How to get set for online success in 2021

Nov 18 2020 | PayPal editorial staff

New year, new plan. The pandemic may have disrupted your business in 2020. Read on for tips to selling online and achieving success in 2021.
The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has changed the way we live, work and shop; many businesses have been impacted as a result.

As we enter a new year, what can you do to have the best chance of online success in 2021?

1.  Consider how customer behaviour has changed.

The pandemic has caused people to change their shopping behaviour in 2020 and will likely affect how we behave in 2021. As you plan for next year, think about how these factors may affect your business:
  • More online shopping – Shopping online has increased by 70% in Asia-Pacific, more than doubled in the US and increased 50% in Europe.1
  • More online gifting – Unable to visit distant loved ones, people are shopping and sending gifts online and overseas for big holidays and celebrations like Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Diwali or Three Kings’ Day.
  • Greater desire for convenience and caution – Shoppers are using home delivery and click-and-collect to stay home and stay safe.2
  • Concern for bargains and essentials – Shoppers are more focused on essential goods rather than luxuries and looking at value-for-money rather than brand loyalty.3, 4 Nearly half of shoppers in India and South Korea say they are changing to less expensive products.5
  • Community, connection and caring – The pandemic has also made people feel more connected with their local communities and concerned about the values and purpose of the brands they buy.6

2.  Plan ahead for success.

A little planning can save you wasted money and missed opportunities. For many businesses, 2020 was all about reacting to the pandemic. As we look to 2021, how can you be better prepared for continuing disruption or for an improving business situation? Consider the following:
  • Create a financial plan or budget – You can’t build a successful business without understanding your costs, sales and profit. Use accounting software or a spreadsheet to create a plan of your sales by month, your fixed costs (like rent, website hosting etc) and variable costs (like shipping, marketing etc).
  • Consider your cashflow – Plan ahead for your cash needs and, if necessary, explore funding solutions for your working capital requirements.
  • Create What-If scenarios – A good approach to risk management is to create alternative budget scenarios: what if my sales are 10% lower than I planned? 20%? What if my costs increase by 5%? These can help you prepare for the unexpected.
  • Write a marketing plan – A simple marketing plan will help you decide which countries and holidays to target, which selling methods you plan to use, which products you’ll promote and how much you plan to spend on each.
  • Plan for the worst – Check that you have adequate cash reserves in case of another poor year and ensure you have a business continuity plan to help you cope with the unexpected.
As you plan for 2021, also think about your business and its role in the community. Everyone’s been hard hit and customers want to know that you’re there to help, so consider how you might invest in your community, or enter local partnerships to help your community thrive.

3.  Build a strong mobile and digital footprint.

Get your website ready. Make sure your website is up-to-date and optimised for the new normal of increased online sales and cross-border customers. Nearly three quarters (73%) of shoppers now use mobile devices,7 so also make sure your site and payment process are optimised for customers using small touchscreens. This article is full of tips on how to optimise your site, from fixing the basics to including the information customers need to buy from you.

Help people pay the way they prefer. One of the most important things you can do to improve your site is to streamline your checkout process, especially for mobile users and international customers.

No-one likes typing card numbers and personal details on a tiny touchscreen, so use an option like PayPal Checkout that minimises the input required from your customers. Displaying PayPal Checkout buttons on your homepage and every product page can also make it easy for customers to complete a purchase without getting distracted. Be sure to meet the needs of international customers. One in five shoppers8 will abandon a purchase if they can’t pay the way they prefer. Online shoppers are significantly more likely to buy abroad if they can do so in their own currency,9 so select a payment solution that helps you display prices in your shoppers’ local currency.

If you need a website, consider starting with an e-commerce website builder or an ecommerce platform. This may be a faster way to get a website up and running compared to creating and coding one from scratch. PayPal is built into many ecommerce platforms so that you can easily set up the store you need with a trusted payment provider. These include Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce and Wix.

