It’s a rare ecommerce business that didn’t suffer at least some whiplash from the past 2+ years. Trends that were on
a steady trajectory suddenly saw dizzying acceleration as the pandemic upended the daily patterns of
consumers’ lives — and shook up every retail vertical.
Trend 1: The Big Shift Online
As people stayed home, in-person shopping became the safest and most convenient way for them to spend money on needed (or desired) items. Whether it was their first toe-dip into the unfamiliar waters of ecommerce or simply relying on it more heavily, consumers went online shopping more than ever before.
“When a customer can go online, make a purchase, and then turn around and send it right back if they’re not happy with it, that’s convenient. The pandemic might have forced consumers to have to shop online, but now that busy families realize they can quickly get the items they need at the same in-store price and with the same level of convenience without ever leaving the house, there’s a lot less reason for them to go back into a store.”
More Ecommerce Customers
When asked how the pandemic/lockdown changed their buying habits or frequency, 78% of survey respondents said they increased the frequency/amount of how much they shop online, while 13% said they made their very first purchase online because of the pandemic. Only 8% decreased their online shopping.
The Pandemic Spurred a Shift to Online Shopping
Higher Frequency of Online Shopping
In last year’s report (2020-2021), only 26% of consumers surveyed shopped online once or twice a week. That number has skyrocketed in this year's report (2021-2022) to 45% — translated into a 73% increase in the number of frequent online shoppers.
Online Shopping Has Become a Habit
Greater Ecommerce Spending
Out of the 78% of respondents who said they’ve increased their frequency/spend when online shopping, almost half spend $200 more online each month. And over half of those same respondents are shopping an extra 1-2 times per month.
Consumers Spend More Online Than Ever Before
About how much more do you spend online per month over the last twelve months?
Consumers Also Shop More Online Than Ever Before
How much did you increase your online shopping frequency over the last twelve months?
Trend 2: Some Industries Are Struggling out of the Ecommerce Gate
While the massive growth in ecommerce resulted in record revenue being generated, not every industry fared the same. Some industries saw considerable success in ecommerce as people nested at home, while indulgences like luxury goods and travel weren’t exactly embraced by ecommerce shoppers.
How the rankings shook out, however, depended entirely on the type of consumer: When asked which category they’d be most likely to purchase from online retailers, new ecommerce shoppers gravitated toward apparel, electronics and home goods.
Some Industries Are Thriving Online
However, when we look at what more experienced ecommerce shoppers tend to purchase, they opt for home goods first — much more so than their inexperienced counterparts. It’s likely that beginner ecommerce shoppers simply aren’t yet comfortable buying things for their home without seeing, feeling or sitting on them first, while online stalwarts are happy buying even big-ticket items like mattresses or sofas online. This is where hybrid ecommerce options like Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store can be useful.
Veteran Ecommerce Shoppers Love Buying Home Goods
In addition to industry winners and losers, there were clear frontrunners within industries.
It wasn’t just consumers who were forced to adapt during the pandemic. Many retailers were pushed clean out of their brick-and-mortar comfort zones and into the ecommerce world with little to no warning or preparation.
Unsurprisingly, the businesses that have fared the best in the new era of ecommerce are the ones who have been neck-deep in ecommerce since long before the pandemic or “pure players” whose primary objective is selling online.
“The ecommerce businesses that have truly thrived as a result of these trends are the ‘pure players’ — those companies that are solely focused on ecommerce. They had the most success because they didn’t have to make many adjustments, other than figuring out how to accommodate all their new customers."
“Companies that already had an ecommerce arm of their business separate from their brick-and-mortar presence have also done well. Those companies were able to easily adapt by reallocating resources – the infrastructure was already in place.”
Trend 3: Blurred Borders for Online Shopping
Ecommerce blurs national boundaries and opens consumers and merchants to cross-border ecommerce. Of course, the “shop local” push impacted consumer buying habits, but 48% of consumers ordered from a combination of local and overseas retailers.
Best of Both Worlds: Online Consumers Shop Local and International
This signals opportunity for foreign merchants, especially for those in countries with the highest retail ecommerce sales growth in 2021, according to eMarketer:
- United Kingdom
- United States
Know the differences you must be prepared for if you plan to expand your business across the pond.
What Ecommerce Businesses Can Do to Retain Shoppers
This enormous increase in the frequency and amount of online shopping has resulted in plenty of potential for ecommerce merchants:
- Novice shoppers, if given an amazing customer experience and fair prices, could become loyal lifetime shoppers who are happy to never have to look anywhere else.
- More active shoppers can increase their spend and frequency, as well as their potential as influencers.
So... how do you keep these people around?
Distinguish Brick-and-Mortar From Online Operations
We know this isn’t easy for a small business to do when budgets are already tight, but companies should treat their brick-and-mortar and online stores as separate channels.
“There have been retail companies that tried to roll out an ecommerce store using the same team, logistics, inventory, merchandising and shipping resources as for their brick-and-mortar operations – and it didn’t work out well for them. Those lessons showed the industry that the mindset, skill set, operational model, nd fraud need to be different."
“You can’t just copy-paste your brick-and-mortar store into an online setting and expect it to succeed with today’s consumers.”
Anticipate Novice Customers’ Inexperience Navigating the World Wide Web
Ecommerce merchants need to be empathetic to the absence of experience and knowledge among their novice customers.
For example, some online apparel retailers allow you to upload a photo, so you can “try on” items before making a purchase. This type of CX appeals to experienced ecommerce consumers, but a novice consumer may find it frustrating or overwhelming.
“It’s important to recognize that novice (or more frequent) shoppers may not fit typical buyer patterns – and their expectations aren’t the same. The great shift online may have upended everything you thought you knew about your customers – which can have major ripple effects on your decision-making.”
Customize Your Customers’ Experience Online and Offline
We’ll dive into the importance of CX later in this report; however, online merchants would be smart to distinguish their customers’ experiences in the same way they should distinguish their operational teams. Consider creating a customer experience specifically for novice consumers that’s distinct from the CX offered to experienced users and return customers.
Those experiences can live harmoniously on the same site. For example, a search bar and clear navigation will be soothingly helpful for novice shoppers, while personalized item curation and an experience that flows smoothly from social media to mobile site to desktop site and back again will make experienced shoppers smile.
By allowing customers to “choose their own adventure,” merchants create a uniquely personal experience for customers and adapt with them as they become more comfortable online.
Now that we’ve seen the big picture view of how ecommerce has changed in the last year, let’s dive into some of the factors that account for these changes.