COVID’s Impact On Online Shopping

Melissa IN Team | COVID, India | , , ,

Up to 2019, there were many people who considered ordering vegetables online or shopping for bathroom slippers from an e-commerce website to be a silly idea. All of that changed when countries around the world put their citizens in protective lockdowns.

Walking to a grocery store suddenly became a risky idea. As a result, ecommerce saw a sudden spike and even the naysayers were forced to change their habits.

Online retail sales in 2020 showed an annual increase of 32.4%. By the first quarter of 2021, it had risen to 39%. Analysts claim that COVID and the lockdowns pushed eCommerce growth forward by at least 2 years. Let’s take a look at some of the key ways in which COVID impacted online shopping.

E-Commerce For Daily Needs

Until the pandemic, most people shopped online to get better deals. Clothes, shoes, home décor accessories and other branded goods were the most sought after. The most evident change in online shopping was the expansion of products available online. Though daily needs stores remained open throughout the lockdowns, the online demand for daily needs like bread, milk, eggs and vegetables grew and many new players entered the online retail world.

Of the 39 food and beverage sellers ranked in the Digital Commerce 350 Top 1000, 8 retailers saw a 100% year-over-year sales increase in 2020. Over the past 2 years, shopping online for groceries has now become a habit for many people in metro cities.

Since many of these products have a short shelf life, businesses found themselves reassessing their warehousing systems. Some moved to bigger fulfilment centers while others decentralized operations to bring warehouses closer to the customer.

Business Pivots

Not all businesses could take their services online as they were. Many had to pivot. For example, when salons closed, they turned to marketing online tutorials. Build-a-Bear is a popular toy retailer where children can walk into the store and create customized stuffed bears. During the pandemic, they used their 200 stores as distribution centers. This not just helped them get through the lockdown, it increased online sales by almost 300%.

Shortened Delivery Timelines

As the number of online retailers increased, the priority shifted from product differentiation to customer servicing. A survey showed that 37% of consumers would buy more if they were offered better customer service by online retailers. Since the same or similar product was available from multiple vendors, retailers had to find ways to shrink their delivery timelines. Same-day or one-day delivery became an important logistics concern. For this having accurate and complete addresses became a critical need.

A solution emerged in the form of address autocomplete tools. Rather than expecting customers to enter long street addresses manually – a process that took effort and was prone to typographic errors, an address autocomplete tool, gave the customer possible addresses based on the first few characters entered. This reduced the number of keystrokes required and ensured that addresses entered were accurate, deliverable and complete.

Virtual Shopping Appointments

Virtual shopping was an avenue that merged the convenience of online shopping with the traditional experience of browsing through a brick-and-mortar store. At the scheduled time, customers could interact with sales assistants on video calls to get a virtual walkthrough of the store and see products they liked. The service proved powerful as it helped many brands build stronger relationships with their customers.

The Omnichannel Experience

Keeping customer convenience in mind, online retailers felt the need to go beyond e-commerce websites. From making websites responsive so that they opened properly on mobile devices and tablets, e-tailers turned to app development. Along with releasing apps, they also realized the need to offer customers a seamless omnichannel experience.

A recent study found that 90% of customers expect their interactions with a brand across channels to be consistent. Offering an omnichannel experience gave businesses a new way to reach out to customers and gave customers the option of not just shopping from home but shopping while they were on the move.

Once again, it came down to data quality. Here, the challenge was to de-duplicate records and ensure that each customer had a single account that could be accessed through varied channels. The businesses that succeeded in doing this used data verification tools to identify duplicate records and create singular golden records for each customer by combining the data.

For example, a customer may have created an account on the app with his name as J. Smith and on the website as John Smith. Since the phone number and email address were the same, the two records were merged and the customer was addressed as John Smith on all platforms.

Digital Wallet Usage

As customers grew more comfortable with shopping online, the number of COD orders reduced. In India, this share fell from 41% of all orders in pre-covid months to 28%. One of the reasons of course was reducing touch surfaces. Another was an increasing comfort level with digital wallets. Contactless commerce led to a 50% increase in digital wallet transactions.

Rise In Fraud Cases

Unfortunately, as the number of online customers increased, so did instances of fraud. Phishing schemes became more sophisticated and fraudsters exploited network security vulnerabilities. Small businesses were particularly vulnerable. A survey found that 70% of these businesses were unprepared to deal with cyber-attacks.

Educating customers on the need to create secure passwords and refrain from responding to phishing emails was not enough. Businesses again turned to improving data quality as one of the ways of making their retail platforms more secure. Real time data verification tools checked all customer data against third-party databases to ensure accuracy and validity.

In Conclusion Though brick and mortar retail outlets are now reopening, the convenient experience of online shopping will ensure that the e-commerce growth trend continues. That said, consistent efforts need to be made to keep e-commerce platforms safe and secure customer information. Today, maintaining high data quality standards while meeting customer expectations is of paramount importance for all e-tailers.