The pandemic has penetrated every day of our lives, and it has certainly become one of the most draining topics of the current environment. However, even as we return to 'normal' life, the virus will follow behind. Will e-commerce ever stay the same, or will it change once the world returns to its previous state?
For retailers, the issue doesn’t end when stores re-open, there will be ongoing issues that trail onwards.
How E-Commerce has Changed
There has been a myriad of changes that e-commerce has experienced in the last three months as a result of the pandemic. As stores closed, the urgency for online retail grew exponentially. Faster and cheaper shipping times, increased return times and access to more stock have put serious pressure on retailers to go one step ahead of their planned digital strategy to stay ahead of the times.
As such, while stock remained limited for many retailers, consumers have had to adapt to a shift in lifestyle, as well as core to accept online as a leading platform for the future.
“Coronavirus has forced a whole new wave of shoppers online that are unlikely to go back to their previous buying habits. Ecommerce has been essential to brand survival,” said Dean Taylor, the Founder and CEO of WINEDEPOT. For wine sellers, the closure of cellar doors has forced many retailers to adapt quickly to strategise during hard times.
“This is especially true of Australia’s wine industry, which has been forced to adapt in the face of cellar door closures,” he told Power Retail. “Many who previously relied on cellar door sales as their only or primary DTC sales channel have now invested in building their e-commerce capabilities and this will drive a significant percentage of DTC sales going forward.”
Delivery has seen some of the biggest changes in response to the pandemic. Bunnings’ launch of Drive and Collect changed the game for customers who wanted to save money on delivery fees and maintain safety in their own vehicle.
“We’re taking a common-sense approach to finding ways to quickly adapt our business,” said Mike Schneider, the Managing Director of Bunnings. “This is just another example of how we are adapting our business to this changing environment and our store teams are doing their best to provide customers with the best service, while keeping everyone safe.”
There has also been a serious reconsideration of returns policies amid the crisis. With delays in flights and an overwhelming backlog of parcels sitting waiting for collection, the need for a stronger returns policy was put in place by many retailers.
In a study from Doddle, 72 percent of Australians will check a retailer’s return policy before committing to a purchase. Moreover, 42 percent of Aussie shoppers said they would stop shopping with a particular brand if they’ve had a bad returns experience.
“Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning in all aspects of the online shopping experience, not only comparing products between merchants but in critiquing the delivery and returns options offered too,” said Justin Dery, the CEO of Doddle APAC. “All retailers understandably want to mitigate the impact of returns on the bottom line, but making the process harder or less attractive for the end consumer is not the way to do it. The research indicates that this mindset will actually result in fewer customers, which no retailer can afford in this challenging climate.”
Safety and Post-Pandemic Psychological Effects
Safety has also been a key reason why e-commerce has continued to grow. As brick and mortar retailers re-open and consumers shuffle into stores, there will be an added expectation of safety and hygiene practices taking place. For e-commerce, there’s an added sense of safety for consumers that receive their products that are less handled in the process.
Anxiety and psychological effects of COVID-19 may cause long-term impact for brick and mortar retailers. “There’s going to be that extra level of anxiety over in-store experiences,” said Kate Morris, the Founder and CEO of Adore Beauty. “The ‘Did I touch something? Did I sanitise? Did that person breathe on me?’ I don’t think people are going to forget about that.”
The Future of E-Commerce
It’s expected that despite the massive boom of online retail in the last few months, that these numbers may drop when stores re-open. At the time of writing, e-commerce accounts for 11.1 percent of all retail sales in Australia – what about in the future?
“I personally think e-commerce will actually boom further after COVID-19,” said Jack Wang, the CEO of Amazing Beauty Hair.
” Throughout this period of quarantine, most people are making purchases online because physical stores are closed. Now more consumers, especially the older ones, see the convenience of online stores, this trend will remain and go on uptick even after lockdown measures are fully-eased.”
The confidence begins shopping online has dramatically increased over the last few months, despite the delivery setbacks and strain on the supply chain.
“COVID-19 forced shoppers to use e-commerce to buy all goods,” said Carley Johnson, Fashion Wholesale & Brand Launch Expert at Unzipped. “This has prompted a change in the mindset of consumers, who were traditionally only interested in buying their goods face to face, in a physical presence. Consumers have now seen that the system works, that brands can deliver a safe, personalised service via e-commerce & that e-commerce as a method of shopping is efficient. The confidence in the traditional store shopper to use e-commerce is higher than ever.”
While numbers may drop in the future, there is a high likelihood that e-commerce will remain a strong competitor in retail in the future. So, how should retailers maintain strong customer focus and robust sales?
“Brands need to focus on maintaining a strong community to keep the trust of their new shoppers, this can be achieved through personalised messaging, competitions and giving to local charities,” said Johnson.
Johnson maintains that there are other approaches to maintain and grow e-commerce shoppers, which include:
- Improve your delivery promise. Free shipping and returns.
- Continue to offer an extended returns period.
- Focus on improving your DTC website. Ensure all questions are answered in your product copy, look at add video catwalks of each product being sold.
- Focus on the customer journey, how can this be improved so that the sale is always made. This is a process you should continually improve.
Power Retail is dedicated to providing critical and live e-commerce retailer benchmarking data and shopper insights for the online retail industry. Click here to find out more about Power Retail E-Commerce Intelligence or here to sign-up for the free weekly Pulse Newsletter for more essential online retail content.