In early 2020, e-commerce retailers were struggling to adapt to the frightening changes in consumer behavior. In late 2020, they were reaping the benefits of an influx of online buyers with a slowly recovering purchasing power. And in 2021, the entire world is bracing for the post-pandemic changes, and e-commerce businesses aren't an exception.
Whether e-commerce businesses reinvented themselves during the pandemic or capitalized on the changes, many of them survived. Now, as the pandemic is coming to an end, they need to prepare for yet another new normal.
COVID-19 hit so suddenly that many retailers simply didn't have enough time to react without experiencing losses. Now is the time to make preparations for the post-COVID reality.
How E-Commerce Businesses Can Prepare for Post-Pandemic Reality
What Changed During the Pandemic
The COVID-pandemic accelerated the shift to digital shopping by five years. Here are a few statistics to show what has changed in the e-commerce retail sector during the pandemic.
40% of consumers changed brands during the pandemic (McKinsey).
Between January and September 2020, 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection (Marketplace).
Between January 2020 and February 2021, total retail sales in the United States have been steadily declining (Statista).
Retail-oriented credit card and debit card spend increased by 35% between January 2020 and January 2021 (McKinsey)
Consumers actively invested in their home lives during the pandemic with 28% renovating homes and 19% changing their living situation. (McKinsey)
Compared to 2019, dollar sales of small appliances and housewares grew by 46% and 38% respectively (NDP)
Even though the pandemic may have benefited some e-commerce retailers, others have seen sales plummet. The main reasons were the decline of purchasing power and the shifted focus to essential items.
The Recovery Trend
Consumers are slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some adapted to the new normal. Others are already planning for restriction relaxation. According to McKinsey's survey:
Economic optimism is on the rise. About 40% of U.S. consumers are consistently optimistic while only 15% are pessimistic.
Over the past six months, the credit card spend was equal to the year before the pandemic.
More than 50% of U.S. consumers plan to spend extra by treating themselves.
30% of consumers plan to splurge on products for their homes in 2021.
According to The NPD Group, compared to March 2020, dollar sales at discretionary retail increased by 65%. Compared to March 2019, they increased by 39%. The sharp rise is currently attributed to the stimulus check distribution. However, considering pandemic fatigue, the trend to spend money on non-essential items is likely to continue.
Overall, as the pandemic is subsiding, many e-commerce retailers seem to be looking at a target audience with a high buying potential. How should they prepare for business after COVID-19?
Reinvent Brick-and-Mortar Locations
More than 62% of US consumers say that they shop more online than they did before the pandemic. However, 91% of shoppers say that they miss the in-store shopping experience.
If an e-commerce business has brick-and-mortar locations, the post-pandemic world may be the opportunity to reinvent them. For example, Target reinvented its offline locations by fulfilling online orders through them. Consumers could make purchases online and pick them up at a physical location.
Once social distancing and other limits are no longer an issue, e-commerce retailers can turn their brick-and-mortar stores into hybrid shopping areas.
Fashion retailers can allow customers to try on the clothing they ordered online before taking it home. This would cut the return shipping costs and bring back the in-store shopping experience. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar locations could become warehouses with small order pick-up and try-on areas.
Focusing on Data
The shift to digital shopping generated a huge amount of customer data. From shopping trends and demographics to preferences and buying behavior, e-commerce retailers now have much more information to work with.
In 2021, the key to converting a potential customer is personalization. With all the data at their fingertips, e-commerce retailers can now accompany each consumer down the sales funnel and present highly personalized offers every step of the way while:
Predicting product trends.
Analyzing buying and customer behavior.
Improving e-commerce fulfillment tactics.
Optimizing product selection.
Optimizing product prices.
With more than half of American shoppers planning to continue buying online after the pandemic, right now is an excellent time to learn how to manage and analyze this data.
A surprising 77% of small e-commerce companies don't have a solid data analytics strategy. By taking full advantage of this approach, it's possible to stay ahead of the competition after the pandemic.
Even when brick-and-mortar stores will make a comeback, data analytics can offer tremendous assistance in converting and retaining target audiences both online and offline.
Adopting an Omnichannel Marketing and Sales Strategy
With e-commerce accounting for almost 20% of U.S. retail sales in 2020, many e-commerce retailers focused their entire attention on digital sales and marketing. As the consumer is emerging into the "real world" after the pandemic, such an approach may not be sufficient.
Besides trying to target a shopper from all angles at digital levels, e-commerce businesses need to consider offline marketing options as well. The 21st-century consumer expects a seamless omnichannel experience. So giving them an opportunity to interact with a brand offline is an integral part of a solid post-COVID marketing and sales strategy.
The omnichannel approach may include such elements as:
Buying online and returning in-store.
Checking inventory online and proceeding to a brick-and-mortar stop to pick the right product up.
Taking advantage of catalogs and direct mailing campaigns.
Arranging offline or hybrid events to reel in the target audience
Implementing guerilla marketing activities.
Streamlining e-commerce fulfillment technology.
For consumers who are suffering from pandemic fatigue while still feeling loyal to online shopping, the omnichannel strategy can become an appealing solution.
Focusing on Health and Safety
The COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to rethink their approach to health and safety. The habits they acquired in 2020 aren't likely to simply disappear once the government declares the pandemic to be over.
That's why it's imperative to continue promoting health and safety issues in relation to products and e-commerce operations. Besides being an excellent way to keep clients happy, this approach shows consistency and builds consumer loyalty.
E-commerce retailers can continue capitalizing on care, showing the consumers how important their health and safety are to their business. With many experts predicting virus mutations and the need for regular vaccination, the focus on health and safety is here to stay.
From improving e-commerce fulfillment efforts with safety in mind to limiting the number of people in brick-and-mortar stores and curbside delivery, these tactics demand attention even after the pandemic.
Providing Real-Time 100% Inventory Transparency
While staying at home during the pandemic, many consumers perfected their pre-shopping activities. From meal planning to price comparisons, they are doing extensive research online before picking a brand. That's one of the reasons why, as mentioned above, 40% of them changed brands in the past year.
Consumers expect 100% inventory transparency to help them make a decision. Giving them full visibility is also becoming increasingly important for e-commerce retailers when they establish e-commerce fulfillment strategies.
Besides creating a seamless online shopping experience on their websites, e-commerce retailers can consider providing full access to the inventory in real-time.
Speeding Up Revenge Spending
While many e-commerce retailers are expecting consumers to splurge on non-essential items once the pandemic is over, customers aren't rushing to make purchases just yet.
For example, Chinese stores re-opened on March 13, 2020. However, the spending is far from being formidable. Many consumers are still wary of the virus and turn to online shopping.
E-commerce retailers can take full advantage of this situation when stores re-open in the USA. As soon as the purchasing power will start rebounding, online stores can capitalize on revenge spending by creating appealing promotions. Such a move is likely to keep the majority of the audience online even when restrictions are lifted.
Even though many consumers see the light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic-related shopping habits are here to stay. When stores re-open after the pandemic, customers won't be rushing to abandon digital shopping habits.
To survive in the past-pandemic world, e-commerce retailers should beef up their omnichannel strategies, revive their offline offering, improve the hybrid experience for their customers, and continue focusing on health and safety.
Lastly, to be prepared for the next shift in the e-commerce retail landscape, it's imperative to take advantage of the available e-commerce fulfillment technology. To capitalize on innovations and ensure success in 2021 and beyond, partner with Boxzooka and let us help you flourish in the post-COVID environment.