4.  Gain Reach with new markets and channels.

Finding new markets. Cross-border online sales are growing at twice the rate of domestic online sales.10 People are looking for new brands and ways to send gifts. That means it could be a good time to target new customers in other countries.

Start by thinking creatively about which holidays best match the customers and products you already have. For example, if you have many customers in China, creating a promotion for Chinese New Year may be a good idea. If you sell dressing-up costumes, think about targeting Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) or Halloween.

Finding new channels. Do you already sell online or are you just getting started? Maybe you’re unsure whether selling online is right for your business? Or, perhaps you only sell on a single marketplace (like Alibaba or Flipkart) or social platform.

It’s worth exploring as many ways to reach your customers as possible: on your own website, different marketplaces, and a range of social media channels. Look for the places that best match your products and markets. For example, Etsy is a very popular marketplace worldwide for craft goods, while Flipkart is the biggest marketplace in India. Social media like Instagram and Facebook marketplaces are great for visual products while LinkedIn is targeted towards businesses.

You may find this article useful as you think about ways to increase your online reach.

Social media. People are spending more time at home scrolling through their social feeds, making this a good way to engage with customers and be part of their conversations. If you don’t use social media for your business, then think about testing 1 or 2 platforms. Customers also use social media to send direct messages, so turn on your auto-replies during busy periods to manage customer expectations. Always respond to comments and inboxes daily and encourage followers to share their opinions on your post. Find small tactics that help you connect with your audience in a human way.

5.  Build customers’ trust.

Shoppers may not have heard of your business before, but you can build trust by showing the names that you do business with. Letting people know, right from your homepage, that you accept payment by PayPal is one example. Other trust signs include security badges (like SSL certification), membership of professional bodies and third-party endorsements. These signs are important when you sell to customers in different countries. The pandemic has made shoppers more aware of health and safety matters so use your website to share the safety measures that you’ve put in place, such as contactless menus and payment, or click-and-collect for local customers. You can also build confidence by being transparent with the information a customer might wish to know and making it easy to find. For example:
  • Contact information
  • Returns policy
  • Shipping
  • Full and fair product descriptions
  • Customer reviews 

6.  Revisit your marketing.

A lot has changed recently, so review and update your digital marketing activities for 2021.

Start with empathy – Show the humans behind your brand, share authentic stories and re-evaluate the images, language and tone of voice (on web and social) to ensure they are compatible with customers’ concerns. Think about responsible marketing and how your business could support the local community.

Get creative with your marketing – Try new tactics. For example, use video or online training, think about online events or start a blog. These can help you build relations with your customers.

Social and digital strategies – Consider how paid online ads could help you reach new customers, even in new markets.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) – If you have a website, then review your SEO carefully, optimising your homepage and product pages to reflect how search trends and shopping behaviours have changed. For example, terms like “open now”, “near me” and “deliveries” are important when customers are not travelling far.

Automate your marketing – Explore marketing automation solutions that can help recover shopping cart abandonment, for example by sending an email reminder to recent shoppers on your site.

As we enter 2021, keep your strategies agile so that you can change quickly as market conditions change. Also, consider how much time and staff you need to manage online aspects of your business including updating website content, SEO & remarketing tactics.

How PayPal can help you get set for success in 2021.

PayPal helps you become a global business that can connect with over 340 million PayPal customers in over 200 markets around the world.

It’s also easy to integrate into your existing ecommerce site. Some payment solutions are complicated and time-consuming to implement but, with PayPal Checkout, all that’s required is one integration and PayPal keeps it up to date from there.  It can be as simple as copy/pasting a line of code which you or your developer can do. Or you can easily integrate it on your shopping cart through an e-commerce platforms if you’re not technically minded.
PayPal Checkout can help you get set for online success in 2021.

Not on PayPal yet? Sign up now and get PayPal Checkout for your site.


