Those of us who experienced the first COVID-19 lock-downs were likely surprised when reporting began last month one year later. It felt as if we were trying to figure out “how the year has come to an end?” while wondering, “how close is one year?” It seems like five years have passed! No matter how you look at it, it’s been a difficult time. We hope it will end soon, but I hope it does. This COVID pandemic is far more than a health or emotional crisis, it has unpredictably changed the shopping behavior.
Considering this year’s pandemic anniversary falls near the end of the holiday shopping season, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to reflect on how pandemics affect online shopping and consumer behavior this year and imagine how the retail industry will proceed once the crisis is over.
The Retail Industry has Evolved a Great Deal Over the Past Few Years
Store closures, layoffs, or bankruptcy have all taken place by some retailers. As consumers and professionals become more dependent on work-from-home lifestyles, other businesses such as home goods stores, fitness, and active-wear brands have also benefited.
There were some winners and some losers in the industrial sector. Online retail shopping statistics point to increased sales in the grocery industry (+18%) and household supply industry (+3%) during the pandemic last summer but reduced deals in the skincare and cosmetics industry (-24%) and general apparel industry (-35%).
After researching and analyzing trends over the past year, the central research organizations and industry consulting companies have devised predictions for how retail will look one year from now. Let’s look at what we know now, and the five retail trends they say will last.
1. Using the Touchscreen to Shop
Instead of swiping a credit card, retailers are now investing in online shopping and retail with contact-less checkout methods, such as NFC tapping and smartphone apps, to help consumers avoid shared surfaces and other customer interaction. These trends are here to stay; there is no going back.
2. Online Shopping Continues to Grow
It’s nothing new. Online sales through U.S. retailers reached $861 billion in 2020, up 44% from 2019. It’s no wonder the advantages of online retail shopping have won over holdouts who are used to shopping in-store. Alternatively, online sales accounted for 21 percent of total retail sales in 2020, compared with 16 percent in 2019, including curbside pick-up shoppers who buy online. According to a recent GlobalData survey, 68% of consumers intend to continue using curbside pickup for their future purchases. However, it may have an unfortunate repercussion: the decline of shopping malls may occur sooner than expected as e-commerce takes over. In the next three to five years, Coresight Research projects 25% of malls will shut down, possibly continuing the retail apocalypse of the past decade.
3. Shopping Tools Utilizing Virtual Reality
In virtual shopping tools, customers can see what a product will look like even from a distance. Online shopping during pandemics has made retailers widely use video to demonstrate how an item will look on a customer, such as a handbag or a pair of glasses. In addition, some stores offer virtual consulting, skin-care diagnostic tools, and live streaming shopping, or they allow customers to schedule appointments with sales representatives or stylists online.
4. Buying From Social Networks
Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are becoming increasingly popular among consumers who wish to shop within a community or take advantage of social influencers for buying advice. The Bazaarvoice survey estimates that in 2020, one-third of shoppers during pandemic shopping will purchase directly from a social media platform. According to another Influence Central survey, 69% of consumers currently buy from Facebook posts; 34% click Instagram’s shoppable links, and 33% swipe up for their purchases and complete their pandemic shopping list. In 2021, these numbers are forecast to rise even more.
5. There are Reasons to Believe Retail Categories May Rise with Work-from-home
Researchers found that, on average, office workers now prefer to work at least two days a week remotely. Companies recognize the benefits of remote work, and research from PwC supports this notion. However, how does that affect retail?
How Does a Pandemic Affect Online Business and Shopping Behavior?
Athleisure and other “Zoom-ready” styles are doing well because consumers are used to dressing comfortably in casual clothes and not so well for dressier office wear, for example. There has been an increase in the preparation of meal deliveries during the pandemic, especially of healthy foods, as 60% of consumers indicate they are seeking out healthy foods more frequently than before. Furthermore, online retail shopping trends such as comfort products and services have also grown in popularity. The home remodeling segment reported by Comscore improved 20% over the last year, and online furniture shopping increased 26%.
Desertcart, an e-commerce website, and retailer based in the United Arab Emirates, has seen a threefold increase in business because of the current Covid-19 global pandemic and various curfews and lock downs.
Announcing the company’s month-on-month growth since mid-March, founder Rahul Swaminathan revealed the company’s markets in the UAE, the US, UK, and India are all showing “double-digit growth.” Among the services provided by the company is assistance with international purchases and products not readily available in the region, shipping products to GCC destinations from the UAE, USA, UK, Turkey, India, Japan, China, and Turkish providers.
Several analysts predict that e-commerce will become the primary driver of growth in retail over the next five years as many of China’s online retail shopping sites have ceased operations in many countries. In the forecast, e-commerce will accelerate at 20 percent year-over-year between 2020 and 2022 and 14 percent through 2025. If Covid-19 had not occurred, the same growth would have been forecast at 14 percent rather than 10 percent.
Traditional bricks and mortar retail, Swaminathan said, faces a bleak future.
In his opinion, consumer shopping behavior is something that won’t change after the pandemic is over. Once they’ve converted to buying online, I think changing that is nearly impossible; getting dressed up, taking the car out, parking, etc.; and going back to shopping malls and malls again is very difficult.
The odds are slim, but it certainly seems that way. Considering the brick-and-mortar concept, it makes sense for specific industries, such as the restaurant industry. The desire to gather in a place for a meal isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. You might want to check out some boutique stores.
It doesn’t seem plausible that people will still shop outside to buy their groceries in the future. When you can do your grocery shopping in three minutes on your computer; it doesn’t make sense to go through all that trouble every week.