It’s fair to say that online retailers were key players in 2020. With successive lockdowns and the lack of other spending opportunities, consumers embraced online shopping. So now that the nation is coming out of this third and hopefully final lockdown, which online shopping habits are likely to stay?
According to the ONS, January 2021 saw online spending leap to a huge 32.5% during the latest UK lockdown. This is especially striking compared to the 19.5% of the same time the previous year. Is it a flash in the pan, or are online retail habits likely to stay put? And if you’re an online retailer, which features will help to retain your customers in the long term?
Kerbside collection has been a staple of lockdown living. Now, as people start to get out and about more and work and socialise from homeless, click and collect retail options look set to soar still further. For consumers who return to work out of the home and can no longer receive deliveries at their door, this retail service will be a key way to retain the momentum of online success. The future will be in arrangements for smaller retailers to be enabled in this delivery option.
For online retail, free of charge returns are a ticking time bomb. The financial cost tends to be spread across pricing for the whole retail offering, while the environmental cost is now being publicised widely. So solving this challenge will be a key development in the evolution of online retail. Smart and intuitive shopping experiences resulting in fewer returns are likely to be a feature of the most successful retailers.
Who amongst us hasn’t squeezed in a quick online purchase between Zoom calls? Or perhaps even during Zoom calls! As the lives of consumers increase in time pressure again, online retail will depend on hassle-free checkout options for purchases to be made quickly. From regular shopping like subscriptions and groceries to impulse buys, payment partnerships are on the up. For similar reasons, the increase in mobility is likely to increase smartphone retail's further rise over more conventional desktop purchasing.
Where does the rise of online retail and eCommerce leave experience shopping then? Many of us are indeed desperate to get out and about again. Long term, there’s likely to be a new balance to be found. Consumers may feel anxious about the in-person browsing process. So some forecasters have identified an increase in online browsing followed by in-person purchasing. Others see things the other way, with in-person browsing followed by online purchasing, perhaps even from a smartphone while in-store.
Bearing all this in mind, then, there is something to be said for the continuity of in-person and online presences. The online retailers who will maintain the momentum they’ve gained through 2020 will be those who apply good in-person principles to their online offering.
Most of us are turned off by a cluttered, ill-thought-out shop floor. It’s really no different for an e-commerce retail site. Products should be easy to search for and intuitively laid out, with a clearly signposted route around the store.
For online retailers to challenge the in-person experience, they need to offer an enhanced view of the product. We’re increasingly finding 3D tours of the product, videos, and detailed sizing descriptions are becoming the norm.
We wouldn’t expect a retail store to be open without an assistant, and the same goes for online retail. Responsive assistant chat functions will be key to retaining customer loyalty. Similarly, well-displayed product reviews are a great way to personalise the shopping experience.
Retail consumers are often inspired by two motivations - necessity and pleasure. Stay at home orders increased both of these in the online sphere. For a lasting legacy of lockdown, the onus is on e-commerce retailers to offer a superior experience.