COVID-19 and ecommerce: a global perspective
The shift from physical retail to ecommerce was felt across the world, will that impact last?
COVID-19 has been a global phenomenon, affecting markets, governments, and societies all around the world. The sudden shift from physical retail to ecommerce was felt from Colorado to Chengdu. But the question remains, will the impact of COVID-19 on global ecommerce be long-lasting, or will it be little more than a brief blip? To help us answer this in the global context, consider the following statistics.
The Chinese case
China is an excellent case study to see whether the pandemic’s effects will linger. Having made more progress towards normalisation than any other larger nation, trends there are a valuable indicator of what might happen elsewhere.
Chinese ecommerce super-giant, JD.com, saw its June 2020 promotional event “618” receive a 100% increase in sales when compared to the same period in 2019. JD Super, the grocery section, saw a 140% sales rise compared to last year. With this kind of trend occurring in such a major player in the Chinese ecommerce space, and after the COVID-19 outbreak largely died down in China, the possibility of a long-lasting ecommerce boom is strongly indicated.
Other Chinese ecommerce trends developed during the pandemic have also persisted post-lockdown. These include 70% of Chinese young people now being responsible for buying essentials for their wider family, product advertising through live-streaming sites becoming increasingly popular, and widescale usage of co-ordinated community shopping groups. While Great Britain and China are very different nations, the effects of COVID-19 have been a major international common experience. It is entirely possible similar models of behaviour could emerge in the west in general, and in the UK in particular.
Generational data suggests the online shopping shift is permanent for all ages
Any technology or social change that is consistently embraced by young people is likely to have a long-term impact on society. If that same change is taken up by large quantities of the elder generation, the change will not only be more permanent, but also more immediate.
Data from the US gathered by ChannelAdvisor.com at the beginning of June shows that not only were 46% of consumers shopping online far more than previously, but that the younger the sample group, the stronger the trend. When asked if they were shopping online more frequently than in March 2020, the answer was yes for:
36% of 46-55 year-olds
47% of 36-45 year-olds
57% of 26-35 year-olds
62% of 18-25 year-olds
This data is also coupled with a notable rise in online shopping activity among older generations. Data from BusinessLeader.co.uk shows that older generations are now using online shopping at a rate 15% higher than was seen at the same time last year.
With both older and younger generations embracing online shopping at higher rates, the impact of the COVID-19 ecommerce boom seems to have the potential to be long-lasting.
25% of US consumers can’t find what they want online
American evidence suggests that the online shopping world is still struggling to cope with unexpected demand peaks. Data gathered by Google in April 2020 found that 25% of American shoppers could not find online sources for the items they needed. Messages of “out of stock” were all too common, and customers found themselves headed to brick-and-mortar establishments for what they needed.
These instances could be dismissed as just part and parcel of the COVID-19 peak crisis. However, European online retailers were having similar problems before the crisis, as pointed out by Joakim Gavelin, founder of the leading European ecommerce retail auditing firm, Detail Online.
“Up to 40% of items can be wrongly listed as out of stock at an online retailer, and that was before the massive shift we have experienced now.” Gavelin explained to InternetRetailing.net “I cannot even imagine how those numbers might be now, given the present pressure on the online retailers.”
If the experience of too many shoppers is page after page of inaccurate “out of stock” notifications, there won’t be a post-COVID-19 ecommerce boom. Shopping online could be perceived as having the same frustrations and struggles as the real world. Should such problems persist, the high street’s much longer history of reliability, and the much-craved social experience it provides, seem to suggest that brick-and-mortar establishments still have plenty of fight left.
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