5 trends in digital experience to look out for in 2021
Looking back at everything that has happened in 2020, it’s impossible not to repeat the thought that we’ve all probably encountered countless times throughout the year: what a strange year it has been!
Even for those more fortunate ones who weren’t severely affected by the pandemic, it has been a tough year. And for everyone working in the digital industry, it has been a very interesting time, with important implications for the future of the industry as a whole.
Different sources cite different timeframes, but no matter the exact proportion, it’s no doubt that 2020 has massively accelerated digital transformation on a global scale. We saw a huge rise in e-commerce and video conferencing solutions, with every business, no matter its size or market, having to transition into the digital.
But now the question is: where do we go from here? Will this acceleration of digitalization continue? What can we expect in 2021 and beyond?
In this article, we’ll go through 5 digital experience trends that we expect to be prominent in 2021 and that will set the stage for the so-called “new normal”.
1. Omnichannel experiences
As the digital becomes an even more ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it’s no longer just something you encounter and interact with on your desktop computer.
Now, customers move through different devices and different channels on these devices. This may mean using a tablet to buy something through your website. Or it might mean making a purchase through a voice assistant at home after having researched options in a mobile app on a slow public WiFi.
On top of that, the fact that every business now has a digital presence means more competition for your business. With all this in mind, it’s clear how important it is to be able to reach customers on every channel on which they may try to interact with your brand and to provide a great customer experience on each channel.
It’s unlikely consumers will shift back to basic, single-channel online experiences in 2021, even with the prospect of the vaccines promising an end to the lockdowns. So, if you haven’t yet optimized your digital experiences for this omni/multichannel reality, it may be time to do so in 2021.
2. Greater focus on privacy
Not that long before the Covid pandemic hit, we saw important changes in how privacy is regulated online, with acts such as GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California. Then in January 2020, right before the pandemic, Google announced their phasing out of the support for third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022.
On the cusp of 2021, this no longer seems that far off, and marketers will have to start preparing for a complete transformation of online privacy and thus personalization-based marketing and targeted advertising.
What’s more, the digitalization of 2020 has brought a huge increase in online customers and consequently a huge influx in customer data. As services such as digital shopping become the new reality, privacy and security will become even more essential factors of the customer experience.
So, those businesses that are able to adapt to these changes in a way that emphasizes privacy while balancing it with tactfully personalized experiences will be the winners in 2021 and going forward.
3. More headless/decoupled architectures
As digital channels proliferate, it becomes increasingly complex to manage their various front ends or presentation layers.
While certain so-called “monolithic” frameworks, such as Drupal, are still perfectly capable of handling this, it’s becoming more and more popular to use a separate back-end system together with custom framework(s) for the front-end. This has become referred to as “decoupled” (or “headless”) architecture.
Let’s use the already mentioned Drupal CMS as an example. In a decoupled architecture, Drupal serves only as your data and content repository, which is then paired with one or more front-end technologies such as React or Vue to handle the presentation of that content.
An even more recent trend are microservices or microfrontends. This is essentially a decoupled architecture, but with the front end being composed of several, heavily specialized applications, each taking care of a specific task (e.g. a checkout component), which can be built using the same framework or several different ones.
While this isn’t the right approach for every single business or use case, we expect to see decoupled architectures moving more into the spotlight in 2021 as innovation on the front end continues and businesses want to keep up with it.
4. Surge in adoption of latest technologies
Up until 2020, technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence had only begun to get more widespread recognition and adoption. Granted, something like machine learning has been used “behind the scenes” to power some of the most essential digital experiences - but few of those not in the digital knew about it.
The disruption caused by Covid, however, has put an emphasis on thinking fast and taking risks, as opposed to playing it safe by sticking with tried-and-true strategies. We believe this will have a lasting impact on the readiness of businesses to adopt and experiment with new technologies to see how they could best leverage them.
A great example is the use of AR and VR technology in shopping. While previously a luxury reserved for the bigger brands, it is now facilitated by rapid advancements in these technologies and necessitated by the worldwide lockdowns which have eliminated the in-store experience.
With the surge of remote shopping, providing customers with features such as trying on clothes virtually truly goes a long way.
We believe retail brands will capitalize on this new channel while delighting customers who have become used to the boons of online shopping. We also expect to see technologies such as AI used more and more to respond to real-world problems and consequently begin to lose the stigma associated with them.
5. Bite-sized and accessible content
Another trend we expect to continue and become even more pronounced is the popularity of short, bite-sized content that’s user-friendly, accessible and easy to consume.
We’ve already been seeing a shift from long-form, written content to shorter and more visual-based content pre-2020. Infographics, video content and podcasts have become incredibly popular in the last few years. We’ve also seen a rise in ephemeral content, e.g. “stories” which have spread from Instagram to other social media.
With people being confined to their homes for most of this year, there has been a surge in the creation of video content to make up for the lack of physical in-person interactions, ranging from musicians trying to reach fans via streamed concerts to a huge number of people adopting TikTok and helping its snowballing popularity.
We believe this inclination towards short and easily consumable content is a reflection of the mass digitalization and the abundance of available digital content which has to compete for users’ and customers’ attention.
Today, people are either much more selective about the content they consume, or they skim through content and focus on the most captivating parts. In both cases, it’s essential for the content to be designed with a human-centered approach and optimized for SEO in order to stand out and provide a good experience.
So, SEO will continue to play a key role in the content strategy for 2021. And even search engine algorithms are in fact increasingly favoring the user experience in their ranking, so we’re likely to be seeing more and more content that attempts to serve its audiences in the best way possible - in the way that they want it to.
It’s not easy to make accurate predictions in such times of uncertainty. After all, who would have predicted the current state of the digital industry one year ago?
Still, we believe these 5 trends are a safe bet for companies to have top of mind going into 2021. Of course, e-commerce and video conferencing are also not going anywhere, but we didn’t focus on them in this article as they are more specific to 2020 and Covid.
All in all, the key thing businesses can do in 2021 is stay agile and flexible, relying on their future-readiness to respond to potential further disruption. If you’re looking for a development partner to help you with that, give us a shout out, we’d be happy to help.
Happy new year, everyone! We hope you’re able to spend these days in the company of loved ones, and we’re wishing you lots of joy and success in the new year.