Understanding the COVID Effect on E-Commerce

Understanding the COVID Effect on E-Commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered customers’ shopping habits and the retail landscape swiftly and dramatically. Instead of shopping for luxury watches and designer luggage bags in-store, consumers are now shopping for toilet paper and face masks from the comfort of their homes. In countries such as the United Kingdom, 7 in 10 businesses updated their business model to introduce new or expand on existing online shopping accommodations.

For businesses trying to adjust to the shift, it’s essential to know the specific ways in which COVID-19 has affected customers’ shopping habits and how you can boost (or rescue) your e-commerce sales.

COVID-19 E-Commerce Statistics

While some e-commerce sectors have suffered from the changes in consumer behavior, website traffic on e-commerce sites has actually risen 135% overall when controlled for seasonal variation. For example, e-commerce traffic in June 2020 reached 21.96 billion, up from 16.2 billion at the same time in 2019. This surpassed even the sales from peak shopping season—20.08 billion in December 2019.

The reasons that people are shopping online are simple. Quarantine orders and fear of contagion are keeping people at home and reducing “unnecessary” circulation. Furthermore, the fear or reality of a reduced expendable income has swayed consumers toward shopping mostly for basic necessities.

How COVID-19 E-Commerce Varies by Sub-Group

Undisputedly, the customers that possess the most buying power right now are the Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996. According to research by First Insight, this group has also been the sector most concerned about the effects of the pandemic on the economy and the one that has made the largest changes to its buying habits.

Compared to Gen-X and Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen-Yers have been the most likely groups to reduce their spending, stockpile essentials, and cut back on experiences and luxuries. And considering that Millennials represent 30% of the retail market, catering to their changing preferences is essential for sustaining sales.

How COVID-19 E-Commerce Varies by Industry

The change in online buying habits has also affected various sectors differently, with some platforms experiencing enormous growth and others suffering a decline in sales.

The industries that have experienced the highest growth include:

  • Medical products
  • Baby products
  • Cleaning products
  • Groceries
  • Food & beverage
  • Health & wellness
  • Gifts & specialty
  • Toys & games
  • Home & garden
  • Streaming and subscription services

In particular, subscription services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ have seen their sales skyrocket during the COVID-19 pandemic. As far as general e-commerce platforms, we have seen higher sales in 2020 on Amazon, MercadoLibre in Latin America, and Jumia in Africa.

Unfortunately, other industries that sell online have experienced a decline in sales:

  • Apparel
  • Luxury goods
  • Luggage
  • Cameras & equipment
  • Swimwear
  • Gym bags
  • Automotive tools

How to Capitalize on the COVID-19 E-Commerce Boom

Whether you’ve already moved some of your services online or you’re looking to make this transition now, there is still time to join in the digital boom and enjoy a satisfying return on investment. 

With high-demand products, alternative delivery, and a well-crafted visual marketing strategy, you could be well on your way to riding the COVID-19 e-commerce boom and enjoying elevated sales into the future.

Opt for Creative Delivery Methods

Firstly, customers are still concerned about the risk of contagion and want low-risk, contactless transfers. Consider offering a variety of options, such as delivery, BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), and shopping in person.

Offer High-Demand Products

Secondly, the priority for buying is still on first-necessity goods. If you find yourself in a low-demand market sector, consider changing your product offerings to meet the demand. That’s not to say you have to abandon your primary product line, but it may be beneficial to branch out. 

Emphasize Cyber Safety

Finally, it’s essential for both you and your customers to offer a safe, trustworthy platform. Investigate options such as website encryption and firewalls, and invest in PCI-compliant merchant services and payment gateway solutions.  

The Future of E-Commerce After COVID

As we begin to see quarantine measures easing up with milder, less deadly waves and the availability of vaccines, business owners need to look to the future of e-commerce after COVID while continuing to adapt to the current climate.

During a webinar from Harvard Business School, Professor Rajiv Lal with three panelists and entrepreneurs discussed some possible directions that COVID-19 e-commerce could go after a new, post-pandemic “normal” emerges. The points that this panel discussed are of special importance to business owners who are seeking either to launch into e-commerce or adapt their e-commerce strategies post-pandemic:

  • Consumers will continue to shop online.
  • Contactless payment will be a growing priority.
  • Customers will place more value on brands that are sustainable and ethical.
  • Customers will value a more visual shopping experience.
  • Customers will expect fast turnarounds and same-day shipping.

As long as you have a solid game plan, there’s never been a better time to dive headfirst into the e-commerce space or to take your existing store to the next level.