The pandemic has sparked an e-commerce boom – will it last?

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Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed both business strategy and consumer behavior.

With the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns forcing all non-essential retail outlets to close for much of the past year, much of the vital negotiating time has been wasted. To combat this, businesses and customers have been forced to do the majority of their transactions online; from retail products to manufacturing supplies. As a result, the UK is in the midst of an e-commerce boom.

However, as the UK economy begins to reopen and foreclosure restrictions begin to ease, it is interesting to wonder if e-commerce will continue to gain momentum throughout 2021.

Changing behaviors

Recent data indicates that e-commerce is here to stay.

The Office for National Statistics report on retail sales share shows that at its peak in January 2021, online retail‘s share of total retail sales was 36.3%. This is striking compared to January 2019, when the figure stood at just 19.3%, almost double its share in just two years.

In addition, the recent IMRG Campgemini Online Retail Index reports a 74% increase in UK online sales year-on-year for January 2021. It goes without saying that consumer behavior has been heavily influenced by lockdowns. ; the lack of the ability to simply go to the stores necessitated some level of buy-in – however reluctant – into e-commerce by much of society.

Online retailing has, of course, grown steadily in physical stores for many consecutive years, but this trend has been dramatically accelerated by reduced consumer choice over the past year.

The question is therefore whether this growth is sustainable or a temporary and artificial peak based on necessity.

Post-pandemic preferences

A survey by Retail Economics and NatWest found that almost half (46%) of UK consumers have turned to online retailing for purchases they have only made in person before. the pandemic. This tells us a lot about the intangible relationship between consumers and stores. Indeed, consumer preferences may shift away from mainstreet frequentation in favor of the convenience of e-commerce.

The convenience factor provides excellent resistance to this retail sector. Just a decade before the pandemic, online retailing had a notorious perception of unreliability. Of course, if the wrong products are delivered and require a return, for example, the consumer will be more embarrassed than if they had taken a tour of the stores. However, thanks to advances in logistics, these complaints are increasingly a thing of the past.

We now have a robust delivery infrastructure capable of meeting the ever-increasing demand for e-commerce, and businesses of all kinds can easily access web-based platforms capable of handling many disparate services such as invoicing and mailing. shipping. On the shipping side, cheaper and more responsive delivery options, the availability of live tracking and transparent returns have supported the quality of service now offered.

Additionally, most major online retail platforms make it easier for customers to make returns and obtain refunds than ever in physical retail, with strong and consistent consumer protection guarantees. In retail, trust is everything. Advances in service reliability will benefit businesses that have turned to online retailing for years to come.

Benefits for companies

E-commerce is obviously a boost for consumers, but you also have to consider the business case for e-commerce. In the past, well-located retail spaces in cities and town centers were expensive overheads, with rents and rates a challenge even for established businesses. Now, as consumers increasingly shop online, both startups and multinationals may consider putting e-commerce at the heart of their strategy.

There are, of course, limits to the reach of electronic commerce. The Main Street is a cornerstone of British culture; entire cities are designed and built to cross them. There will always be a place for brick and mortar. Many consumers will prefer the personalized service and social experience of physical retail, which they trust through experience. Others will just want to personally examine the quality of the products before agreeing to buy. It must be admitted that there are bridges that online sales cannot cross.

Obviously, e-commerce businesses cannot afford to be complacent. As such, they should consider how they can provide a service to meet these needs. Talking to customers to understand how their service can be improved, for example consulting a logistics consultant to create the most efficient courier service would be a good place to start. Such measures will go a long way in maintaining customer satisfaction and encouraging customer retention.

While there are limits and challenges associated with the resurgence of physical retailing in the coming months, it will be interesting to observe the sustainability of the e-commerce boom. Consumer trends are hard to predict in the simplest of times, but the convenience of online retailing can now boast of being important in staying competitive. As in the main street, everything will depend on the quality of the service offered. In this case, e-commerce companies can look to the future with confidence.

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