COVID-19 created an unexpected shift in consumer behaviors around the world. As a result, retailers were forced to adapt to these changes with innovative solutions. Now, as the vaccine has been introduced and both life and consumer behaviors begin to normalize, retailers are again readjusting their models to accommodate shifting shopping trends. But are any of the pandemic-era shopping trends here to stay?
3 COVID-19 Retail Shopping Trends
When in-store shopping became problematic early in the pandemic and retailers hurriedly established in-store safety guidelines, consumer demand for online orders and curbside pickup options hit an all-time high.
Businesses adapted by expanding their online offerings and implementing in-store or curbside pickup options. Furthermore, as supply dwindled and demand rose, shoppers were forced to abandon brand loyalty and limit their purchases to items that were in stock. But what does research show about the rise of these coronavirus shopping trends, and which of them will stand the test of time?
A Shift to Online Shopping
As the pandemic forced people to remain at home and maintain social distancing, e-commerce trends skyrocketed like never before, and online shopping has become recognized as “coronavirus shopping.” Here is how COVID-19 impacted online shopping:
- E-commerce reportedly now accounts for 16.1% of all U.S. sales, up from 11.8% in the first quarter.
- Retail-oriented credit-card and debit-card spending increased 35% from January 2020 to January 2021.
- During April’s shelter-in-place rules, online spending in the retail sector grew from 37% before COVID-19 to over 80% at its highest during the pandemic.
- Online retail sales increased 32.4% year over year in 2020 and are up 39% in Q1 2021
- The pandemic contributed to an additional $105 billion in U.S. online revenue in 2020, accelerating e-commerce by two years.
- Online sales rose by 32.4% from 2019 to 2020, increasing from $598.02 billion to $791.70 billion.
“Online shopping has really advanced. This is very obvious in China, where the digital experience for shoppers and online integration is extremely advanced. With everyone stuck at home, there has been a lot more focus on online systems, advertising, and delivery from the corporate side, and this will reinforce the push to shopping online,” said Celine Pannuti, Head of European Staples and Beverages Research at J.P. Morgan.
Shoppers have always enjoyed the convenience of online shopping. With many retailers investing time and resources in creating or growing their online presence and improving e-commerce functionality, this shopping trend has only become more firmly ensconced in consumer behavior since 2020.
An Increase in Curbside Pickup
Both consumers and retailers have relied heavily on curbside pickup throughout the pandemic to ensure the safety of all parties. Curbside pickup, often referred to as BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) or BOPAC (buy online, pickup at curb), by tech companies such as Ombori, involves the concept of purchasing items online, then collecting them directly outside of the store or at a pickup location inside.
“As the public became more informed on COVID-19, we saw a rush to stock up on essentials,” Vivek Pandya, a lead analyst for Adobe, states. “But, increased awareness of social distancing meant that consumers grew wary of spending too much time inside physical stores.”
A survey conducted by Digital Commerce and Bizrate Insights summarized the impact COVID-19 had on curbside pickup:
- 26% of consumers had used curbside pickup for non-grocery items during the pandemic as of August.
- 24% had used curbside multiple times since COVID-19.
- 20% planned to use curbside more for the remainder of 2020.
- 17% tried curbside for the first time.
- 14% said they plan to use curbside even after shopping in stores returns to normal.
This new trend captured the new mindset of coronavirus shopping and brought additional benefits to retailers across the globe. Curbside pickup:
- Provided an alternative shopping method that did not include shipping costs.
- Ensured quick service for customers by permitting them to order online and be notified once their order was ready for pick up.
- Allowed customers to know whether specific items were available ahead of their shopping experience; this reduced the number of customers in stores while increasing businesses’ conversion rates.
- Offered quick returns and exchanges at local stores.
- Increased retail store traffic both in-store and online.
- Promoted a safe and secure shopping experience.
Systems such as Ombori Order Pickup offer even more benefits to the retailer and the customer. Their research has found that implementing effective pickup solutions boosts customer loyalty and satisfaction, ultimately increasing sales by offering better collection options and reducing wait times by simplifying the customer’s experience.
Decreased Brand Loyalty
Forced changes to shopping behaviors have also impacted consumers’ loyalty to specific brands. According to a McKinsey report, “Of the three-quarters of Americans who changed their shopping behavior since COVID-19 began, around 40 percent say they have changed brands, with the level of brand switching doubling in 2020 compared to 2019.
These switching behaviors are more prevalent among Gen Z and millennial consumers than with boomers (44 percent of Gen Z and millennials have tried a new brand, versus 35 percent of boomers).” The report also found that “convenience and value have been the main drivers of shopping behavior change; however, quality and seeking brands that match with their values also inspire change for about 40 percent of younger consumers.”
Historically, Gen Z and millennial shoppers supported brands they believed in and felt reflected them. Chad Kessler, global brand president at American Eagle, shared, “They are loyal to brands that they feel understand them and reflect their values.”
As a result, they often shopped locally and were willing to pay more for their products and services. However, the pandemic dramatically impacted many of these companies, and these generations were forced to adapt. Many reverted to traditional shopping methods, utilizing big box stores for their necessities, while others relied on e-commerce.
Will These Trends Stay in a Post-COVID World?
Research predicts that COVID-19 coronavirus shopping trends like online shopping and curbside pickup will continue to grow in the post-pandemic world. However, analysts expect that consumers will return to brand loyalty.
Post-Pandemic Online Shopping
“There is no doubt that the shift toward online shopping will continue post-pandemic,” reported
Bhava Kompala, Global Business Head - Retail at LatentView Analytics. “According to the Mastercard Economics Institute, consumers spent $900 billion more online in 2020 versus the prior two-year trend. Future trends depend largely on the retail category. There is a lot of pent-up demand for getting back to physical stores for apparel and footwear. However, for lower involvement items like groceries and home care, the shift toward online shopping will be more permanent.”
Online shopping has offered convenience for customers who have limited time or want to spend their time on activities other than running errands. It has allowed for easy access to more shopping options than ever before. Businesses that embrace this trend by expanding their online inventory and incorporating techniques such as email marketing and online-only sales will continue to thrive in a post-pandemic retail world.
Post-Pandemic Curbside Pickup
“Prior to COVID-19, retailers already had to provide consumers with more choice in terms of shopping convenience. This continues to be true, and brick-and-mortar retailers can lean into their physical locations as consumer touchpoints in a way that pure play e-commerce and online retailers can’t.
It was interesting to see that ~45% of consumers believed that the new shopping behaviors they adopted during COVID-19 have become ‘habits’ that will continue after the pandemic,” Kompala shared.
“As such, I expect that consumer preference for BOPIS will continue and be driven by a mix of a desire for convenience and lingering concerns about safety. BOPIS will be dominated by contactless curbside pickup for many retailers with ~19% of consumers preferring contactless pickup when frequenting a business and nearly 35% preferring contactless checkout in general.”
To accommodate the on-the-go American lifestyle, tech companies will continue to improve curbside pickup technology to meet the changing demands of consumers. Brick-and-mortar stores that leverage the infrastructure and experience of companies, such as Ombori, will attract shoppers who prefer the convenience of online orders and quick pickups to in-store browsing.
Post-Pandemic Brand Loyalty
Although consumers were forced to shift their behaviors amidst the pandemic, buying online from companies with items in stock, researchers predict that brand loyalty will reemerge as we move through 2021. Younger generations will continue to rely on companies they connect with, specifically those supporting their beliefs and lifestyles. However, any companies left behind during the pandemic must adopt the new technologies and incorporate streamlined online shopping or curbside pickup options if they hope to keep up in the fast-paced return to post-COVID-19 normalcy.