The Evolution of eCommerce

Understanding Why Consumers Shop Online

Introduced in the 1970’s as a more effective and cost-efficient solution than brick-and-mortar stores, eCommerce hasn’t stopped growing. Due to its ability to reach a larger audience and boost sales, many businesses have entered the crowded eCommerce environment, providing many more options for customers to find the products they need, online.
As retailers invest more into their online platforms, it is important to know what customers actually want/expect in an online shopping experience to better serve them and eventually win their purchase. Although factors such as safety and UX have improved drastically, there are still many more opportunities for progress that can be discovered through social listening. In this blog, we used Crimson Hexagon’s listening platform to find out what customers say when they talk about online shopping in social media.
In this blog, we will tackle the following questions:

  • What was the overall sentiment over eCommerce in the last five years?

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After analyzing more than 4M posts around online shopping on Twitter from 2011 to 2015, we’ve found that positive conversation has always been significantly more prevalent than negative each year, meaning that the majority of online users use social media to share their good online shopping experiences.
When looking at the big picture, the overall conversation around eCommerce has decreased drastically between 2014 and the end of 2015; this shows how eCommerce isn’t a novelty anymore, and in fact, it is normalized and well-integrated into customer’s daily lives.

  • What are the most important factors to consumers when they are shopping online? What do they praise or complain about when talking about eCommerce and how has this evolved throughout the years?

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Insights from Social Media Data

  • Deals have been increasingly important in the purchase decision of online shoppers

    From 16% in 2011 to 19% in 2015, we can see it is a factor that strongly defines why many people buy products online. This tells businesses that providing discount codes or even online-exclusive deals are critical to the purchase decision of the customers.

  • Convenience has remained equally prevalent in the last 5 years, with almost a 20% share of the overall conversation

    It is one of the main reasons why customers prefer to shop online over physical stores. They enjoy being able to purchase products avoiding lines, wherever they are, at any time of the day, so providing them a fast, intuitive and user-friendly way to shop is key.

  • Appreciation for product variety online in contrast to brick-and-mortar stores has more than doubled in the last 5 years

    Consumers aren’t limited by their geographical area: products from around the world are sold online, avoiding the cost of traveling (although they might incur shipping fees). Online retailers can benefit from this by highlighting the increased variety of products in their websites to appeal this audience. Another way to address this is by adding “online exclusive” products that customers can’t find in stores so that it gives the impression that there is more variety online.

  • Increase in conversation about long delivery times/high shipping fees

    The low volume of positive conversation around “free shipping/costly fees” could show how customers no longer consider “shipping” as a differentiating factor. As the industry advances, fast and free shipping are ubiquitous; they’ve become expectations. After increased exposure to online services that offer free shipping, 2-day shipping, or even same day shipping, retailers are required to provide this similar service if they want to be able to compete with brands selling similar products with exceptional shipping service.

  • Conversation around scams and overcharges have decreased throughout the years

    More advanced technology and stricter regulations could be reasons for the decrease in conversation around scams; however, online safety is still a big share of the conversation accounting for almost 10% of it, so it is crucial to address this issues clearly and reassure how safe the website is to the users.

  • Dissatisfaction with product doubled

    More and more customers in the U.S. are complaining about getting products different than the ones displayed online, “untrue” to size products and the overall hassle of returning them. This urges online retailers to put more effort and research into more reliable and accurate sizing and transparency in the display of products on websites. 


The previously listed categories are examples of how retail brands can use social media as a strategic source to understand the landscape and trends of the eCommerce conversation.
By looking at the unbranded conversation around this topic, brands can act upon these insights into their future business decisions. Understanding whether customers want deals or more flexible return policies allow brands to produce more tailored and effective campaigns by offering exactly what customers are looking for.
With so many online shopping outlets out there, retail brands need to remain competitive; by optimizing their online shopping experience through the actionable insights from social media analytics, listening brands can remain ahead of the game.
If you want to learn more on how to use social media analytics for consumer insights, check out our latest Back-to-School Shopping guide. 
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