2020 was a big year for e-commerce, largely thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic's acceleration of the ongoing shift to online shopping.
And, venture capitalists and retail industry insiders aren't expecting consumers' new shopping habits to reverse anytime soon.
Business Insider polled the top VC firms that have been the most active in funding e-commerce startups in the last five years to get their take on where the sector is headed.
The VCs also shared what they're most excited to invest in 2021, from online marketplaces to strong direct-to-consumer brands.
Here's what they had to say:
Charles Smith is a venture partner at Social Starts.
In a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, it may not come as a surprise that investors and consumers are prioritizing health and wellness.
"We see the Health and Happiness sector as the most robust and fast-growing early-stage investment opportunity in decades, touching every part of our bodies and minds, and every person on earth," Charles Smith, venture partner at Social Starts, said to Business Insider.
He added that the firm is excited to find "ambitious and innovative entrepreneurs attacking huge emerging markets in that space using excellent science and technology."
Elaine Russell, principal at Greycroft, echoed Smith's sentiments.
"We are excited about companies that are empowering individuals and families to improve their physical, mental, emotional, and financial well-being," she said. "This is something that we have only become more focused on post-COVID."
Forerunner Ventures partner Nicole Johnson also said that one of the firm's top priorities is "consumer health companies driving transformative daily habits."
Fabrice Grinda, founding partner at FJ Labs, is especially passionate about investing in marketplaces because "they create a lot of value by taking opaque, fragmented markets and making that transparent."
Ideally, he said, these companies do not carry inventory themselves and are therefore very capital-efficient.
Grinda said he expects the opportunity for marketplaces will grow further as the millennial generation pushes for more of their lives to be brought online, both professionally and personally.
M13 partner Gautam Gupta said that marketplaces can "unlock products and services that have never had a purpose-built platform until now," pointing to the firm's investment in Shef, a platform for home-cooked foods, as an example.
"We are excited by opportunities to bring new forms of supply online that have never existed in a structured way before," Gupta said.
Hans Tung is managing partner at GGV Capital.
GGV Capital Managing Partner Hans Tung said the firm expects startups that offer"backend logistics, analytics, and operational services such as Flieber," which helps online retailers manage their supply chain operations, to do well. He's also keeping an eye on fintech startups such as Affirm that are changing how we pay for goods and services to be trends in 2021.
Accel partner Ethan Choi said mobile shopping is a special area of focus for the firm as more shoppers continue to use their phones to make purchases.
And, for BAM Ventures' cofounder and managing director Brian Lee, there is a lot of opportunity in making things easier for online sellers, in order "to improve efficiency and conversion for the seller and to give the consumer better and faster accessibility to buy the goods they love," he said.
BoxGroup investor Adina Davis said the firm will be exploring the boundaries of what qualifies as e-commerce.
"There is an exciting opportunity ahead as digital goods and services start to make up a growing portion of e-commerce. These new modes of commerce will require their own sets of software and infrastructure," Adina Davis, an investor at BoxGroup said.
She added that the firm is expecting a further "democratization of e-commerce in which not just entities, but individuals, can easily sell goods and services online."
Jordan Gaspar is the managing partner and president at AF Ventures.
Sustainability and authenticity are important to the investing team at AF Ventures, Managing Partner and President Jordan Gaspar said.
"First and foremost, we seek to partner with visionary founders who are improving the health of consumers today and of future generations," she said.
Looking to 2021, Gaspar said, AF Ventures wants to fund companies that place an emphasis on being "better for both people and the planet."
Principal Caitlin Strandberg said Lerer Hippeau is also "really excited about supporting more mission-driven companies" as well as those operating in "the Gen Z space, both on the consumer and enterprise side."
Gautam Gupta is a partner at M13.
"We believe that storytelling has always been a huge part of driving commerce (online and offline)," Gautam Gupta, partner at M13, said.
"We believe the ability to combine storytelling with community in the form of live and social shopping will change the face of e-commerce."
Maveron partner Jason Stoffer also pointed to the value of online community in a divisive time.
"The country is more divided than ever — from wealth to ideology — and people are finding their divisions and tribes online," he said.
"We see opportunities for brands to stand for those tribes, to build platforms that can host them, and to harness the good that digital tribes can offer."
Tige Savage is a managing partner at Revolution Ventures.
"Food is unique in that it is both at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as a basic staple, and at the top, as a source of pleasure and luxury," Revolution Ventures Managing Partner Tige Savage said. "This has driven significant consumer innovation in the last nine months, from delivery, to pickup, to meal kits, to virtual restaurant brands, to software platforms and cloud kitchens that enable it all."
He added: "Foodtech companies that can build on the new consumer standard will emerge as winners."
Fabrice Grinda, founding partner of FJ Labs, said he doesn't expect consumer habits to ever return to the way they were before the pandemic hit.
When it comes to food, he sees a bright future in delivery powered by dark kitchens, robotization, and autonomy.
"We are only at the very beginning of the food revolution," he said.
Alumni Ventures Group managing partner Catherine Lu
Alumni Ventures Group
Catherine Lu, who is the managing partner of Alumni Ventures Group's seed and pre-seed venture fund, Basecamp, pointed to a few qualities she looks for in a DTC investment.
"The team is very important, and if they have some sort of marketing or a customer acquisition background, that's a huge plus," she said. "If they have some kind of star power or influence, that's also a plus."
She said there are "opportunities for new brands to come in that really speak to the consumer and have that direct relationship."
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