The COVID-19 pandemic is going to become one of the most defining events of the 21st century. With the type of impact it has already had on the world’s economy, people’s lives, and even our perception of how we should live as a society, it’s hard to overestimate how much things will change after the coronavirus finally becomes less prevalent.
The same can be said about the eCommerce industry, which also went through significant changes throughout the past year. But while there were massive negative consequences, the change in shopping habits has also created new opportunities for smart eCommerce stores willing to embrace the digital shopping age.
But how exactly has the coronavirus impacted the eCommerce industry? And what eCommerce trends should you look out for in the future?
Let’s answer these crucial questions below.
Pandemic Effect on eCommerce: Key Statistics
To get a clearer understanding of the impact that the coronavirus had on the eCommerce industry, it helps to look at hard data, which can show patterns and provide a more accurate picture of what happened.
Let’s explore a few key statistics that illustrate the pandemic effect on eCommerce in the past year and the future.
- Global eCommerce sales reached $26.7 trillion in 2020. That’s a significant growth compared to the year prior, with a gain of four percent. That increase is even more impressive when you consider the impact that the coronavirus had on the global economy, which made achieving any type of growth a clear sign that more people were becoming online shoppers.
- In the UK alone, January of 2021 saw the highest percentage of online sales of all time, with 35.2% of all sales coming on the web. It’s clear that the pandemic restrictions have made people more open about shopping online. At the same time, those who were online shoppers before have increased the frequency of buying online.
- The rapid eCommerce growth was achieved despite the global economy going down. The major economies are estimated to lose at least 2.9% of their gross domestic product (GDP) over 2020, which means that the eCommerce industry’s rise is even more impressive and points to a significant shift in shopping habits.
- Twenty-one of the biggest North American retailers declared bankruptcy in 2020, with 17 of them filing amid the lockdowns. Companies like JCPenney or Ascena Retail group were forced out of business by the coronavirus, but also because more people are opting for online shopping than ever before.
- Global mobile consumer spending continues to grow at a rapid pace and is set to reach $270 billion by 2025. With more eCommerce brands taking a mobile-first approach in their UX process, mobile users have fully embraced shopping through their devices, which significantly increases the opportunities to make sales in a post-coronavirus world.
- As Amazon’s reputation continues to take a hit, the pandemic has forced people to rethink how much they rely on the eCommerce giant for shopping. 30% of shoppers feel guilty after shopping on Amazon, and 40% would like to reduce the amount of shopping they do on the site. That’s an excellent opportunity for smaller eCommerce brands who want to increase their presence, at least if they can match some of Amazon’s key features.
How Panic Buying Influenced the Rise in Online Sales
The pandemic effect on eCommerce isn’t simple to quantify. Still, a few fundamental shifts do a good job of illustrating just how much people’s perceptions have changed because of the coronavirus.
On a global scale, we haven’t seen anything like the coronavirus for a long time, and almost all people alive today had no point of reference when they had to deal with the sudden impact of the world closing up and no one really knowing what’s going to happen.
But amidst all of that uncertainty, one thing was actually relatively easy to predict.
When brick-and-mortar stores started closing down, and restrictions were put in place, most people responded to uncertainty with panic, rushing to buy up essential supplies in large quantities and stock up for the months that lied ahead.
But unlike similar situations in the past, this time, eCommerce served as a safe and convenient alternative that allowed people to get anything they needed safely delivered to their doorstep.
For eCommerce stores, this was good news, at least in the short term. While most companies were forced to suffer layoffs or at least make other hard choices to make ends meet, online stores faced a different set of challenges they had to overcome.
The rapid influx of online sales made restocking and fulfilling orders a living nightmare, and people were not forgiving of any mistakes or mix-ups that occurred. Some sellers even tried to take advantage of the panic buying frenzy by gouging prices and cashing in on the situation.
However, once the dust settled and people started to better understand how the coronavirus pandemic would evolve, things started settling down. But over those first months, many consumers who would rarely or never shop online became accustomed to the comfort and contributed to the eCommerce industry’s rise.
