Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Online Shopping Trends

 (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The global Coronavirus outbreak has had a major impact on all aspects of life, including the way consumers shop.
The pandemic created a new unfamiliar reality that people needed to adapt to quickly, including frequent hand-washing, face masks, travel limitations, business shutdowns, remote work, quarantines, and other outcomes of the rapidly evolving situation.
Needless to say, a health and economic crisis of this magnitude create new shopping patterns, consumer preferences, and consumption trends, which inevitably produce winners and losers in the market.
Some e-commerce sectors have benefited from the new circumstances, while others have been shaken by an unprecedented situation and experienced serious losses.
So, how did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the online business space?
Here are five brief thoughts, observations, and personal insights regarding how the electronic commerce landscape has been affected by this once-in-a-lifetime event.
The Results of Economic Uncertainty
When faced with uncertain times, in which many find themselves either unemployed or at the risk of losing their job, most consumers change their shopping habits.
Many unemployed Americans, who have lost their livelihood during the crisis, are broke, don’t have enough money, and spend the little they do have on the basic essentials.
Even the lucky ones, who still have a well-paying job, tend to take significant belt-tightening measures and try to reduce expenses and unnecessary spending.
Under such circumstances, a significant chunk of the population has adopted new purchasing habits focused on buying only the basics, like groceries, medical and safety supplies, essential household goods (like cleaning supplies), and baby products.
The Change in Consumer Behavior
Since so many brick-and-mortar businesses are shutting down to ensure customer and staff safety, either voluntarily or due to official restrictions, more people are forced to buy online.
In addition, consumers who are trying to remain safe and follow CDC, state, and local guidelines are staying away from supermarkets, malls, and other busy public places and spending more time at home, away from the crowds.
Who benefits from the profound changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors? The e-commerce industry.
Even when authorities' restrictions have been loosened or completely lifted, many people are still choosing to act prudently and avoid risks – a sentiment that pushes many of them to continue to prefer online shopping over purchasing from physical points of sale in their area.
Winners and Losers
Specific product and service categories, such as health and safety products, essential quarantine goods, sporting goods and fitness gear, home-office equipment, toys, and digital services (like streaming media, video conferencing, online courses, etc.), have all seen substantial growth in demand.
Conversely, some market categories, like fashion accessories, jewelry, auto parts, luggage, and others, have all seen a decline in the public interest and actual orders.
Think that sounds bad? Airline ticketing and hotel booking websites, live event ticket resellers, and online luxury goods stores are among the ones taking the hardest hit.
The Desire to Reduce Risk
In an economic climate of increasing uncertainty, intense stress, and fear from the unknown, there is little appetite for taking unnecessary risks, especially ones that can end in potential financial losses.
Under such extraordinary circumstances, people look for greater levels of assurance, security, and confidence that the products or services that they buy will actually meet their expectations and deliver the promised results.
In a COVID-19 burdened economy, businesses that offer generous and flexible return policies or consumer-friendly money-back guarantees are more likely to attract new paying customers.
As websites like GuaranteeDepot show, more companies are offering guaranteed results or a money-back guarantee in an effort to convince consumers that their offer is risk-free.
The purpose of these policies? To increase the buyer's confidence and, consequently, their peace of mind.
Businesses with a liberal return, refund, and cancellation policies, which enable shoppers to get their money back if they are not satisfied with the product they ordered, are better positioned to weather the coronavirus storm and its economic fallout.
Changes in Gift-Giving Trends
Most people who try to incorporate basic social distancing principles into their day-to-day routine, do it in order to protect themselves, avoid potential exposure to the virus and minimize the chances for getting infected and catching the notorious disease.
As part of this strategy, they do their utmost to avoid going to traditional gift shops or meeting their family members, friends, and other loved ones in person – even on typical happy occasions, like birthdays, holidays, and other special life events.
These days, e-gifts seem to be the popular alternative to a physical gift that you would normally give in person.
Any person with a computer or a smartphone can send digital gifts online, without stepping foot outside.
With so many options available, shoppers can easily find something to suit any taste and budget: from virtual gift cards, premium web service memberships and paid mobile phone apps to online courses, magazine subscriptions, and charity donations.
Final Thoughts
As the world waits impatiently for an effective COVID-19 vaccine to be developed, nobody can reliably forecast when will this crisis end and life will be able to go back to the old and familiar normal again.
However, it looks like some of the effects that the pandemic has injected into our shopping habits will stay with us long after this tricky virus has been eradicated.