Online shopping has truly flourished over the last few decades and its demand is only continuing to grow. The popularity increase in online shopping over the years is attributed to the sharp rise of internet usage as well as the emergence of numerous ecommerce giants such as Amazon and eBay. Historically, online shopping first began and existed merely in the form of advertising for companies – with websites providing detailed information of products and services. However, owing to major developments in technology and changing consumer behaviour over the years, present-day online shopping comprises the inclusion of actual online shopping transactions and has evolved drastically to become a component of our day-to-day lives.
How has COVID-19 Affected Online Shopping?
Even though shopping was on the rise before COVID-19, the pandemic has taken its demand to unprecedented levels. The pandemic has pushed shoppers to switch to making their purchases online due to several reasons. One of the main reasons was due to safety concerns during the pandemic, with many shoppers preferring not to visit physical stores and shops for their unessential purchases. With social distancing being encouraged across the globe, shoppers were turning to online shopping in order to make their purchases from the safety of their homes. The numerous lockdowns, travel restrictions and border controls that prevailed across many countries acted as a further deterrent to conducting traditional shopping.
A large number of retail outlets were also temporarily non-operational during the pandemic or had limited capacities offered to shoppers in order to maintain social distancing. These factors gave consumers no choice but to opt for online stores that provided what they required.
Several trends in online shopping could be witnessed during the pandemic. Below are a few observations made by studies regarding the COVID-19 impact on online shopping:
More Companies Are Now Embracing Digital Transformation:
A massive growth in digital transformation was very evident. Businesses were rushing to focus and improve their existing digital services, whilst old-fashioned businesses and industries that had never considered stepping into the digital space were now reevaluating their options.
Sharp Growth in Grocery eCommerce:
The pandemic is expected to have changed the grocery industry forever, having introduced online platforms for grocers who were once comfortable with conducting most of their sales physically. Studies have shown that online groceries sales have jumped by around 300% during the pandemic, with masses of consumers rushing to buy their essentials online during the crisis.
A Decrease in Brand Loyalty:
Another interesting phenomenon that was observed was that not only were consumers more willing to try out new methods of shopping, but they were also more open to trying out new products and services. This behaviour has been driven by the numerous out-of-stock issues and delivery problems that were faced by popular brands and products that were in high demand. Surveys have indicated that a majority of shoppers state that they will continue to seek out new brands in the future.
Increase in Fulfilment Innovation:
When the pandemic first emerged, several merchants and retailers struggled to make their deliveries on time due to the sudden burst of orders that they received as well as the various restrictions that existed. Having learnt the challenges, potential pitfalls and having gained more experience, businesses are now getting back on track and finding better ways to fulfill their orders by embracing technology and innovation into their operations.
More Merchants Looking to Provide Same-Day Delivery:
In order to improve their online services and stay abreast of competition, an increasing number of merchants were looking at bettering their delivery times. Same-day delivery was an offering that was being much sought after by customers – specially for the purchases of essential goods such as groceries and medicine.
Higher Demand for Subscription Services:
A significant upward trend was also witnessed in the realm of subscription services – with more consumers choosing to opt for continued subscription services due to convenience. As such, a large number of businesses began introducing subscription models to their business strategies in order to adapt. Various industries – such as the grocery industry – were now introducing subscription services as part of their offering, in order to meet the demand and provide customers heightened convenience.
Increase in Payment Options:
More and more businesses are choosing to increase the number of payment options offered to customers. In addition to card payments, online portals are now evolving to include more payment options such as digital wallets, electronic money, as well as ‘buy now, pay later’ instalment schemes.
Why is the Popularity of Online Shopping Continuing to Grow?
Consumers have made a shift towards online shopping during the pandemic and there are many reasons as to why this trend can be expected to continue in the years to come.
Massive Product Selection & Variety:
Physical stores have limited capacity which means that it is more difficult to showcase a wider range of products and their varieties – compared to online stores. When shopping online, customers are given a wider range of product selection for them to choose from, in turn providing a better shopping experience.
The convenience factor provided by online shopping is perhaps the main benefit that drives more and more consumers to shift away from traditional shopping. Online shopping lets users carry on with their shopping from wherever they are located and at whatever time they prefer. When compared to physical stores, which requires time spent on travelling as well as having to ensure that shopping is done only during the store’s operational hours – it is clear that online shopping is the more convenient option.
Better Information About Products and Vendors:
When shopping online, good digital stores generally provide more detailed information about its products and vendors, which helps customers make better purchase decisions. In addition to important product information such as sizing details and key product characteristics, online stores are also able to communicate the product benefits, its uses as well as showcase customer reviews – which are extremely valuable to buyers.
No Crowds or Queues:
Another convenience aspect of online shopping is being able to avoid the hassle of crowds and having to wait in lengthy queues in order to make their purchases. As safety concerns prevail, most customers also prefer not to enter crowded places – which makes online shopping the preferred option.
No Sales Pressure & Discreet Shopping:
Surveys have revealed that another issue that customers face when shopping at physical stores is the pressure to make a purchase, usually at the hands of sales assistants who constantly engage with customers during shopping. Customers also prefer the privacy provided by online shopping – especially with regard to purchasing items that some wish to keep confidential, such as undergarments or lingerie.
Better Prices & Discounts:
As price is one of the main purchase factors when buying online, businesses are lowering their prices in order to remain competitive amidst the vast number of options that are available to customers online. More frequent sales and discounts are also offered to customers – in the form of coupon codes and deals on coupon websites – in order to boost sales and acquire more customers.
Simpler Refunds & Product Replacements:
Online shopping usually includes a replacement warranty for a specified period of time, which allows users to replace their item without having to face numerous questions regarding the return. Returns can also be done via post, without actually having to visit the physical store, which further saves time and provides more convenience.
Easy Checkout Process and Fast Delivery:
The checkout process of most online stores consist of a few simple steps and can be done in just a matter of clicks. This can be a massive time-saver, specially during seasonal shopping – where checking out at physical stores can take ages. Online stores across the world are also rushing to cut down on their delivery time, in order to ensure that customers receive their purchased items in the fastest time possible.
Online shopping has also made it easier to discover rarer products. Customers who shop online are able to buy products that are not available in their local market or even in their own country and get it delivered straight to their doorstep.