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[1] OECD (2020), Connecting Businesses and Consumers During COVID-19: Trade in Parcels,
[2] Nielsen (2020), How Americans are shopping during COVID-19, 
[3] McKinsey & Company (2020), Consumer sentiment is evolving as countries around the world begin to reopen, (a study of consumer sentiment across 42 countries, June 2020),
[4] Bazaarvoice (2020), Behavior that Sticks,
[5] McKinsey & Company (2020), Consumer sentiment is evolving as countries around the world begin to reopen
[6] Accenture (2020), COVID-19: How consumer behavior will be changed,
[7] PayPal (Q3 2019), Ipsos commissioned by PayPal, Mobile Commerce Research, an 11 market survey  (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, India, Japan, US, Mexico, Brazil) with approximately 22,000 consumers and 4,602 business respondents to examine how people shop online.
[8] PayPal (2019), PayPal mCommerce Study. On behalf of PayPal, Ipsos interviewed a quota sample of c.2,000 (22,000 total) consumers (aged 18-74) who owned or used a smartphone and c. 300-500 (4,602 in total) business influencers or decision makers who sell or take payments online to Consumers (and businesses) in 11 countries (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, India, Japan, US, Mexico and Brazil). Interviews were conducted online between July 23 and August 25, 2019. Data was weighted in Australia on age and income to replicate study conducted previously. No other weighting was applied.
[9] PayPal commissioned Ipsos MORI PayPal Insights 2018. n=34,000, 31 markets. Online survey of adults (aged 18+) between March — May 2018.
[10] OECD (2020), Connecting Businesses and Consumers During COVID-19: Trade in Parcels,

Frequently asked questions.

When a payment is on hold, the money you've received for this transaction is in your PayPal account but temporarily not available for use. Delaying funds availability is a common industry practice we implement to maintain a safer PayPal network for both buyers and sellers. By placing the payments on hold, we want to make sure that there's enough money in your PayPal account to resolve any issues that may arise with your transactions, such as chargebacks or disputes.

We'll email you if a payment you received is on hold. You can also check the payment status anytime on your Activity page.

Here are some common reasons why a payment may be temporarily unavailable:
  • You’re a new seller with PayPal, or you’re an established seller but have opened a new account. It takes time to build up enough history of successful transactions.
  • You haven’t sold in a while. Previously inactive accounts may be subject to payment holds while rebuilding a positive selling history.
  • You receive a large number of reversals, disputes, or chargebacks. We suggest that you communicate with your customers often and work with them to resolve any concerns. If your customer filed a dispute or chargeback because someone illegally used their PayPal account to make the transaction, please hold off on shipping any items.
  • Your selling pattern has changed. For example, the sales volume increases abnormally, or there’s a change in your average selling price, business platform, or type of item being sold.
  • The transaction involves higher-risk items, including tickets, gift cards, consumer electronics, computers, and travel packages.
When can I access the payment that's on hold?
If there aren’t any issues with your transaction or account, the payment will typically be available to you within 21 days after receipt (the money may not be released until later in the day). You may also get your payment sooner if you fulfil the order faster and update the order status in the transaction details. If a dispute or claim has been filed on the payment, the money will be held until the case is resolved.

Note: Payment holds on eBay sales are different from regular PayPal payment holds. You can learn more about eBay payment holds and contact eBay for assistance.

For more details regarding different types of payment hold, please view our User Agreement.

Reasons for account limitations as a seller

There are several reasons why your PayPal account may be limited. Here are some examples:
  • Higher-risk selling activities: Your seller performance indicates your account may have a higher level of risk. For example:​
    • You may have received an unusually high number of claims and chargebacks from your buyers.
    • You may have started selling a completely new type of product, such as much higher value items like jewelry.
    • Your sales volume may have increased rapidly, which is out of nature with your usual sales patterns.
  • Prohibited activities: Your business isn't compliant with PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, such as selling prohibited items.
  • Unauthorised use: We believe someone else could be accessing your PayPal account without your consent, or your bank or credit/debit card issuer alerts us that there was an unauthorised charge. We may limit your account to protect you from potential losses and review any fraudulent activity.
  • Inactive account: As an extra security measure, we may temporarily limit an inactive PayPal account that never has any payment activity for 3 months since it was opened.

