In the first few months of 2020, we've seen an unprecedented shift in online shopping habits brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. While some of these behaviors are temporary, some may actually have long-term implications, and retailers and small businesses will need to adjust their strategies to adapt to a new kind of consumer.
What are They Shopping for?
Consumer behavior is currently being influenced by three primary motivators:
- Being Healthy
- Being Prepared
- Being Entertained
The health motivator is accelerating online sales in markets such as pharmaceuticals, nutrition, and supplements. According to Adobe, over-the-counter drug purchases increased 198% YoY in the first two months of Q1. A survey from Digitalcomm360 reported that 32% of consumers have purchased more health and well-being products since the Coronavirus outbreak.
The preparation motivator is spurring growth in markets that sell essential household products like food and beverages, groceries, and baby products. From March 12th to 15th, online grocery order volume surged to 210%, according to Rakuten Intelligence. Online sales of baby products increased 237% week-over-week in March, while food and beverage eCommerce sales increased almost 20% (Bigcommerce).
Finally, with all the extra time we have on our hands, we need something to keep our minds occupied. Indoor entertainment like video streaming services are more popular than ever. Nielsen Media has predicted a 60% increase in the amount of video content consumed globally, and adjacent categories like video games, toys, and children’s products are likely to see growth as well.
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The Long-Term Effects:
For some markets, it’s unlikely this growth will continue after conditions return to normal. In others, like grocery retail, many consumers are purchasing items online for the first time ever. As they become more accustomed to buying online and making repeat purchases, it’s likely this consumer trend becomes a mainstay, simply by force of habit.
As for choice of brand, consumers initially gravitate towards household names like Amazon and Walmart because they are known to have the resources and infrastructure to operate efficiently in a crisis. As we progress into the latter half of 2020 and the pandemic crisis becomes less severe, it is possible that more consumer spend will be allocated towards small and local businesses. Consumers may feel a moral imperative to keep these businesses afloat and do their part to revive a struggling economy once their own livelihoods and finances become more stable.
How are They Shopping?
Not surprisingly, quarantine orders across the U.S. and many parts of the globe have had a direct impact on how consumers are shopping online. While many brick-and-mortar stores temporarily close their doors, eCommerce sales have increased 25% since the beginning of March.
While most shoppers prefer to have their orders delivered, other transactional methods are becoming increasingly popular. Brands are adapting to new health concerns and are offering a variety of options to purchase and collect items to support social distancing. Businesses like JoAnn Fabric and Craft Stores recently launched their Buy Online-Pickup in Store services, Michaels is now offering curbside pickups, and Best Buy is delivering products to customers’ vehicles.
As products become more digitally accessible due to brands’ fulfillment innovations, categories that have not historically relied on eCommerce as a primary revenue driver will start to look at their digital channels with greater importance.
The Long-Term Effects:
While total retail sales dwindle due to economic uncertainty and rising unemployment rates, eCommerce is still holding steady. There is good reason to believe that recent shifts in behavior will have a resonating effect among consumers. In the past month, those who had previously avoided online shopping were forced to use it to meet their basic needs. New shopping habits were formed, website accounts were created, and businesses now have a greater opportunity to meet an audience that was previously anonymous. Undoubtedly, we will see a positive lasting impact on eCommerce and its share of the retail space.
Read more: [Blog] Business in the time of Coronavirus
What Does it All Mean?
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a true test of survival for many businesses. Ones with a solid digital foundation already in place have a strong advantage as physical store traffic comes to a standstill. Ones who have neglected the eCommerce side of business may begin to realize that the recent shift in consumer habits isn’t just a temporary adjustment, but actually a preview of what consumerism in the 2020s will look like. They will have to rethink their business strategies and get their websites up to speed if they want to survive.
All business owners have important decisions to make now and in the next few months-- from testing a new business model, offering additional purchasing methods, or repositioning products. There will always be a new way to deliver greater value to customers. It just takes an understanding of consumer trends and a willingness to adapt to change to find it.