The COVID-19 pandemic has driven all kinds of uncertainty, but one trend is certain: It has slowed the traditional in-store shopping and accelerated digital adoption. In other words, customers seem happier shopping from the comfort of their homes than ever before.

Businesses have amped up their online game so much so that navigating from one retail website to another is like strolling (or in this case scrolling) up a high street. Retailers pay as much attention to their online ensemble as they do to their curated displays, including strategically placing discount pop-ups in shoppers’ virtual worlds.

Prior to 2019, e-commerce was a fairly good option to include for businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic made it a necessity.

From brick-and-mortar operations to digital adoption – as it happened

Before we tinker with the bits, bytes, benefits and all the in-betweens of e-commerce, let’s look at some stats. Before the pandemic, online shopping grew at a steady pace of 4.5 percent a year globally, according to a World Bank report. And, then, the pandemic hit, forcing shut a majority of brick-and-mortar operations. It also marked the beginning of an increased dependence on e-commerce.

A survey by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) among 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies found that online purchase rose by 6-10% across most product categories.

Closer to home, Forbes reported that there was a whopping 129% year-over-year growth in U.S and Canadian e-commerce orders from April 2019 to April 2020, with 72% of consumers using mobile devices to shop. Here’s more: In Canada, total retail sales fell 17.9%. However, retail e-commerce sales nearly doubled, with some retailers relying more on this method of sale.

The pandemic not only changed the retail-scape, mainly due to restrictions on movement and growing consumer preference to avoid physical stores. But also reshaped consumer behavior. eMarketer reported that more than 80% of consumers bought a different brand than usual in mid-2021 — a trend observed early on in 2020. This change was largely steered by pricing and availability of products.

So, how did businesses respond to this transition? Some weathered it better than others. Those that already had a digital presence thrived and retailers who switched to e-commerce early on in the pandemic saw significant returns, leaving businesses with weak online strategies slightly struggling.

In addition, several social media platforms made the most of higher online retail demand by adding more e-commerce features, allowing shoppers to surf and snap up products without even leaving the platform.

Is e commerce here to stay?

Rewind to 2002-2003, when the world was in the grip of another outbreak — that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Anecdotal evidence suggests the epidemic was what put then relatively unknown e-commerce company Alibaba on its path to becoming a $470 billion behemoth. If history is anything to go by, then, yes, e-commerce is here to stay.

The UNCTAD survey results suggest that changes in consumer behavior are likely to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic. While convenience is among the top reasons for this, other factors include fear of a pandemic blowback, availability of multiple online promotions in the form of loyalty programs and referrals, among others. Besides, with competition picking up online e-commerce now has something for all kinds of customers — those who look for comfort, those cautious and the concerned.

Why you need a digital presence

Now is the time for companies to invest in the click-and-collect universe. Here are some quick points on why you need a digital presence:

To increase market potential – If your business operates from a physical store, your customers are likely to be from the same area as your business (unless you sell a highly specialized product). Having a digital platform will help you reach out to customers not just in your neighborhood but across the globe!

To understand your customers better – When consumers visit your website, they provide a wealth of information, which is useful to help businesses understand and address a variety of consumer preferences and needs.

To limit variable expenses – Operating a physical store includes a lot of variable expenses like staffing, maintenance and utilities — expenses businesses are struggling to cope with, especially in the face of losses faced during the pandemic. Going digital can help you cut these expenses.

If you are looking for a relatively painless way to get or grow your brand online, we would be happy to guide you on the best methods for your business including how to manage inventory, how to ship to your customers, how to market your products among other things!

If you are a small business have a look at our small business plans here or get in touch for a free consultation.