COVID-19's huge impact on the ecommerce industry

We have gone weeks without seeing friends and family.

For the majority of us, going to work or school is no longer an option. Our favourite local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops have restricted their dining areas, resorted to takeout-only, or shut down entirely.

And yet, staying home is more important than ever. The COVID-19 virus remains highly contagious and, with less than 5% of the UK population estimated to have been infected, 63 million people are still at risk.

We are living in unprecedented times, to say the least. The pandemic has thrown our lives— and our livelihoods—off balance, leaving no industry unaffected. With stores closing their doors and workers being sent home, the outbreak has had a profound effect on the economy and the consumers that drive it.

Since isolation began, we’ve seen several changes in shopping behaviours take place seemingly overnight. What people are buying and how they’re buying it has shifted, and retailers are racing to meet their needs. Whether people are panic buying or downloading delivery apps, the face of retail has become almost unrecognizable.

Given the extent of the impact COVID-19 has had on retailers across the UK, we don’t think it’s too premature to say that retail will never be the same as we emerge from lockdown. From online grocery shopping to curbside pickup, we’ve seen trends arise that may very well stick around for years after the pandemic has subsided.

How Retailers Have Responded to Changing Shopping Habits

One of the first shopping phenomenons we witnessed was panic buying. In response to empty shelves, major retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Iceland, and Asda have set limits on the number of products people are permitted to purchase in-store. As shoppers seek to avoid crowds and empty shelves, we are noticing more people stopping by independent stores and local shops to stock up on the essentials.

Consumers ordering their groceries online have faced similar product caps to prevent hoarding or to compensate for reduced supply. We’ve seen online supermarkets like Ocado halt registrations for new shoppers. Ocada has even deactivated its app, forcing existing customers onto its website where delivery slots are often booked well ahead of time.

Overall, as people have become increasingly mindful of the risk of shopping in-store, brick-and-mortar shopping has seen a rapid decline. What people would’ve bought in person, they’re now looking to have delivered through orders placed on apps and websites.

Weekly online retail sales in home and leisure categories in the UK saw a 200 percent increase since the beginning of the year. While it may seem like online retail has been boosted as a whole, the surge is likely driven by a couple of categories. For instance, data from IMRG shows a 140% rise in the online beauty sector and a 70% increase in the home and garden category during the first week of April, but a 20% drop in online clothing sales compared to last year.

The pandemic has had a seismic impact on one category in particular: online grocery services. As the lockdown prompts more families to shop from home, the UK online food and grocery retail market are predicted to grow by more than a quarter this year, especially as dominant supermarket chains expand the available number of delivery slots. Tesco, for example, has recently doubled its fulfillment capacity to 1.2 million delivery slots.

Supermarkets that have never before ventured online have finally done so, including Aldi. Several supermarkets, such as Aldi, Marks & Spencer, and Morrisons, are now creating boxes of essentials, all sold online, which are intended to support vulnerable populations in self-isolation. Each parcel contains household items such as antibacterial hand wash and toilet paper, in addition to food items.

Is Online Shopping the New Norm?

At first, given evidence that the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces for up to three days—depending on the material—consumers expressed concerns about receiving online orders. In response, the World Health Organization announced that it was safe for shoppers to have their packages delivered, even if they’d been sent from locations with known cases. The chances of the virus being passed on after undergoing successive changes in environment and temperature were judged too low to pose a significant risk.

Prior to the announcement of social distancing measures, when COVID-19 had only begun to spread to the UK, 7% of Brits reported increasing their online shopping for food and non-food items. Two months later, the number of consumers who have increased their online shopping has jumped to 36%, with 50% of Brits opting to limit the time they spend in-store.

Consumers are appearing online in large numbers. Even those who have previously shown reluctance to order goods over the Internet, namely older generations, have come around. Mintel’s most recent research shows that 37% of consumers over the age of 65 have increased their online shopping experiences since the onset of the pandemic.

What does this mean for the ecommerce industry? As our time under lockdown progresses, it appears that online shoppers are focused on the bare essentials. The growth of online retail can be largely attributed to the sale of health and safety products, groceries, and shelf-stable goods.

But as the number of people turning to their mobile devices for food or other items continues to mount, it’s expected that other ecommerce categories will bounce back to even higher levels than before once the pandemic has passed. A recent survey by Kantar suggests exactly that, with 50-60% of respondents planning purchases in clothing and home electronics later this year.

Create a Winning Online Shopping Experience for Your Business

In 2020, most consumers expect their favorite stores to offer online shopping. As we become more familiar with online shopping services, retailers will have to adjust their approach based on a growing audience. The potential for brand owners to boost their online sales in 2020 rests on the strength of their online presence.

Are you a traditional retailer interested in pivoting toward a digital approach? Get in touch with Globalgraphics by emailing sales@globalgraphics.co.uk or clicking here. With our extensive experience in designing and building ecommerce websites you are the best possible hands.

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