How COVID-19 changed the e-commerce world?
If someone told us a couple of years ago that the world would be at the mercy of a virus, we would probably consider it a dystopian scenario, far from the comfort of our everyday life. But in less than a year through the Covid-19 crisis, life today seems quite different. The thing about the pandemic is that if it affects the whole world, and although every country has its other struggles, it is known that, on different scales, every nation has issued lockdowns. Being mandatory or suggested, every country has entered its way into a state of quarantine.
The risk of contagion of Covid-19 is high, and often it takes time to reveal its harm. That is why it has spread so fast and why people are so scared to go outside and get in touch with other people because anyone could be infected without even knowing, and since it is not a widely available vaccine yet, there is a mortal danger in the disease. But even if society was not prepared to live through a global pandemic, it is true that we were on a correct path to lessen its risks.
Since simple things such as shopping and buying groceries are risky today, there is a way to carry them out successfully and with little to no danger for your health, and that is E-Commerce. If online shopping was growing steadily before the pandemic, the need to transfer physical stores to digital has exploded since the epidemic began.
- The March’s anomaly
- Extraordinary demand
- Above all, customer experience
- Strengthen your technological platforms
- What CEO’s think?
- How is the pandemic changing consumer expectations?
- The post-pandemic future
Society has been adapting to this new normality. During the first weeks of the quarantine process, the whole online commerce issue was saturated. People’s shopping patterns changed. The new essential items, such as facemasks, disinfectants, plastic gloves, digital thermometers, among others, ran out quickly and were out of stock for a long time.
At the same time, things that were bought today started to reduce their sales. Online shopping was upside down, but as things began to fall into place, stores began to adapt to this phenomenon, offering different products, safety measures, and actions that would sound excessive before but now seem familiar.
To survive, many businesses’ efforts have been to transfer from physical stores into the world of E-commerce. Those that already existed digitally have been taken a closer look at how to grow their online business. The future is digital, and this pandemic has shown us that. Because crisis often brings new opportunities, and Covid-19 has a different view of E-commerce and its benefits.
The March’s anomaly
Covid-19’s lockdowns took place at different times, depending on the country, but most of them were around March. This can be noted by looking at some of the graphics drawn concerning the growing of E-Commerce since the pandemic started. But although online sales increased considerably, it might not be entirely proper the label this period as a boom in E-Commerce since people began to buy more online. Still, not all of the products benefited from this.
According to data taken by the Danish E-Commerce Association (FDIH), during March, where quarantine started there, there was a 20% increase in sales of leisure products and services such as books, movies, and music, as well as a 10% increase in revenue by half of the food and beverages companies.
On the other hand, there was a 10% decrease in sales of luxury items such as clothing and home furnishing and a notorious but expected 90% decline in travel revenue. A similar case on the increased sales of groceries and medicines happened in Germany, while the overall online sales contracted by around 18% compared to the previous year.
Another example is data obtained from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concerning sales in the United States, where retail and food services sales around February, March, and April were down 7.7%, compared to the same period in 2019. At the same time, sales increased for grocery stores and non-store retailers, mostly E-Commerce providers, by 16% and 14.8%, respectively.
As was told in the previous section, consumer behavior and online shopping patterns have changed dramatically since March. Since then, E-Commerce sales have been rapidly increasing in almost all aspects, and E-Commerce owners are more aware of what should be done about this extraordinary demand.
Two of the most benefited online commerce sectors are B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to customer), mainly because people and companies still need to buy products and services, and now prefer to do it with the safeness and convenience that the Internet offers.
According to OECD, from 2018 to the first quarter of 2020, there was only a small increase in E-Commerce in total retail for both the United States (from 9.6% to 11.8%) and the United Kingdom (from 17.3% to 20.3%). Still, there was a considerable spike between the first and second quarters of 2020 in both countries. The United State’s spiked to 16.1%, while the United Kingdom’s went up to 31.3%. In China, food products were the biggest winners in E-Commerce, with an increase in accumulated sales of 36% from January to April, relative to 2019.
While online sales slowly become more stable, E-commerce website owners should keep in mind the trends that these Covid-19 times bring, but what is certain is that ordering different unusual items such as food and groceries online has become routine. Those who manage to follow and fulfill online demands will ensure that their company succeeds in these uncertain times.
As was told before, with crisis comes opportunity. An example of that was the proliferation of successful Chinese E-Commerce companies during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003.
Taking advantage of the actual demand for online shopping might be the first step towards getting an E-Commerce website to turn in profits, but once the suspense of Covid-19 starts to diminish, only those shops that are planned for the long run might prevail. Short-term survival is crucial, but it never hurts to start thinking long-term. These are a couple of recommendations for your website:
Get your digital business model working.
There are three different cases for those who own a shop, either physical, digital, or both.
If your case is the first one, you must start thinking about an online alternative, unless your business has to be strictly physical. In that case, consider online marketing and take advantage of the enormous traffic through the Internet. It is not an empty statement to say that either you go online, in one way or the other, or your store might cease to exist. Make sure to revisit the foundation of your business model to check that it works in the context of an online store.
If you already own a full or partial online store, then get to work on its optimal functioning. Check online marketing strategies and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), an essential tool for getting your business exposure. It is well known that a strong online presence is indispensable for successful E-Commerce.
