The pandemic changed the way we shop. What happens next?

Ecommerce had already been increasing in popularity year-on-year when the global pandemic accelerated the next decade or more of progress into a few short months.

The lockdown not only necessitated shopping from home, but it was also a chance for online shops to showcase what they do best to a whole new audience that may have been uncertain before, whether they’re unfamiliar with technology, unsure of the security, or otherwise. It showed millions of shoppers that it was ok to buy online, that there were many added benefits: easy comparisons, no closing times, user reviews, quick delivery and so on.

Online shopping has been a saviour for many over the last year, but now that shops are set to begin re-opening, what happens next?

Watching for the trends

It is certain that some online shoppers will return to physical shops when the rules allow, but the question is how many? Even the retail experts are divided.

Primark is said to have lost more than £1bn in sales during the pandemic as it has no ecommerce presence – and there are no signs that one is in the works, either. They are pretty sure that the high street will bounce back.

On the other hand, online fashion retailer boohoo has acquired Debehams, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis for a total of £80m and Asos has acquired a portfolio which includes Topshop and Miss Selfridge for £330m. Here’s the thing: the owners now plan to run them as online-only brands. Their bet is that the future is online.

It remains to be seen how shoppers divide their time – and spending – between online and offline shopping. But we do know one thing: that the way in which people make their purchasing decisions has changed.

Good news for online retailers

Before we were all forced to do a majority of our shopping online, the buying public placed a great deal of weight in brands. Companies with recognisable names had a head start, but this has become less important when shopping online.

Brand recognition is important online too, but so are price, customer reviews, payment options, delivery and customer service. The good news for smaller businesses is that this evens out the playing field. If you can price your goods competitively, accrue a string of five-star ratings, promise superior delivery, you can compete with the big names without the expense of acquiring property in major towns and cities throughout the UK.

Price comparison sites, review sites, social media sites and even search engines give online retailers a much more achievable route to market share. Not only are the barriers to entry lower but smaller firms can be more agile and adaptable to change than the bigger firms (see Primark above.)

It’s not the end for physical shops

While ecommerce will be much more popular in the years post-pandemic than it was in the years before the lockdown, this isn’t the end for bricks and mortar shops. While it’s possible to buy clothes, furniture and even cars online, many shoppers still prefer to visit a shop where they can try things on for size.

And, curiously, Amazon believes that physical stores still have a future. The worldwide ecommerce giant has recently begun opening grocery stores in London and surrounding areas. It is thought that the key driver behind the move is to save money on deliveries and returns.

With the exception that it will introduce some new ideas – intelligent billing for goods with no need to checkout, for example – it’s a return to shopping the old-fashioned way by a company that has predicted trends as well as anybody in recent years.

In conclusion

Though the amount spent online may dip when the country fully reopens, ecommerce will remain more popular than it ever has been. The pandemic has been a great advert for all of the benefits of shopping online: lots of choice, round-the-clock opening hours, door-to-door delivery.

This gives smaller retailers a chance to compete with bigger brands. So long as they can market effectively and offer the best customer service, they can build up market share like never before.

And for those that have seen a boom during lockdown, there shouldn’t be reason to panic that it will all go away. Hopefully you’ve captured information on your customers with each sale, and so you can reach out once the pandemic is over, reminding them why they bought from you (and online shopping is superior), even using special discounts where needed, to encourage them to continue shopping with you.

If you’re interested in selling online, or you already have an ecommerce presence that’s not delivering the results you’d hoped for, talk to our team today to find out how we can help you reach your objectives.