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The ‘new normal’ for e-commerce and how to maintain momentum

By Emil Bielski | UK MD



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March 11, 2021 | 5 min read

Warren Buffet once said that only when the tide goes out do you see who is swimming naked. With Boris Johnson setting out his roadmap out of lockdown, I believe the tide may be going out rather soon.


It feels like the pandemic has been a ’golden age’ for e-commerce. Online sales increased by 46% year-on-year in the UK last year, with strong growth expected to continue in 2021. In December, there were 49.5% fewer visits to the high street and consumers have changed the way they shop, with 46% saying they’d completed a new online purchase that they had only ever previously purchased offline, for instance.

So, what will the ’new normal’ look like for e-commerce? I believe that there are four key trends that have the potential to disrupt and reshape the landscape in 2021. So how can you maintain momentum in these shifting sands?

The pandemic upstarts

In Q4 2020, we saw the number of new business registrations surge by 29% year-on-year in the UK. One of these could be the next Dollar Shave Club, the next Clubhouse or the next Dyson.

Competition is always round the corner and an unassailable position in-market can be upset with a new entrant. In times of plenty, it’s easy to over-invest in marketing, not scrutinise performance well enough, while not investing in the future, because of the success of now. Last year VW spent £14bn on innovation; when Tesla launched, it was one-third of that. Don’t find yourself having to play catch-up. Take this opportunity to get a clear view, not just of your customers, but your long-term marketing strategy.

The roaring 20s revisited

With all this talk of all shopping moving online, the local first Co-op group saw profits sky-rocket by 50% year-on-year. When the world opens up, your brand’s product suddenly competes not simply with the category, but with the act of living itself. Yale professor and social epidemiologist Dr Nicholas Christakis believes we will see a return to the roaring 20s.

Whether you are an online-only business or a brick-and-mortar retailer, there is significant opportunity and threat. As a matter of hygiene make sure you invest in the capabilities to connect your on- and offline data; as a matter of differentiation, find the way to connect the experiences. We’ve recently seen our first Amazon Go store open in Ealing, West London. Seamless retail is going mass-market.

Regulation, red tape and restrictions

Only last week Google announced that it would be removing all third-party tracking across its properties and Apple has just rolled out its latest iOS with significantly enhanced consent mechanisms. Both these changes will have a large impact on the way that we buy and measure media. More broadly we are seeing significant stand-offs between Facebook and Apple, between Google and Australia, and between the CMA and the whole industry.

Personally, I look forward to a world where hundreds of unspecified, non-transparent data-points are no longer arbitraged to inform targeting. This will make our jobs harder, but I believe we will be better for it. Invest in people, not just data-sets – great planning and great thinking is what will drive effective media. The added benefit will be that more money will likely go directly to the makers of trustworthy content, which will not only be good for society but will help placate the regulators.

Dotcom bubble 2.0

We are set to lose 200,000 jobs on the UK high street this year, furlough cash payments and stimulus have driven stock markets to unprecedented highs. This combined with Brexit red-tape and a painfully slow vaccine roll-out in Europe does make you wonder if the optimistic forecasts from the office of fiscal responsibility are indeed responsible.

Many businesses will be over-indexed for performance marketing as demand for their products has surged online. Yet, if this rollercoaster ends, people will have to make tough choices about what to buy and how to spend. And people are far more likely to pay for brands that they actually care about. To make them care, you need more than hyper-efficient PPC, but also great creative and experiences. Make sure you do not under-invest in the media or the capability.

Of course, these are generalisations, each category is different and each solution unique. However, if you want to maintain momentum and not be caught swimming naked, one principle holds true: plan for the future, not for today.

Emil Bielski is UK managing director at Croud.

Marketing Marketing Services World

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