For many years, the retail industry has been gradually shifting from in-store experiences to online shopping. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this kicked into overdrive.
According to Statista, since the initial onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, a growing number of people are shopping online for the first time.
For example, in the United States, three percent of consumers shopped online for the first time since the pandemic started. And that’s just in the US. Other countries, such as Canada and France, saw six percent of consumers shopping online for the first time.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see that the pandemic has affected the retail sector in many ways.
That leads to an important question: what should you expect as the pandemic slowly comes to an end and the world returns to its new normal?
To answer this question, I reached out to 11 ecommerce experts from a variety of industries. They shared their post-pandemic thoughts on ecommerce, touching on everything from sales strategies to advertising campaigns to security.
Compounded with Covid-19 restrictions that pushed more consumers to shop online, the already steadily thriving ecommerce industry made huge gains in 2020, and the horizon for digital sales is looking more promising (and competitive) than ever.
There were several “pandemic shopping categories” that emerged as leaders in 2020. Essential goods, in-place entertainment, and home projects saw a record-breaking year. But, the biggest standout category is grocery.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many stores were already building out their grocery order pickup and delivery capabilities. Ecommerce has, until recently, been a relatively small niche in the grocery industry, but a growing one. During the pandemic, however, data shows that the popularity of online grocery exploded.
The future of the ecommerce industry will be to embrace end-to-end digitization. Responding to this kind of demand, as well as meeting customers’ needs, requires the digitization of a company as a whole.
For companies that have a siloed approach to moving online, inventory management, for example, could be a pitfall. Sellers don’t have an accurate, omnichannel view of their inventory, they can accidentally offer products online that become unavailable when in-store customers buy them first
For stressed holiday consumers, such mistakes can be unforgivable. To reach a holiday rise in online sales without risking poor customer experiences due to stock inaccuracies, creating an end-to-end digital product inventory and maintaining it with real-time integrity around price and availability is crucial.
I believe ecommerce has changed forever. When the pandemic first hit, no one understood just how crazy things could get. Ecommerce business owners and agency owners were truly scared about what could happen.
But, within a few months, ecommerce exploded. In fact, we experienced 10 years of growth in a fraction of the time. Since then, the numbers have dropped a bit. With that said, we’re not going back to the same path we were pre-pandemic. We’ve accelerated the growth of ecommerce forever, which was already inevitable.
In addition, ecommerce business owners have now experienced the greatest disruption in the economy since the Great Depression. For the past year, these ecommerce business owners have done a lot to pivot, such as introducing pandemic-specific products and messaging.
I believe this has hardened ecommerce business owners and laid a growth blueprint for future growth crises. This includes the massive pivot of physical retail brands who didn’t sell any products online before the pandemic, but now have robust ecommerce operations that they intend to scale.
This creates a 1-2 punch where both demand and supply have gone up and will stay up. It’s impossible to predict the future, but if history has shown us anything it’s that this kind of disruption will only grow faster because ecommerce went from a single marketing channel to a primary distribution channel that consumers now expect to be just as robust as their physical retail counterparts.
Our store has seen an incredible change in buyer behaviour from before and during the height of the pandemic. We sell dry bags / waterproof bags and backpacks for outdoor leisure pursuits. Even whilst on lockdown we saw sales rocket. People were keen to spend their exercise time outdoors, and here in the UK there was also a craze for open water swimming.
Post Pandemic we expect this trend to continue. People who used to be reluctant to buy online are now doing so. Search patterns are changing. To make the purchasing process easier, we now produce a short video explaining every product that we stock.
We have also observed a change in browsing habits with Google Shopping becoming a preferred channel – especially on mobile. Conversion rates from Google Shopping and organic traffic differ wildly and we expect this to increase as more bricks and mortar shops bolster their online presence in order to survive post pandemic.
When the pandemic winds down, many people expect ecommerce sales to take a hit as more customers go to physical stores.
But the pandemic already had a positive impact on the many businesses in customer retention and up-sell opportunities. This is because many shopped online during the pandemic and provided brick and mortar businesses with their email addresses and other contact details. Savvy businesses are going to utilize this along with the type of transaction the customer made to upsell other items.
We’ll see a continued increase in online sales for many businesses and also many customers making repeated purchases. It will also increase the number of customers available for marketing campaigns and hence the conversion rate and the number of sales.
Ecommerce businesses are going to keep on looking after their online customers as well as their store customers with not just the customer service but also engaging content like blogs and social media posts.
While it’s true that the pandemic is winding down, I think that in the last year many people have realized the true convenience of shopping online instead of traveling to a physical location. With this recent experience in mind, many shoppers are likely to continue purchasing products online as long as businesses continue to improve their online shopping experience.
For example, many businesses have begun to improve their websites by adding things like live chat services, customer testimonials, free trial periods, generous return policies, etc. All of these actions are aimed at blurring the line between in-store and online shopping, which is exactly what ecommerce businesses should want if they seek to retain the same market share that they had towards the beginning of the pandemic.
So I believe that as long as online shopping remains relatively seamless for customers, they will continue to prioritize ecommerce businesses over physical retailers simply due to the increased convenience of shopping from the comfort of their home.