When migrating from physical to online, don’t forget to check prices on all of your items and compare them to other stores. Also, if you have not set up delivery methods, it would help to plan that. Fast and safe deliveries are essential for online business, but they charge varying rates and take different times, so do an extensive investigation so you can offer the best.
Above all, customer experience
Once initial arrangements are made, and your website is working correctly on all aspects, you have to take into account consumer experience because, after all, clients are the ones who in the end decide which stores succeed and which don’t. Ensure you provide a good User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) so that people checking your store never get frustrated with it.
Once you have clients buying your products, make sure you keep them happy and engaged with loyalty programs, subscription models, promotions, and a constant expansion of the product range. Another important matter for your E-Commerce website: keep in mind that older people are using every time more online stores, especially during these times, so make your website simple and easy to understand.
Strengthen your technological platforms
You might have a working website with loyal customers, but it never hurt to strengthen your technological platforms. Make you test your store meticulously, both for functional as non-functional aspects. You might have done it some time ago, but it never hurts to give it an occasional look. Also, consider more specific tools to measure increasing consumer flow and advanced analytics and implement automated customer interactions. All of these will help your business be better organized and enhance the overall customer experience.
What CEO’s think?
Although, in the end, the most critical opinions when deciding the course of an online store are those of the people who run it, it is a good idea to read what other people think about the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on E-Commerce.
Avi Assa, CEO of 3DSellers, mentions that his online company saw a 20-30% increase in customers, which has shown a stronger connection now that times are changing. He also noted that clients are not looking as much for new features as for good advice.
Other examples of changes due to the pandemic come from Ofir Yahav, CEO of Prandz, who says that brands transferred funds from advertising into other assets, like their respective website. He adds that now is the time for those companies to deliver things and services to users for better engagement.
This idea could be backed by the statement of Sean Brown, founder, and CEO of Mercato. He comments that his company stopped all marketing but still saw steady growth, mainly because his company provides tools for E-Commerce stores, multiplying, as this article has been mentioning.
How is the pandemic changing consumer expectations?
By the time online shopping became a reality for a significant part of society, most people going online expect a fast, reliable, and uneventful experience. There is nothing like the perfect E-Commerce website, but considering the recommendations previously mentioned in this article, your website might stand a chance.
Still, a significant share of E-Commerce sellers is now experiencing some of the same physical stores’ problems. Many of their products are not being sold as much, mainly those considered non-essential, which creates the necessity for a business to diversify their products.
For example, in April, Amazon sellers with less than 1500 product listings saw a reduction in their sales, while those with more than 3000 saw an increase in their profits. The demand for small, specialized sellers has been shifting to larger, more diversified ones. This, while tragic, if planned carefully, could help your store if you expand your product range. This way, you can offer customers two of the most important things today on E-Commerce: A good website and a great variety of products.
We cannot have progress without challenges. If the Covid-19 pandemic is not enough, other things could be difficult physically to digital stores transition and an E-Commerce website blooming. On a grander scale, the main challenge could be that a significant part of the population has no Internet access. The quality of their connection is terrible, which happens today, mostly in rural areas.
There is no real progress if it only benefits a few people. The Government should expand affordable and quality broadband to these areas to ensure inclusion and provide ways, so store owners learn the necessary skills to participate in E-Commerce.
Regarding the Government, another thing that E-Commerce store owners should keep in mind is that, with the popularization of online shops, new tax impositions and regulations are likely to arrive, so owners should be well informed about it, so losses don’t overcome profits.
Other challenges that directly affect an online business are cybersecurity concerns and delayed deliveries and bad reviews. As for cybersecurity and problems with deliveries, as told in our recommendations, they should be looked at beforehand and tested to avoid future problems. With this and other issues that get fixed during testing, the bad reviews will decrease. From then on, much depends on the products you are selling, the bus as long as your work and your services are right, you should have a good reputation.
The post-pandemic future
Thinking long-term is crucial when planning and adjusting your E-Commerce website. That is if you want it to last. If you plan it right, your website might endure these strange times and come out of the pandemic as a well-established and reliable business. It is expected that smaller cities might see an increase in their population, while big cities might not continue to grow as fast.
That could be caused by a general fear of the risk of a pandemic blowback or another pandemic. Also, smaller cities are often cheaper, and if people could work and buy online, that means there would not always be a need to live in the middle of a big city, spending big on rents and services.
People will undoubtedly continue to buy online in the post-pandemic scenario, and you should think of your online store as a possible supplier for those people. Covid-19 could trigger a deeper digitalization of society, and you should not take your finger off that. Make all the necessary arrangements for your E-Commerce website’s survival in the short-term, but the world will still exist after the pandemic, and make sure your business too.
We live in strange times, but in the end, there is no better time than today to get and stay in the retail business. With the digitalization of society, the whole world is at your fingertips. It is almost as easy to sell something to your neighbor as to a person on the other side of the globe. Do not get discouraged with the Covid-19 pandemic. While tragic, it does not come without opportunities for those who have the means and the will to find them. Check your E-Commerce website, test it, make it work for the extraordinary demand we have today so that it thrives during these troublesome times, and, when this all ends, it will still be there. And, as always, stay safe.