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How Coronavirus Is Changing E-Commerce

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One thing the coronavirus pandemic has done is force me to take a fresh look at the nature of e-commerce. As we have all modified our consumption behavior, this has ushered in a new and more relevant dimension to online shopping.

In other words, it was always distinguished as either online or offline shopping, purchasing in the store or with a few clicks of the mouse.

But before we get to a new, third way of shopping that is gaining significant traction, let’s take a look at how we arrived here in the first place.

What is essential?

I bet that as the new decade dawned many of us were unfamiliar with COVID-19. But that was all about to change.

The spread of the virus moved from East to West, prompting one lockdown after another around the world. We are still experiencing this phenomenon today, especially with rising case numbers in the United States and Latin America.

“Here is undoubtedly the most important question in retail right now: How much of this new online spending will continue once we’re back to pre-pandemic levels of normality?”

Consumer behavior was suddenly either essential or non-essential retail and with it our shopping experience changed, perhaps in some ways, for good.

To varying degrees of enforcement, we were all suddenly in lockdown. Quickly we realized that endless streaming of our favorite shows and movies was not as satisfying as imagined. Thankfully, for many, non-essential retail remained an option.

We had carte blanche to start ordering grills, trampolines, garden chairs and anything else we randomly sought out to lift the boredom.

Greater e-commerce is here to stay

According to Bazaarvoice, the shift began almost immediately in March. In a survey they conducted of more than 3,000 people, 41 percent of respondents said they were shopping online for items they would normally purchase in the store.

And micro-fulfillment organization Fabric published a report estimating that online grocery alone in the U.S. could rise to 12 percent by the end of the year.

That same report found that more than half of current online spending will remain after the pandemic ends.

And this is a clue to perhaps answering undoubtedly the most important question in retail right now: How much of this new online spending will continue once we’re back to pre-pandemic levels of normality?

“Smart independent retailers moved from the physical to the digital, live streaming their stores and products to customers.”

A third channel emerging

Above I referred to online and offline retail and the emergence of a third shopping channel. With the enforced lockdown of non-essential retailers, many independent vendors selling fashion, art, crafts and books to name a few were in dire straits.

With no e-commerce presence as a safety net, they faced the same overhead costs as before — but with zero revenue.

However, their customers didn’t stop making purchases. They simply moved from the physical to the digital. And that’s where the smarter independent retailers also moved, live streaming their stores and products to customers.

Thus, a third channel was born.

“Brands and retailers that understand the power of social shopping and have pivoted their business to a digital-first model are finding major opportunities.”

Embrace the pivot

Indeed, live streaming has become arguably China’s favorite way to shop, and this is not just a reincarnation of QVC.

This is streaming, typically by the individual shop owners themselves, showing off the products, trying on clothes — showcasing their store live and online. It’s artisan and authentic, and it’s taking off.

As lockdowns reemerge with outbreaks of the virus, more of us will remain hesitant to visit physical stores, forcing us to turn to e-commerce and live streaming to make our purchases.

Brands and retailers that understand the power of social shopping and have pivoted their business to a digital-first model are finding major opportunities. For those who have yet to change, the remainder of 2020 and beyond could remain a painful experience.

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