Opinion

Has COVID changed online shopping forever?

When the first lockdown started last year all non-essential retail stores were closed. Most of these companies had to start developing a more robust e-commerce presence, either by pumping much more time and resource into their existing offering or exploring how to quickly get an e-commerce operation up and running.

Some held out. Primark is a good example. They claimed that their business model doesn’t work once you factor in the cost of returns and other logistics. Their refusal has cost billions in lost sales. It’s even stranger when online fashion brands like Boohoo and Asos are booming – they are even scooping up traditional fashion brands as they fail.

So the logistics work – if you know how to do it right.

One effect of the pandemic is that e-commerce was a lifeline throughout the various lockdowns. People who were already shopping online could continue, but more importantly, people who were not big online shoppers had to try it – they had no choice. Some of them may return to visiting stores again, but many will have found the process so convenient that they now prefer it.

This isn’t just a hunch. The UN conducted research in October 2020 looking across the world and asking shoppers in both developing and developed nations about their e-commerce experience. The overwhelming response was that shoppers will continue to use e-commerce far more than they did before the pandemic forced them to try it.

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Source: UNCTAD and NetComm Suisse eCommerce Association

As the UN research shows, this trend can be observed across most categories, including health, home & gardening and food and groceries, which had perviously been the least likely categories of products that people would order online. People wanted to choose their own potatoes in the past. Not any longer.

In the last quarter of 2020, the supermarket Morrisons has just launched a Direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model where customers can just subscribe to a food box that is delivered every 2-weeks or every month. The cafe chain Pret a Manger now offers a coffee subscription service – pay £20 a month and you can access unlimited coffee in their stores.

When the pandemic started closing stores some major consumer brands thought hard about how customers can get hold of the products they would traditionally never order online. What about Heinz baked beans? Who would order them on a website? It took Heinz about a week from the idea and concept of a ‘beans subscription’ to make it a reality – you can now pay monthly and get Heinz products shipped directly to your door.

This kind of innovation is taking place all over the world and demonstrates that a combination of online stores, apps, store-connected social media, and D2C are going to dramatically reshape how we think of retail. For some younger consumers this has already happened. You see a great shirt in an Instagram post and now there is an expectation that you can click the image and be taken automatically to a checkout.

But how does this affect your customer experience (CX)? Even a huge well-known brand like Heinz has probably had to do some fast thinking on CX. Their main relationships were previously with retail chains – now they are building a community of customers that buy products direct. Everything changes.

How will the post-pandemic e-commerce revolution change the way that your customer interacts with your brand or how you need to structure your CX? I’m sure that changes are required – have you already planned where and how?

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