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How COVID-19 Changed (and Will Continue to Change) eCommerce

As we look to the future with hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will help the pandemic subside, we can’t forget that our lives and the way we do business are forever changed. We must observe how (and why) this global pandemic changed entire industries, businesses, and supply chains so we can continue moving forward with changes that will keep our businesses operating—now and in the future.

Driving demand and delivery through eCommerce

One industry that felt the pandemic in more ways than one is eCommerce. The advanced technology that keeps us connected across the globe is the same one that also keeps us connected to commerce. Therefore, when shutdowns were announced, consumers shifted their habits from shopping in brick and mortar stores to shopping online.

Online shopping made everything available. From crazy unicorn onesies and dinosaur blow-up suits that lifted our spirits, to essentials such as food and water.

While some of these trends may fizzle, others are likely to stick around. The pandemic-induced blended brick-and-mortar and eCommerce trends that emerged and inflated during the pandemic included:

  • Curbside pickup

  • Bulk purchases

  • Take-out orders

  • Insta-deliveries

These changes in offerings, consumer shopping, and buying habits kept some stores in business, gave consumers a chance to continue spending, and offered jobs to those who needed them. However, they also changed processes and shifted sales channels, which caused domestic uncertainty. Altered habits and the unpredictable swell in demand for certain products hit supply chains hard with inventory disruptions and material shortages.

Shift in product category purchases

In general, product categories were affected differently and did not follow any past trends. This created some surprises including categories that performed well and those that did not.

For example, grocery purchases never slowed down. In fact, a consumer rush to purchase ‘panic items’ such as toilet paper and paper towels caused shortages in certain areas. The impact of farms producing less and factories closing operations for periods of time also caused a disruption in the food supply. In many cases, grocery store shoppers were met with empty shelves (or sold out quantities online) and had to search for alternative ways to find the goods they needed.

There were also effects on other categories such as luxury goods, which took a big hit. As the economy stood unsteadily and the future was uncertain, luxury goods and ‘unnecessary items’ weren’t purchased as frequently.

But there are some outliers like exercise equipment, which is deemed non-essential. Exercise equipment sold out quickly and orders for pricey exercise bikes and other at-home exercise equipment skyrocketed. Amazon ran out of dumbbells before most people could even get a grip on what was happening.

As statewide case numbers rose, many felt that exercising in groups was unsafe and gyms were closed to the public. However, consumers’ daily exercise regimens weren’t put on hold, and many shifted to virtual workouts and at-home options.

These trends may be here to stay as consumers evaluate what is and what is not essential in their lives, but only time will tell.

Call-to-action for policy changes

Businesses (and the world as a whole) are in the middle of a digital transformation driven by advanced technology and our reliance on technology to communicate and shop. During COVID-19 and as digital transformation continues to progress, new business models for obtaining public services may fall outside traditional policy frameworks. This means access may be limited for those with different socioeconomic backgrounds and the divide caused by digital practices will deepen.

The need for regulatory standards and guidelines in eCommerce is even more important now than it was pre-COVID. Without addressing these issues, people will continue to be treated unfairly and fall victim to fraudulent practices that prey on the vulnerable. An evaluation of current policies, the depth of the divide, and possible solutions is necessary to move forward. It’s up to the people to demand this support and up to the government to drive the process.

What will the future look like?

While none of us can truly predict how these changes will shake out in 2021 and beyond, we do know we’ll never return to ‘the way things were.’ As mentioned, we are forever changed as people, businesses, and industries. We must keep moving forward, adapting, and learning how to survive through unpredictable times.

But that’s the crux of business, right? Businesses are built to be resilient. Those who survive are the ones who are flexible and always determined to find a way.

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