The pandemic has fast-forwarded the growth of the ecommerce industry, but I don’t believe it’s a bubble – it has brought the inevitable forward. People have realised the benefits in functional ecommerce, where their needs are fulfilled within 24 hours without having to go out – but the pandemic has shown the desire for experience and easy connection.
It’s forced people to adopt digital shopping as the norm, and the result is that many people have delighted in and embraced the convenience of online shopping in a way that will continue to grow around the world.
On the other hand, the market has become much more saturated and it’s harder to stand out. People are being inundated with interruptive advertising, so the companies and businesses that will continue to thrive online are the ones who know and understand what their audiences are looking for in a comprehensive way, and are focused on fulfilling that – whether it’s through next day delivery, or a luxurious experience you can ship to your distant relatives.
As people are able to engage with the high street and bricks and mortar shops again, they will be seeking excitement and experience craved during months of being at home.
But the road for high street recovery, and people trusting public spaces again, is going to be a long one – by which time digital shopping habits will be much more second nature, and the high street will have to answer a different question: Why should people spend time in our stores when they could shop at home, and spend the time they save on leisure and social activities?
I believe post-pandemic times are going to be great for ecommerce. In the US, 36% of consumers were buying retail goods online in July (post first wave), up from 29% in April when brick and mortar stores were actually closed.
What this tells us is that the pandemic has helped reach a new type of consumer: one that wasn’t so sure about shopping online before, but has pivoted to it due to the pandemic and lockdowns.
This consumer has now experienced the convenience of ecommerce – and it’s unlikely that they will ever fully return to their old ways.
Ecommerce players now have a whole new group of consumers to tap into. Even more so, it is my belief that while currently apparel and other industries generally associated with ‘going out’ are not doing so great, this new type of customer will spread their spending power evenly once the pandemic allows proper socializing again.
Best of all, these consumers have already been convinced that online shopping is safe, which often used to be a bridge for e-commerce retailers to jump.
Interestingly, I think that there is also going to be a big shift towards shopping small and local, but online. Many small shops have had no choice but to put their offer online, and it’s hard to imagine that they would now drop this as a channel of sales. There is a growing trend of ditching Amazon and shopping small – the fact that it’s now possible online gives the small players a big advantage.
Although demand increased due to the pandemic and might be temporary, the question to ask is whether businesses will remain online, return to “normal”, or adopt a click and mortar approach?
People are enjoying online shopping for its convenience and the pandemic has increased the elderly population shopping online to avoid crowded public spaces. One may see that there is continued social distancing and further hygiene measures taken by individuals post-pandemic, which could continue to stimulate ecommerce.
Additionally, many companies invested large amounts of capital in moving to or upgrading their existing digital platforms to remain competitive. One can assume that ecommerce post-pandemic will continue to grow and that businesses will have to continually improve user experiences and their ecommerce practices.
It is a matter of when, not if, a business will include ecommerce activities into its model.
Post-pandemic, we are going to see a lot of changes to the ecommerce world, both directly and indirectly. Firstly, we will see an increase in the number of stores getting rid of their brick and mortar sites and moving to website-only sales.
Lots of companies do this really well already, and we know how successful it can be as we have seen during the pandemic. We are also going to see some companies create a hybrid between their ecommerce sites and ecommerce stores. For example, customers will be able to more freely check stock online before heading to a local store.
Even during the post-pandemic world, I believe we are going to see lots of safety precautions put in place. Less people in stores, we may still see social distancing for a little while longer.
All of this means the boom ecommerce sites have seen during the pandemic will show no signs of slowing, in the short term at least. Customers want to be able to get the products they need, and feel safe when doing it, which is why I believe ecommerce is the perfect option.
First of all, it’s undeniable that ecommerce rates will keep growing in the future. They took a big leap due to the pandemic and, if the restrictions are not eased gradually, we could see some months where ecommerce rates remain steady.
Probably, customers will want to go to physical retail stores, to *feel *that experience again. On the other hand, other customers will prefer to avoid crowded closed spaces forever.
Regarding e-commerce in niche categories, last year, many customers discovered that you can actually buy lots of categories online that you were not used to.
Plus, we have seen major retailers shifting the strategy to online, especially in fashion, with plans to close thousands of physical stores in the next decade. We are even seeing automotive brands shifting to a pure online model, such as Volvo announcing that by 2030 they will only sell cars online.
On the other hand, we see some studies that state that the growth in e-commerce we saw last year was mainly due to older generations. We have lots of people here that just discovered eCommerce and all its benefits, so there is no turning back.
Predicting the future is always difficult. However, with the expert guidance above, we’re able to draw several conclusions:
A growing number of consumers will continue to shop primarily online.
Brands will continue to assess the need for brick and mortar locations.
Online competition will continue to increase.
Ecommerce will continue to gain momentum in many previously underserved areas, such as groceries.
The need for software solutions — such as those for inventory tracking and customer service — will remain essential to brands hoping to reach the top of their market.
What are your thoughts on the expert advice above? Would you add anything else? Leave your comments below.
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