The COVID-19 pandemic represents a generation-defining event that’s drastically affected every corner of the globe. In retail, almost overnight, the entire face and future of the sector changed forever.
To better understand how the retail industry has shifted long term, we asked shoppers directly about how the pandemic and its restrictions have changed their spending, attitudes, and shopping behaviours.
As a semblance of normality returns to the British shopping scene, the insights we’ve uncovered reveal much about the shortcomings and opportunities that have surfaced during this inconceivable period of our lives, and provide many lessons for how retailers can thrive in the future.
1) Marketplaces have been there for consumers in lockdown
Understandably, digital commerce was one area that thrived during lockdown. With so many physical stores closing their doors, seasoned digital buyers and first-time online shoppers alike flooded the web with essential and non-essential orders.
However, despite the immediacy of this digital opportunity for all retailers, established online marketplaces such as Amazon took the lion’s share of spend, with 57% of Brits preferring to shop via these platforms, versus 13% for a retailer’s own website, and just 1% for their dedicated apps.
In fact, the average UK shopper made 11 purchases on a marketplace site in the past four months, versus three purchases from an online retailer, suggesting there’s more work to be done to boost commerce on a retailer’s owned channels.
One such channel is dedicated apps. Apps provide not only a valuable conduit for gathering consumer data in order to provide personalised and enhanced digital experiences, they also enable retailers to integrate with established marketplace giants. By allowing retailers to simultaneously compete and collaborate with online marketplaces, apps represent a vital opportunity for brands to tap into the growing trend for online commerce.
2) Brands can learn from digital shortcomings during lockdown
When swathes of consumers turned to digital to satisfy their shopping needs during lockdown, many ecommerce platforms were found wanting. In the UK, for example, 28% of shoppers described their overall experience online as neither positive nor negative, with 3% going as far as to say it was negative.
Despite this, many people were willing to overlook a drop in website performance or below-par online experiences. There was an understanding that everyone was struggling during this time, and this afforded brands a degree of short-term leniency as they got their houses in order.
This period of clemency won’t last long though, and brands can learn from the shortfalls experienced during lockdown, to futureproof against similar issues arising over the coming months. For example, during lockdown, at least one-third of UK consumers experienced each of the following issues while shopping online:
- Slow or glitch product pages (45%)
- Slow or glitch payments pages (40%)
- Overly-long check-out process (35%)
- Unfamiliar or complicated online store layout (33%)
These issues, in no large part, have contributed to the success of online marketplaces like Amazon, who boast established digital infrastructures capable of dealing with such volume. The opportunity to learn from these shortfalls is evident, however, and should provide ample motivation for retail brands to look at evolving their digital infrastructure via re-platforming.
3) Customers will try their old favourites, but the bar has been raised
The success of online marketplaces doesn’t automatically mean individual retailers can’t compete. Just look at Oakhouse Foods, who, having moved to Magento 2 Commerce last year, was able to manage considerable surge in demand during the height of lockdown, while also optimising its mobile and tablet experience for people with poor eyesight and mobility.
Seamless integrated shopping experiences have become critical over the past few months. There are many factors influencing this: payment security, convenient selection of payment and delivery services and accurate shipping rates among others.
It’s clear that customers expect the whole retail sector to raise the bar in providing compelling omnichannel shopping experiences. Businesses that relied exclusively on in-person selling are scrambling to get their houses in order,while well-established online businesses are struggling to keep up with demand making re-platforming a higher priority.
This is where owning a centralised online platform elevates a retailer’s ecommerce offering – one that’s open source and allows seamless integration with third-parties; houses robust data analytics capabilities; and is scalable, flexible and easy to manage.
4) Looking ahead, environmental concerns could breathe life back into the high street
Despite the prominent use of online marketplaces over the past few months, people rightly recognise the need for sustainability campaigns that promote greener high-street spending, helping mitigate the increasing environmental impact of online commerce.
The most popular measures among UK consumers include:
- One in three are calling for a high-street VAT cut (29%)
- One in five (18%) for marketplace (Amazon) tax hike
- 14% compulsory delivery charge.
After all, today’s conscious consumers are infinitely more mindful of the products they buy. Non-essential items are driven by self-preservation rather than consumerism. For example, a quarter (24%) of Brits say they buy products to support mental health, while 22% say they purchase items for physical health, wellbeing, and fitness.
Retailers faced myriad challenges during lockdown, which means providing digital experiences is no longer enough to ensure long-lasting customer loyalty. Now, retailers need to factor in brand purpose to their campaigns, while using AI and analytics to truly understand the wants and needs of their customers from a purpose perspective, to truly engage with them.
To learn more about how Adobe has helped brands create business growth through commerce, go to Commerce Cloud Customer success stories .