Lockdown’s days are numbered, but the online shopping revolution is permanent

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Lockdown’s days are numbered, but the online shopping revolution is permanent
Rewards programs are popular with online shoppers, but increased transparency is needed.
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has completely altered the way we shop.

Online retail, already a huge industry pre-pandemic, has accelerated to record levels as lockdowns and social distancing requirements have forced consumers to reconsider their buying behaviours.

This isn’t a short-term blip. Changes that were initially thought to be a mere anomaly of a short-lived pandemic have proven permanent, and most consumers are not planning on going back to their old ways. 

To better understand these changes and the impact they’re having on retailers and marketers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PureProfile Australian Ecommerce Report 2021 surveyed 1,000 Australians who have shopped online at least once in the past 12 months. 

The report dives deep into the factors that are driving brand selection, inspiration, and discovery, to help marketers better understand the changes that are set to shape the future of e-commerce. 

The shape of shopping has been drastically altered, with over half (56%) of respondents increasing their frequency of online retail purchasing during COVID-19. In June 2021, when the majority of Australia was out of lockdown, 76% of online shoppers indicated they were still buying online at least once a month. 

The report indicates that the fundamental change in the way we shop is not merely a temporary shift. Consumers are not planning on returning to pre-pandemic shopping habits, with just 36% saying they will return to in-person shopping once the pandemic is over. 

With consumers continuing to shop more regularly online, the brands expected to thrive will have a combination of strong search and social prowess, easily contactable customer service, and fast local delivery. The research showed convenience was the number one reason for people to buy online, followed by free delivery, lower prices, and discounts. 

To succeed in this new e-commerce landscape, brands must invest in digital transformation and adapt their product categories to fit consumers’ new needs. Fashion brands, for example, have adapted with working from home edits and comfortable additions designed for a nation in lockdown. In fact, clothing clocked in as the number one shopping category, with 72% of online shoppers making a clothing purchase online over the last year.

Alongside relevant products and strong customer experiences, consumers are demanding that brands authentically showcase their values and ethical credentials. The report showed that consumers are more likely to buy from brands that ‘behaved well’ during the pandemic, with 56% of direct brand shoppers and 39% of non-direct brand shoppers more likely to buy from these brands. 

While it’s easy to believe that sustainability has taken a backseat to the pandemic, the data suggests otherwise. Ethical and sustainable brands are resonating more strongly with direct-to-consumer brand shoppers, with 54% of direct brand shoppers preferring to buy from brands they know are sustainable. Local brands were popular, with 46% of online shoppers buying more things online from local retailers since the pandemic.

When hunting for inspiration, search and social are equally the number one source for 18 to 29-year-olds, with half of Australian millennials agreeing that social media is an important part of how they find products to buy. 

While social and search are clearly vital tools, owned media channels also play an essential part in inspiring customers as they move down the funnel. Owned marketing channels are critical in communicating to online shoppers with 59% often reading content produced and distributed by retailers via retailer websites, emails, and catalogues.

Rewards programs are popular with online shoppers, but increased transparency is needed before consumers can put their full trust in these programs. While nine in 10 online shoppers are signed up to at least one shopper rewards program, nearly a third (30%) don’t know if the retailer shares their data provided through loyalty programs with other companies. 

With lockdown now coming to an end, it would be easy to assume that life is set to return to ‘normal’, and pre-pandemic strategies can resume. In reality, brands must realise that consumer behaviour has fundamentally shifted, and it’s staying that way. 

A combination of enhanced customer experiences, convenient delivery times, backed by local, sustainable, and ethical options are what’s needed to thrive in the retail environment of the future. Consumers have tasted the value, convenience, and ease of well-designed online delivery, and they won’t settle for anything less.

Gai Le Roy is CEO of IAB Australia.

Copyright © BIT (Business IT). All rights reserved.

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