Shopping in COVID Times (e-commerce)

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Amongst the panic buys and stockpiling when Covid-19 was first announced, there lies another trend of shopper behaviours that surfaced during the pandemic. Ever since the rise of e-commerce, it has seen a rapid rise over the past few years. In 2014 to 2019 alone, there was an increase of US$ 2199 BILLION in sales. Meaning, in just five years, e-commerce has tripled in value. No wonder Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma are some of the richest people in recent times.  

With lockdowns and disruptions in travel and supply chains, retailers have taken a hit in their sales. The situation has accelerated the shift of offline to online stores by five years. Retailers have been scrambling hard to establish a presence online to stay in touch with shoppers who are more hesitant to go out to shop. 

However, are all retailers able to emulate and provide the same experience to shoppers via online platforms? How are shoppers behaving now that they are “encouraged” to shop online? 

There has been a trend in the retail world called ROPO, which stands for research online, purchase offline. For any brand, this means driving marketing efforts online so that customers will get to know about the product online, research about it and proceed to the nearest store to purchase. Isn’t it curious that even with online stores, people still choose to go to stores and purchase? In an article released by Forbes, people will still continue to flock to physical stores to purchase goods. The reasons are mainly because the customers want to feel the product, try  and experience the brand for themselves. Top e-commerce platforms know it too, Amazon established the Amazon Go store and Alibaba had Hema. It just goes to show that physical stores still have a part to play in this evolving retail landscape. 

So, how does this translate to the pandemic, when people are less likely to visit physical stores due to lockdowns or the fear of interactions? Shoppers will likely be putting some form of expectations towards online retailers to provide the same experience as if the customer was in store. Shoppers would like to have return policies adjusted so that they are able to return goods that do not fit or just don’t meet their expectations when they are physically seeing the product. Shoppers would also want to have impeccable customer service especially for luxury brands, retailers will have to set up chat bots or have a hotline for shoppers to reach out for support. 

Covid has definitely shifted the dynamics in the retail landscape. The online landscape has definitely been accelerated and is set to grow more in the future. Shoppers are looking towards online shopping but some are definitely hoping that online retailers can replicate the shopping experience they would have in stores. When the pandemic blows over, retailers will have to focus on combining the experiences of online and offline shopping. Much like how Amazon Go’s integrated app and Harvey Norman’s click and collect system, it will give shoppers a seamless experience. What will set great retailers apart from the good ones will be the omni-channel approach, where shoppers can be immersed in the same experience, be it shopping online or offline. This is something that retailers should be aiming to achieve in the near future especially with the rise of 5G network.

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