Even if you live under a rock, you must have heard about coronavirus. Coronavirus has taken the world by storm and affected thousands of people around the globe. What began as a viral disease in Wuhan, China, just a couple of months ago, has become a global pandemic now. Coronavirus is a flu-like disease caused by Novel Coronavirus which can rarely become fatal if not treated properly and in due time. It is a contagious disease and can easily spread from one infected person to another. The only proper way to prevent this virus from spreading is maintaining good hygiene and social distance from infected patients.
We live in an interconnected world today so going into self-isolation and maintaining social distance has made us all realize how hard it is to disconnect with the world around us. This is truly an unprecedented situation none of us saw coming. However, health and personal life are not the only things affected by this pandemic – it has affected the ecommerce industry too. Based on a recently conducted survey, around 47% of retailers believe there will be a reduction in revenues (source: Digital Commerce).
Before we talk about the impact of COVID-19 on ecommerce industry, first it is important to understand how consumers think and behave.
Understanding Human Psychology
Humans respond to a crisis with fear and emergency. When faced with an unexpected and uncertain event which we have no control over, we become fearful and insecure. We try to do whatever we can to control the situation and keep ourselves safe.
A well-qualified consumer psychologist, Paul Marsden at the University of the Arts London stated in his interview for CNBC:
Panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychological needs.
The needs he talked about are: autonomy (the need to feel in control of our actions), competence (the need to feel like smart shoppers making the correct choice) and relatedness (the need to feel that we are doing something to benefit ourselves and our families). These psychological needs are the reason behind almost all our purchases. This is also why “retail therapy” plays a remedial role in combating personal crises.
During unsettling situations like the current global spread of n-Cov19, it has become very hard to control these three psychological factors. When people are being shoved with multiple advices and all sorts of information from various sources, they have a natural instinct to over-prepare. Secondly, the crowd mentality also acts as a determinant – seeing others over purchase and seeing a scarcity of necessary products influences the decision to stock up. This is because no one wants to end up empty-handed with no resources.
Thus, the human nature to over-prepare under a crises, greatly affects their purchase behavior.
How the Global Lockdown is Affecting Business and Consumption
As people are enclosed in their houses for weeks, we have observed huge overnight changes to their online shopping behavior. From rapid changes in compulsive online purchases to bulk-buying, people are changing what, when and how they purchase.
The global lockdown has forced nonessential businesses to close down with consumers left to buy essential commodities only. People have started stocking up and hoarding medical, sanitary and food items. This is why more and more brands (both retailers and online) are quickly trying to meet these changing market trends.
People are continuously purchasing hand sanitizers, medical masks, household essentials, and food products. For example, there has been an increase of 85.3% in medical supplies in US (source: Statista). This is why both online retailers and traditional shops are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand with supply prices going rampant.
Safety of Online Retail
As the coronavirus keeps on spreading around the world, it has become more and more clear how infectious this virus can be. Therefore, people are avoiding social contact and remaining indoors. Though online shopping offers you the comfort of shopping right from the safety of your home, many consumers have raised concerns regarding the safety of receiving online orders.
Researchers are striving to find more about the virus and how it interacts. Experts believe that this virus stays alive on surfaces from three hours to up to three days, depending on the material. (Note that this is not a conclusive finding as experts continue to study this n-cov19.)Thus, it is highly unlikely that the virus would survive on your parcel or purchased items especially during the slow delivery system these days.
In fact, The World Health Organization (WHO) itself addressed the concern and concluded that it is safe to receive packages during the COVID-19 outbreak. The official WHO website states:
The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low
Trends in Online Consumer Behavior
Based on Generation
The effects of COVID-19 have been noticed across different generations around the world. The consumers are responding differently according to their own age groups. Let us take a look at the trends in online consumer behavior of Millenials, Gen Z, Gen X, and Boomers during the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak:
Millennials and Gen Z
While most people are worked up about the pandemic, the younger generations are changing their purchasing behaviors. A huge fraction of Millenials and Gen Z are cutting down on their spending and spending less on unnecessary expenses. However, they have been noticed stocking up on everyday essentials. According to stats based on UK and US consumers, 96% of Gen Z and Millenials are worried about the virus and how it will impact the future of the global economy. (Source: BigCommerce)
Gen X and Boomers
Still concerned about the virus and its effects on the economy, the older generations are comparatively less worried than the Millenials or Gen Z. The same stats state that 34% of Gen z and 24% Boomers are purchasing the necessary household items, however, there is no huge difference in the purchase behavior. (Source: BigCommerce)
Based on Gender
The COVID-19 has also affected the purchasing behavior of men and women differently.