Fastest Growing eCommerce Markets
Since social distancing measures were implemented last year, most people have tried to minimize their contacts in public places. And that meant fewer trips to the store and less shopping overall, at least in person.
However, since the desire for shopping didn’t go anywhere (and even increased because of fewer things to do), many turned to online shopping as a substitute for the key categories of products they need.
Because of that, a few eCommerce markets have seen the most rapid rise. Even though eCommerce grew across the board, these key markets saw the biggest shift in consumer habits, and that shift is likely to remain present (to an extent) in the future as well.
Let’s explore a few of these markets below.
Food is an immediate necessity that people can’t go without. And while grocery stores remained open during the pandemic, not everyone wanted to risk their health going to a physical store, especially when there are alternatives.
Many shoppers decided to embrace grocery eCommerce, exploring the options to order groceries online and have them delivered to their homes. And that caused an absolute boom of online grocery shopping, which still hasn’t let up even well into 2021. The US online grocery market posted $8.1 billion in sales in November of 2020 alone, and the new trends of rapid growth are set to continue.
People have found the convenience, time-saving, and price comparison possibilities of shopping for groceries online hard to match in any physical store. And even though grocery sellers struggled to keep up with demand initially, they have now adjusted and are introducing new perks that will make online grocery shopping even more appealing in the future.
Another critical area of online commerce that saw a massive increase in demand were subscription services. Even though the market has seen consistent growth for many years, March of 2020 saw an explosion in the number of subscription service users.
Once again, it’s easy to identify the reasons for that being the case. As people had to spend more time indoors and couldn’t socialize, millions embraced subscription services like Netflix, which offered entertainment in the safety of their own homes.
But at the same time, eCommerce subscription services such as scheduled delivery services have also increased in popularity. Many discovered the convenience of setting a regular subscription for an order and not having to worry about ordering again.
Even though retail always had a strong presence online, the pandemic has significantly increased e-retail sales and has set it on a path that might grow the industry to as much as $6.5 trillion by 2023.
Many retailers who didn’t have an online presence were forced to reconsider when their stores had to close. But over time, the digital transformation proved to be worthwhile, with retail brands gaining access to a broader audience and being able to sell on a global scale.
And with more retail brands embracing eCommerce, consumers now have more stores to choose from, which means there will be even less demand for brick-and-mortar stores moving forward.
Why Customer Service Will Define the Post-Covid eCommerce Industry
Even though the coronavirus pandemic started more than a year ago, it’s still not entirely clear how it will impact eCommerce in the long term. So far, the signs are that more people have embraced online shopping and set the stage for what is bound to be a decade of rapid growth for forward-thinking sellers.
However, at the same time, eCommerce brands must make an effort to match and exceed experiences offered in brick-and-mortar stores. Because offering help in person is not an option, online stores must find other ways to alleviate concerns, answer questions, and help customers find the best choice in their situation.
And that’s why customer service will be at the very center of eCommerce success in the future.
Companies that invest in omnichannel customer service designed to match customer expectations can expect to sustain growth and start dominating their markets even well after the covid pandemic is over.
Meanwhile, those trying to get by with outdated customer service and UX approaches will suffer from negative customer reviews, lagging sales, and a difficult time competing in increasingly crowded online markets.
But if you build a customer-focused business and embrace the best support practices, you can build stronger relationships with online buyers and get ahead of most competitors.
Social media support, chatbots, and personalization are just some of the ways how you can take your customer support to the next level.
But if you’re not sure how to build an effective customer support system and want to maintain flexibility by not allocating too many resources towards support, you can always use a customer support outsourcing service to take over the entire process for you.
The pandemic effect on eCommerce is hard to overstate. Even though the industry has seen growth, there are challenges that stores will have to overcome if they want to remain competitive as more buyers choose to shop online.
However, by embracing modern customer support practices and catering to the expectations of your audience, you can build a successful business that will be able to withstand the global events of the future.