In a Post-COVID World, Will Ecommerce Growth Continue?

by James Sorensen

Before COVID, ecommerce was the fastest-growing retail channel at about 20% compounded annual growth. Online retail was just a small proportion of total retail sales. Online share of retail sales for packaged goods was only 5%, while non-packaged goods made up about 20%.

As the pandemic began to hit and lockdown started, adoption of online shopping accelerated. COVID-19 centric research fielded by Burke in April 2020 shows many of the consumers who tried online shopping during this period were new to the process. 15% of respondents purchased food products, and 12% purchased non-food products online for the first time. These increases pushed online retail forward by 4-5 years in just a few weeks.

Now, the world wants to know: Will this growth in online retail continue post-COVID? Are people going to continue shopping online at the same pace as during this pandemic?  Or will they revert to old habits when safety is less of a concern?

My answer is, it depends.  If online retailers and brands fix the barriers that limit the number of shoppers who purchase online, then this growth will sustain and could even accelerate.

What are the barriers to buying online?  It depends on the category, but generally, our research shows four primary barriers to buying online versus in-store:

“I want it now” – If someone needs an item right away, they will go to the store to get it.

“I want to try it before I buy it” – In many categories, shoppers want to feel, pick up, and/or try out a product to ensure it meets their needs.

“I want to talk to the sales associate to learn more” – Store associates are often an unbiased source of education early in the purchasing journey, or used for final confirmation later on.

“I’m not sure what I’ll get” – Too often, shoppers don’t receive the right size/fit or they receive a product that doesn’t meet their initial expectations.

With the exception of “I want it now” (which new fulfillment models are working to address), all of these barriers can be condensed down to one word: confidence.  Online retail must do a better job of giving shoppers the information they need to feel confident in making online purchases without visiting a store.

Retailers and brands can do many things to help build shopper confidence.  Here are a few recommendations:

  • Improve video content on the Product Detail Page (PDP), YouTube, or elsewhere. Don’t think of video content as a replacement for television commercials; instead, think of video as a replacement for visiting a store and talking to a trusted sales associate. Pack the video with relevant use cases, product comparisons, and information to help educate and build the customer’s confidence so they will decisively click “buy.”
  • Ensure images and enhanced content on the PDP show consumers what they will (and won’t) get when they buy. Shopper friendly product descriptions, comparison charts, and images of the products being used in context help build shopper confidence.
  • Both quantity and quality of ratings and reviews are critical. Shoppers look at the number of reviews, the ratings, and the content of both when determining if they should buy or not. Brands can syndicate and be responsive to reviews to ensure major concerns are addressed. In addition, brands can analyze competitor reviews to identify opportunities to enhance their PDP claims and content.

As brands design their PDPs and digital content in support of their ecommerce initiatives, they should always put themselves in the mindset of the shopper and ask: Will this content give the shopper the confidence to bypass a store visit and just click buy? Until this happens on a more consistent basis, many shoppers will revert to old habits and purchase from physical stores.

James Sorensen is a thought leader, helping shape the future of retail and shopping.  As SVP and retail/shopper consultant, James helps clients innovate new omni-commerce retail experiences by first uncovering deep insights about the shopper, and then applying a proprietary innovation process that leads to pragmatic solutions that drive growth.  

As always, you can follow Burke, Inc. on our LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Sources: Feature Image – ©Monkey Business –


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