While women are more likely to be worried about the effects of the coronavirus, the changes in men’s consumer behavior are comparatively greater. Women are spending less on experiences and more on personal items.
Men, on the other hand, are also found buying online more as compared to retail shops. However, they are less concerned about stocking up and hoarding.
Effect on Ecommerce
Being quarantined has allowed people to stay home and avoid brick and mortar retail. Many believed that this would boost the ecommerce sector as people would prefer to shop from the safety of their homes. So, is that really the case?
Well, to be honest, not exactly. Ecommerce sales are not higher across the board, although some product/service categories have seen a higher conversion rate and sales as compared to others. This means that there is no significant real change in the ecommerce figures, however, there is a boost in some sections of ecommerce for example, household goods, groceries, and sanitary products. According to a survey people are spending on average 10-30% more online on these products (Source: Search Engine Land).
Let us take a closer look at these sectors of ecommerce:
A huge spike has been noted in the grocery related products online as the goods were not easily available in their local markets.
Medical-related ecommerce has seen the biggest boost during the lockdown. People are buying masks, bodysuits, alcohol swabs, antibacterial cleaners, etc.
There has also been an increase in subscription services and other convenient services online. These include entertainment services like Netflix, home delivery services, etc.
Besides the increase in medical E-Commerce, there has also been a huge demand for cleaning products, baby products, household items et cetera.
Changes in Product Demand during COVID-19
As the purchasing behavior of consumers changes during this pandemic, the demand for different products is also changing. Similarly, demand of other products is decreasing. According to a popular marketing research company Nielson, there are six key consumer behavior thresholds based on the COVID-19 situation which have a great impact on the market; these include:
- Proactive health-related products – These include preventive health products and wellness products.
- Reactive health management purchasing – This includes protective gear and cleaning products.
- Pantry products – These include stocking up grocery items and other essential household products.
- Preparation for quarantine – This includes a fewer visit to the nearby stores and shortage in supply.
- Minimalism and restricted living – This includes lesser shopping and entertainment trips.
- A new routine – This includes a change in the normal lifestyle and the altering supply chain.
As we go through all these changes during the COVID-19 pandemic the consumer demand for different products is also altered. Here are the product categories that are most affected by these thresholds:
Health and Safety Products
As stated earlier health and safety products are in high demand. They are being purchased faster and reduced and paying restocked as quickly as possible. According to stats hygiene and medical products have seen an increase of more than 300% in total sales as compared to previous years. (Source: Marketing land)
Food and Beverages
There is also a change in the way people are buying and stocking up groceries. People are now preferring BOPIS (Buy online and pick up in-store) and Home delivery services. Apps like Shipt, InstaCart, and Doordash have seen an increase in downloads as people prefer to stay home. Statistics show that there has been an increase of 20% I’m the online shopping demand for food and beverages. (Source: Digital Commerce)
Now people are hoarding shelf-stable quotes and planning for long-term quarantine which has resulted in an increase in demand for such items. Examples of such goods included: sauces, milk powder, canned goods, processed junk, frozen foods, etc.
Online Streaming and Gaming Services
Since people are bound to their homes and have lesser activity and entertainment options, consumers are spending on online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and HBO. Moreover, online gaming is also booming with games like PUBH, Call of Duty, Ludo Star, etc.
When you come to think of it, it kind of sounds weird that anyone would want to spend on luxury products during a global pandemic. Well, rightly so and that’s why the sales of online luxury goods and services have seen a loss of around $10 billion since the quarantine began! Travel and restaurant industries have seen a decline in sales as well.
Fashion and Apparel
Like luxury goods, the clothing industry is also not performing well during the coronavirus pandemic. Retailers and sellers are seeing significant losses as people are becoming more and more disinterested in buying fashion and apparel goods. Both large and small clothing chains have closed down their physical shopping outlets so they are losing a big chunk of their monthly sales. Similarly, online clothing stores are also facing a loss of 20% in their monthly sales.
E-Commerce is a huge part of the global economy, thus, it is important to know how it is performing under the current circumstances and if it can sustain itself if the COVID-19 crisis persists. The global community is under a lot of stress right now, and understandably so, it is adversely affecting the economy.
Online consumers are trying hard to adjust to the changing market trends of supply and demand which in turn is changing the face of ecommerce. While the business owners are also facing a lot of uncertainty and pressure to cope with the changing purchase behavior. In such testing times, online retailers are constantly trying to meet the demands of the consumers.
The situation will keep on changing so it is up to the sellers to respond to these trends and make the most of the opportunities they have at hand. Try understanding your consumers and what they want so you can serve them in the best way possible.
We hope this article was helpful and informative enough for you to understand the effects of COVID-19 on e-commerce and online services.