How a limitation impacts your account

If your account is limited, certain account features (such as sending and withdrawing funds) will be suspended until the issue is resolved.

How to respond to account limitations

It’s usually fairly simple to remove your account limitation. Please visit the Resolution Centre, click Go to Account Limitations and complete the required steps. Learn more about removing limitations.

Important: If you received an email stating that your account is limited, but don't see any steps in the Resolution Centre, you may have received a fake email. We'll never ask you to share sensitive personal information through email, nor ask you to download and install any software. Please forward the suspicious email to and we’ll investigate it for you. Learn more about how to protect your PayPal account.

Improve your seller performance to help prevent account limitations

Here are some simple guidelines to help you improve your performance and reduce the likelihood of limitations. Overall, communication and information are important.
  • Provide photos and detailed product descriptions.
  • Be upfront about policies such as shipping and returns.
  • Ship orders promptly and track shipments.
  • Respond quickly to any messages from buyers.
  • Work to amicably resolve any problems.
  • Ship to the address provided in the transaction details page.
  • Use quality shipping materials to prevent damage.
The PayPal Developer Centre (in English only) offers support for developers who have questions about technical topics, such as APIs, PayPal product integration, or testings. You can also find useful information on the PayPal Community Forum, or contact our technical support specialists on Merchant Technical Support.

Below is a list of common topics searched for by developers: 

Account Authentication
Information about validating your visitor's PayPal account.

Encrypted Website Payments
To make online payments more secure, you can make Encrypted Website Payment buttons that rely on standard public key encryption for protection.

Identity API
PayPal offers a secure commerce Identity API that lets your customers sign in to your web site using their PayPal credentials.

Instant Payment Notification
Instant Payment Notification is a message service that automatically notifies merchants of events related to PayPal transactions.

Merchants, developers, and business solution providers use Invoicing APIs to automate the creation, delivery, tracking, and reconciliation of invoices with an integrated payments solution.

Mobile SDK
Accept PayPal, credit cards and other payments methods through mobile apps.

Name-Value Pair (NVP) API
Information and support on name value pairs and NVP SDKs.

PayPal Checkout
PayPal Checkout gives your buyers a simplified and secure checkout experience that keeps them local to your website or mobile app throughout the payment process.

PayPal Sandbox Support
Information and support for users testing in the PayPal Sandbox environment.

PayPal Shopping Cart
The PayPal Shopping Cart system allows buyers to select multiple items on your website and pay for them with a single payment.

Permissions Service API
PayPal's permissions service enables you to request and obtain authorization to make API calls and take action on behalf of your customers.

The PayPal SOAP API is based on open standards known collectively as web services, which include the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Definition Language (WSDL), and the XML Schema Definition language (XSD).

Testing Your Apps in Sandbox
A guide for developers testing their apps in the PayPal Sandbox environment.

Virtual Terminal
Information about PayPal's Virtual Terminal - a web-based application that processes credit and debit cards, replacing swipe machines.

Website Payments Pro
PayPal's Website Payments Pro is an API-based solution that enables merchants and developers to accept credit cards, debit cards, and PayPal payments directly on their website.
Website Payments Standard
You can accept credit cards online easily and offers a streamlined checkout experience to customers using mobile devices.
If you own any PayPal balance, it’ll be your default funding source. However, you can select a debit or credit card as your preferred way to pay, and we'll use it every time when you shop online or send a payment for goods or services. Learn more about how to link a card.

Here's how to set your preference:
  1. Go to Money.
  2. Click Payment preferences.
  3. Select your preferred card, and click Confirm.

Whether you’ve set any preference or not, you can always change again how you want to pay for a transaction during checkout. Simply click Change payment method on the payment page.
The contents of this site are provided for informational purposes only. The information in this article does not constitute legal, financial, IT, business or investment advice of any kind and is not a substitute for any professional advice. You should always obtain independent, professional accounting, financial, IT and legal advice before making any business decision.