Top Online Shopping Trends Accelerated by COVID-19

COVID has driven a whole host of new behaviors for consumers – not just related to shopping, but in all aspects of our day-to-day lives. The question on most businesses’ minds is how long and to what extent these behaviors will stick around once COVID no longer dictates the way we live.

There is no denying that COVID has had a dramatic impact on how people shop. eCommerce sales are 44% higher in Q2 of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 – a staggering climb in a market that was already growing rapidly. And according to one McKinsey study, over 30% of respondents have already tried a new method of shopping as a result of COVID. Let’s look at some of the behaviors that COVID has amplified most heavily, and what the impact will be in the future.

Buying DTC

The direct-to-consumer (DTC) model has become increasingly popular over the past decade, pioneered by brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos. Through incredible attention to service and customer experience, DTC brands have attracted modern consumers, especially of younger generations. According to PYMNTS survey, 37% of all consumers are now more interested in shopping with DTC brands primarily due to brand loyalty – that number grows to nearly 50% when looking at just the Millennial and Gen-Z audiences, who are particularly swayed by these brands’ digital offerings.

Selling DTC

It should come as no surprise then that many brands that were previously focused on wholesale will also make strides to expand their own digital presence. The advantages of the DTC model, including the ability to monitor and optimize your customers’ buying journey, control your marketing strategy, and collect your customers’ data, are only exaggerated by COVID. Many brands were put in compromising positions by their wholesale partners during the pandemic when retailers were forced to close (and some even forced to declare bankruptcy). Given how easy it is now to launch online and how affordable online advertising has become, the adoption of the DTC approach will only continue to grow as a trend.

Buy Now Pay Later

The economic impact of COVID has created a lot of financial uncertainty for many consumers. The result is that they are more closely monitoring their spending, and avoiding risky financial behavior. While buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) programs were already growing in popularity before COVID, the current climate has made them even more attractive. Popular players like Afterpay, Affirm, and Quadpay have reported tremendous growth during the pandemic, and recent research has shown that this option is particularly attractive to Millennials, primarily as a way to afford items typically outside of their budget without relying on credit. If you’re an eCommerce company not currently offering this purchase option, you may be missing out.

Mobile Shopping

If customers weren’t already on their phones all the time, they certainly are now – according to the Ericson Mobility report (by way of Telecompetitor), mobile usage has increased on average by an additional hour a day during COVID. With the introduction of 5G and people relying on phones rather than a desktop or laptop, more consumers will be making purchases from mobile devices than ever before.

Video on Product Pages

Now that customers aren’t able to touch and feel products in store as easily as before, the goal for eCommerce brands should be to get their customers closer to that experience online. Incorporating video into your eCommerce experience is a tremendously powerful way to do that – in fact, customers are 64-85% more likely to purchase after watching a video. Unlike static images, video gives customers a better idea of how the product looks from every angle and a better sense of its relative size and fit. eCommerce platforms like Shopify make it easy to introduce video as part of your product pages, thus increasing the number of brands that can pursue this strategy.

Curbside Pickup

One of the biggest benefits of a physical store is its immediacy – in most cases, you’re taking your product home with you the minute you purchase. As COVID has forced us to be more heavily reliant on online shopping though, curbside pick-up has been the next best option in regard to fulfillment. Curbside pick-up is a COVID-friendly form of “click and collect”, or buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). Customers usually opt into this option to avoid shipping costs or cut down on wait time. As of August, 43.7% of the 245 retailers with stores ranked in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 500 offer curbside pickup, and eMarketer now expects US click-and-collect eCommerce sales to grow to $58.52 billion by the end of 2020. Even as customers feel it’s safe to return to stores, the convenience of shopping online combined with the ability to pick up orders at no extra cost and on one’s own time suggests this trend is here to stay.

High-Touch Digital Services

Social distancing has dramatically reduced our ability to speak face-to-face with an expert at a store. As a result, online consumers are seeking guidance through brands’ e-commerce experience, relying on channels like live chat and video chat in order to feel confident about their purchasing decisions. According to a Zendesk report that analyzed activity across 23,000 companies, total support tickets in the U.S. are up by 16% since the start of the year, with the period of greatest growth occurring from March 22nd through the end of April. These numbers indicate a new consumer behavior and also, perhaps more importantly, a large opportunity for brands to offer better service to customers who have migrated their shopping activity online for the first time. Companies that provide their customers with new methods of product education will likely stand out from their competitors.

Even as we think about the future of retail in a post-COVID world, it’s likely many of the behaviors we’ve formed during this wacky time are here to stay. What’s most important about this list is thinking through which behaviors are most relevant to your business, and what opportunities they create. No matter what stage your business is in, the more you can think about how to provide your customers with the best shopping experience possible, the more likely you are to win them over and hold onto them for the long haul.

Leigh Sevin
Leigh Sevin is co-founder of Endear, a CRM and messaging platform specifically designed for retail sales teams. With Endear, salespeople are empowered to keep in touch with customers over remote channels like email and text while the platform tracks how their conversations convert into sales online and in-store.

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