Has COVID-19 impacted online retailing?

Posted in Business and entrepreneurship.

It doesn’t take much effort to realise that the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly affected how we as a go about doing business. For some sectors, it has created a new tougher environment in which to compete. It has also influenced how customers interact with businesses. Social distancing has necessitated moving away from face-to-face buying and selling. To fulfil this new need, many business interactions have been moved online, even for those sectors which were not necessarily associated with online commerce.

While online shopping has already been widespread in many places, the pandemic has given it a boost. People that haven’t shopped online before had begun to do so, and those who already did, did so even more. The main reasons governing this increase are the disinterest in visiting physical stores, the inability to visit physical stores, and the lack of stock in physical stores. Even if these driving forces are less pronounced now, the “new norm” has introduced many to a new standard of convenience which may not go away long after the pandemic has ended.
Let’s take a closer look at what the pandemic has done to increase the popularity of online retailing.

Companies were forced to adapt or risk closing

With the pandemic came new fears and new laws. Even after lock-downs ended, fear caused people to visit stores less frequently. Additionally, ongoing restrictions made going to stores less convenient. Between abiding by restrictions and protecting one’s own health, more and more people were drawn to the safety provided by delivery services and online shopping. Purely brick-and-mortar stores then had to compete with online stores which were seen as safer alternatives. In order to stay competitive, many brick-and-mortar businesses set up online stores. As more businesses utilised online platforms, more people became aware of its functionality.

The businesses that were affected the most by the pandemic were smaller businesses which had no online shopping platform. Thankfully, it is much easier to have an online store than it was two decades ago. While the move to online shopping may seem transient in the context of the pandemic, the resources that have to be put into setting up and maintaining an online store most likely means it is going to stay once the pandemic fades.

The influx of online customers necessitated innovation

With more and more companies embracing online shopping, new ways of competing arose; customers preferred same-day deliveries, a friendlier online user experience, and quality of delivery. No longer was it a selling point to have a delivery service or an online store. It became about how a business’s online services stood above others’.

An increased demand for online services meant that bigger companies such as Walmart or Amazon had to increase online order capacity, expand pickup services, and increase server capacity. With standards of online shopping increasing, more businesses sought to offer a more convenient and reliable service. More and more delivery services provided same-day delivery services and provided extra incentives to shop online. Improvements to logistics technology allowed delivery services to become more efficient and cheaper, sometimes making online shopping cheaper than going to a physical store.

However, the pandemic did not affect all businesses the same way…

Some businesses benefited more than others

Online stores that commonly sold luxury items probably did not benefit greatly from the coronavirus pandemic. The online sales of basic products such as groceries, education supplies, pharmaceuticals, and personal care items saw the most increase during the pandemic.

All of these were driven by the changes introduced by the pandemic. The reluctance to visit grocery stores and supermarkets resulted in increased sales of personal care items and groceries online. Furthermore, the changes to public education had many children learning online and the fear of disease had many buying more medication.
What the coronavirus pandemic did for online shopping wasn’t making it more mainstream – in many major cities it was already commonplace. What it did was extend the variety of products included in online stores. As more people get used to the “new norm” online shopping may become a staple of regular shopping. What does this mean for physical stores? It is entirely possible that newer generations never experience having to walk or drive to a store.