Has COVID-19 Changed Online Retail Forever?

In late 2020, an Accenture study examined the initial impact of the pandemic on economies and predicted it was merely the start of a restructuring of the global economy driven by shifting consumer behaviours.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when the world was shutting physical stores, customers turned to digital retail out of necessity. Then, as the safest option as masks, social distancing, and fear about transmission overwhelmed the world.   

While media wrongly predicted brief shutdowns, innovative companies who were already anticipating the need for contingency planning put the technology in place to carry on in a digital future. These retailers made changes in weeks that may have taken years pre-pandemic.

By one account, digital technology adoption progressed five years forward in about two months, proving that necessity is the mother of invention once and for all. 

Now that we’ve got here, it’s unlikely we’ll ever turn back. Consumers are soundly on board with online retail. With 87% of adults in the UK using smartphones, the adoption of digital commerce as the new normal was practically a given. The online retail experience is convenient, safe, provides access to more goods and services, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of our own homes. 

About half of consumers changed their browsing habits due to COVID. And, having become more comfortable with the online process, plan to continue to use it. Consumers today are using digital technology to order products and pre-purchasing activities like discovering, researching, and comparing products, as well as post-purchasing activities like support, services, and returns.

Those retailers that adapted and can continue to adapt to changing consumer behaviours will reap the benefits of the changing economy. Creating a more robust online experience is key. And critical because customers will click away from a poor online experience. 

Why is online retail the future?

Indeed, many people will return to their previous shopping habits as it is deemed safe to do so. Still, research suggests 4 in 10 people in the UK plan to embrace the pandemic-influenced changes permanently. Why?

  • The pandemic brought new generations online and increased confidence in online commerce
  • Consumers have grown more comfortable making a larger purchase online
  • More brands are online than ever before
  • We have grown accustomed to the convenience and safety of online commerce
  • We stay home more and travel less
  • We are more concerned with sustainable consumption
  • Fear of COVID will linger

The same study reports that consumers plan to shift spending online across the board. However, big-ticket categories like homewares, apparel, and electricals have seen the most significant increase. 

This points to a tremendous opportunity for retailers to embrace change and look for new ways to leverage technology. To rethink their business model and how best to serve their client base. 

And they must, to stay competitive. With more choices available to consumers, brands need to stand out and provide an exceptional online experience. Two-dimensional sales pages and automated chatbots just don’t cut it. To provide a truly excellent customer experience, your site should:

  • Be personalised, offering a tailored experience 
  • Easy to use
  • Fast

What’s missing in post-covid digital retail?

Interestingly, high priced goods like jewellery and furniture have not seen the online success of other categories. Perhaps because the hands-on aspect of in-person shopping is more significant for items as personal as jewellery or as large and tactile as furniture. The in-store experience has what the online retail experience simply doesn’t: an immersive shopping experience and a human touch.

The cost and logistics behind shipping – and possibly returning – items as large as furniture may also be daunting enough to make most consumers hesitate. If only they had a more true-to-life way to examine items before committing to the purchase.

Here, then, is where innovation is key.

Emotional Connection Commerce with Storey 

The growth in online retail offers brands the opportunity to reach more people, while the technology boom provides the means to deliver innovative experiences.

At Storey, we’re making online shopping a personalised, interactive experience with video, text, and live chat. We bring a human touch and the emotional connection of in-person shopping to digital transactions. With Storey, you can live demo products, provide a personal shopping experience, and communicate with clients one-on-one in real-time. It’s almost like being there in person.

Storey can future-proof your brand, ensuring you can maintain the reach and the connection to your customers if we don’t return to the old normal. It’s not just software; it’s an entire retail experience for those who enjoy shopping from the safety and comfort of their own homes yet wish for a more hand’s-on experience. Its concierge-level service is delivered digitally.

As we continue to move forward into an uncertain post-pandemic world, it’s important to keep sight of where we’re going as well as where we’ve been. While it’s wise to prepare for a digital future and probably critical to your success, it would be unwise to leave out the human element or disregard it as old-fashioned. That connection is priceless. 

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