It would be an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted and disrupted much of the world’s global economy. While pandemics have, historically, affected industries and sectors of the economy in the past, nobody could ever have predicted just how pervasive and far-reaching the effects of this virus would be.
For comparison, similar to consumer behaviours these days, the 2003 SARS outbreak caused many people in and around Asia to quarantine at home. As such, they had no other option than to purchase their goods online. Many believe that this reliance on digital platforms was a primary catalyst for Alibaba and other eCommerce websites in Asia’s success.
Now, nearly two decades later, we are experiencing the same phenomenon.
Across the EU, the United States and China, eCommerce has seen double-digit growth since the coronavirus pandemic began. From groceries to cosmetics and everything in between, the how, why, and frequency of what people are buying online is changing rapidly.
Many of these increases can be attributed to mandatory quarantine and lockdown measures. In this way, many businesses have had no other option than to adapt and adopt an eCommerce strategy as a means of survival.
Even after the pandemic, these trends are likely to remain. But what are the trends, exactly, and what causes are responsible for this eCommerce revolution?
Today, we are here to explain just that.
In this article, we will cover:
Causes for the eCommerce Revolution
While COVID-19 is the primary cause for the increase of eCommerce, other factors have helped lead to its meteoric rise.
The Rise of the Gig Economy
Coronavirus led to the elimination of nearly 225 million jobs around the world in 2020. From small businesses to more substantial corporations, COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on the global job market.
According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), this loss is approximately four times greater than that of the 2009 global financial crisis.
Around the world, many workers are opting to join the ever-growing gig economy to make ends meet. Since 2005, the percentage of gig workers compared to other workers in Canada has been rising steadily, with the most considerable increase occurring within the last two years of the pandemic.
The gig economy has made many services, most notably labour and delivery, incredibly accessible, affordable and widespread. Such an abundance of labour and couriers has allowed businesses to pivot to eCommerce relatively easily.
With this transition, same-day or express shipping, which was once exclusive to more prominent distributors, such as Amazon and other big-box retailers, is now becoming the norm.
A Need for Convenience
The rise of the gig economy and the subsequent influx of courier and delivery services has also led to another shift – this time, in consumer behaviour.
Nowadays, as much as 64% of online shoppers expect same-day delivery from retailers.
Since coronavirus has forced health authorities worldwide to place capacity limits, restrict shopping hours and minimize the variety of products shoppers can purchase in person, many have relied on courier and delivery services to help deliver basic necessities.
Two sectors that have experienced some of the most notable and significant changes in consumer behaviour are groceries and food.
Today, 88% of consumers are willing to pay more for same-day or express delivery. Without access to physical stores, there are no other avenues to receive the essentials that consumers need aside from these services.
This need for convenience is likely to stay as the demand for courier and delivery platforms and the technology that facilitates these services increases and improves.
Shifting from Physical to Digital
Even before the initial rise of COVID-19, physical retail was already on the decline. In 2019, American retailers saw more than 9,302 store closings, the highest number recorded since tracking began in 2012. This so-called “retail apocalypse” has led to the closure of many malls, with 25% of America’s roughly 1,000 malls set to close within the next three to five years.
This decline speaks to a larger decrease in overall retail space, forecasted to reach a seven-year high in 2021.
The pervasiveness of courier and delivery services, consumer needs for convenience and an overall shift from physical to digital has led to a near doubling of eCommerce sales.
As an increasing number of retail stores shutter their windows, digital launches for eCommerce stores from small and large businesses have been steadily rising.
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3 Lasting Post-Pandemic eCommerce Trends
While the pandemic isn’t over, changes in consumer behaviour and business operating procedures have nearly guaranteed the longevity of eCommerce trends, with some of the most prominent examples being:
Expectations for Fast Delivery & Convenience
Post pandemic, workers employed in the gig economy may find employment elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean the hunger for convenient, fast delivery from online consumers will dissipate. On the contrary, the demand is projected to grow even higher.
Small and large businesses alike can prepare themselves for this shift in consumer behaviour by offering it in the first place. Although many consumers expect fast delivery, fewer than half of retailers offer it.
However, delivery isn’t just about speed. It’s also about convenience.
Many small businesses are still struggling to digitize their physical inventory and host a digital storefront. Nowadays, implementing these platforms and processes is less of a luxury and more a necessity if companies want to survive the post-pandemic business world.
A few years ago, online stores and eCommerce platforms were once few and far between. However, as more and more retailers are forced to adapt and shift towards digital solutions, the sheer number of competing businesses is slated to increase significantly.
With this in mind, a surge in competition doesn’t simply mean an increase in eCommerce stores. It also means a substantial increase in advertisements, customer loyalty programs, marketing campaigns, and other digital marketing and engagement forms.
Thus, while businesses may require an eCommerce website to survive, they’ll need to invest a lot more time, money and resources to ensure it thrives.
A More Inclusive & Accessible Internet
Internet usage worldwide has been rapidly increasing since the late 1990s, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant influx of new populations surfing the world wide web.
Internet demographics are changing. What was previously an environment accessible by only the young and relatively well-off, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the internet all but essential.
Across age, race, gender, income, education and community type, more and more users are logging on for the first time.
In this sense, the internet is becoming increasingly inclusive and diverse, and companies must adjust how they conduct themselves online to reflect these new norms. Businesses and eCommerce stores must be ready to adapt and pivot by creating new advertising techniques to entice and engage these broader demographics.
This alteration must extend across all social media platforms and other paid and unpaid digital marketing strategies.
When the internet first entered the world stage in the late 1980s, no one could have predicted that it would become such a pervasive and fundamental service worldwide. As our use of and reliance on the internet grows, the way consumers and businesses interact with it must evolve too.
While nothing is set in stone, expectations for faster delivery services, increased competition, and a more inclusive and accessible internet are trends that are likely to stay well after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
With these key concepts in mind, companies should integrate and develop more efficient delivery services, prepare to engage in new modes of omnichannel marketing, and diversify their demographic scope and appeal to best position their business for success.
Only then will it have the best chance to survive and thrive in this brave new eCommerce world.
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