The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on E-Commerce

Without question, the coronavirus outbreak is changing the landscape of e-commerce as we speak. Social distancing has quickly become the primary measure used to combat the virus around the world, and as such, more people have found themselves stuck at home than ever before. While some organizations struggle to adopt an online platform, others have been forced to shut down entirely.  

This has created a unique void in the market that, in industries like entertainment or amenity goods, can only be filled by e-commerce businesses. These circumstances are of course temporary, but they are likely to give way to lasting changes in the way businesses and consumers approach e-commerce in the future.  

Changing Views of ‘Online’ Goods 

Some consumers still view e-commerce as an alternative to brick and mortar stores, existing only for niche goods or rare one-off products. While e-commerce is only expected to grow in the coming years, surprisingly it only accounts for about 15% of retail sales today. As the market matures, it’s likely these stereotypes would have slowly disappeared on their own. But the coronavirus pandemic seems to have jumpstarted this movement.  

Groceries and cooking equipment have quickly become the number one seller across many online platforms. Grocery delivery services saw a rapid boost in sales, for example Instacart saw a 150% increase in orders and a 15% increase in the size of individual orders. This is somewhat surprising given that many groceries have been trying and failing for years to automate their shopping experience. Most grocery stores are also designated necessary businesses and are allowed to remain open during the outbreak. 

The scope of what consumers are willing to buy online seems to have broadened. Even if these changes in shopping habits are temporary, consumers will certainly be more aware and familiar with a variety of e-commerce platforms as the pandemic unwinds.  

New E-Commerce Shoppers  

While the attractive features of new e-commerce platforms are likely to appeal to consumers who were already accustomed to online shopping, many consumers have only just been introduced to e-commerce. Coincidentally, the demographic that is most at risk for contracting the virus and experiencing complications, are also statistically the least likely to be familiar with e-commerce. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, consumers over the age of 45 are more likely than their younger counterparts to adhere to social distancing practices.  

The aging population has often been reluctant to adopt new technologies, including e-commerce, but their heightened risks may play a major role in encouraging them to consider online retailers. Additional demographics under the age of 45, who have yet to engage with e-commerce websites, will also likely be drawn to the safety and convenience they offer. Overall, a new potential market is opening up to e-commerce.  

When considering the profitability and longevity of the e-commerce sector, a major concern to investors and private businesses is the willingness of consumers to engage with online vendors. The relationship formed during these coming months will prove fundamental to e-commerce growth; experts believe this uptick in sales will likely expedite e-commerce development, but future studies will provide more detailed insights.  

While there are many nuances to consider in a time where retailers have laid off staff and faced almost immediate financial strain, established e-commerce businesses like Amazon have been able to remain stable and aloft. This may very well indicate a change in the narrative, where the hazards entailed in brick and mortar establishments may soon outweigh their advantages.