According to a United Nations report, COVID-19 has fueled a surge in global eCommerce to the tune of US$26.7 trillion. The same report goes on to state that the eCommerce sector saw a rise in its share of all retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020. Over the same period, online transactions in the UK also increased from 15.8% to 23.3%. Moreover, consumers have increased their online buying due to the implementation of social distancing, lockdowns, and other measures in response to the pandemic. As a result, business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce volume has also risen.
Have the lockdowns impacted consumer buying behaviours in the UK?
Due to mandated lockdowns in different parts of the world, a lot of people took to digital channels to meet their daily and household needs. Consumers started shopping online out of necessity and mostly relied on eCommerce platforms while in isolation.
According to a report by Statistica, monthly online retail sales in the UK increased for various industries such as food, groceries, and household products between February 2020 and September 2021. In addition, online food retail sales increased by over 55% month-over-month in April 2020 when compared to March 2020. With the implementation of the second lockdown in November 2020, the value of online retail sales climbed once again, with monthly growth rates of 24.2% for businesses selling household goods and 7.9% for apparel retailers. The same report went on to highlight that online sales in all industries began to decline when the measures imposed due to the pandemic were eased.
How has this shift impacted businesses in the UK?
According to a report by Barclays, the UK is the world’s third-largest eCommerce market, and many firms have increased their technology investments due to the pandemic. The report goes on to state that one-third of businesses (33%) have upgraded their websites, while 32% have begun to accept new payment methods, and one-fourth (26%) have adopted data analytics for the first time.
In addition —according to a World Economic Forum report— the pandemic has also helped consumers rethink the categories of items they consider vital. Clothing —for example— has become less important as more people work and study from home due to government-mandated shutdowns. However, other categories such as food, alcohol, and home improvement supplies have increased in importance at a rate of 12%, 16%, and 14%, respectively. The report also indicated that department store merchants would need to shift to multiple retail channels in order to remain competitive.
Another facet to be considered is that due to the pandemic, manufacturing came to a halt in many countries —as per a report published by the World Trade Organization— which resulted in a decrease in the production level of goods. As a consequence, businesses could not supply products at the demanded rate and overall faced issues with the supply chain.
What do consumers expect now?
The expectations of consumers have changed in regard to businesses. As reported by Orange Business Services, 83% of customers now expect a personalised digital shopping experience. The same report goes on to point out that buyers’ expectations have also shifted in that they expect businesses to take in-store precautions to protect them. They also want to be kept informed about store safety, so shops should keep their websites and social media accounts up to date with the most current health information and provide a hotline where customers may raise queries. Moreover —according to the report— responding to COVID-19 will require shops to train their employees to be more adept at multitasking since they will be expected to juggle more tasks.
A survey conducted by Wunderman Thompson also indicated that one of the key factors driving a purchase is free delivery with as much as 61% of the respondents looking for such a service, followed by product availability at 57%. Other sought-after features include timely delivery and free returns. With 51% of the respondents intending to keep spending online even after the pandemic ends, it may become necessary for businesses to keep pace with such relatively new customer expectations.
The future of eCommerce
There has been an evident rise in online purchases in the UK. Econsultancy.com reports that out of all the UK respondents who shifted to online shopping during the pandemic, 36% stated that they would stick to their new buying behaviours. Moreover, with many stores taking their catalogues online, consumers may also be getting the option to compare the prices offered by different retailers which could aid in making better-informed purchasing decisions. Overall, it would be interesting to see how the market shapes up in the future.