free shipping had a “very significant” or “significant” influence on their decision to buy a product online. A further 68% said the same about same-day or next-day shipping, and 56% said the same about being able to choose the time and date of their delivery.
Shipping transparency, which means being able to show clearly anticipated delivery times, is important to both businesses and customers. Forty-nine percent of businesses plan to invest in shipping transparency and 46% of customers said they look for this when shopping.
6. Make international shipping easier for customers
Online commerce has made it possible to shop the whole world, and staying competitive means being able to ship anywhere. In fact, for Black Friday Cyber Monday 2021, 15% of all purchases were cross-border.
Customers still have some hesitations, though. Forty-three percent don’t want to have to pay additional fees for international orders. They were also worried about paying increased shipping costs or that shipping would take longer.
There are some steps you can take to work on those concerns. Shopify has tools to help you optimise your shop for international shoppers, such as price adjustments for different global markets, localised taxes, and setting clear international shipping rates. It’s also a good idea to be upfront about any additional fees so there are no surprises (and abandoned carts!) for customers.
And of course, make sure you have all customs forms for international shipping in order to prevent issues on arrival.
7. Invest in sustainability
Both businesses and customers are increasingly aware and concerned about the impact commerce has on our planet.
Over the next 12 months, 46% of businesses plan to invest in enabling customers to easily recycle products, 39% want to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing process, and 39% plan to invest in using natural, renewable, or recycled materials.
Building sustainable business practices is a worthwhile process, and it can start with small steps, like educating customers, offsetting carbon emissions, using social media to promote messages about sustainability, and finding sustainable shipping partners.
Go forth and conquer 2022!
You know better than anyone that staying in business means constantly adapting, reevaluating, and fine-tuning. These small business trends for 2022 can help you determine where to focus and invest for the upcoming year.
Take this data, go forth, and make 2022 your best year ever.