The way we shop is constantly evolving.

From the war and post-war years of austerity, to the economic boom in the 50s where quality, value and good customer service were key. The 2000s saw the increase in online shopping via the dotcom boom where a whole new way of shopping materialised, and right to the present day where we’re seeing increasing numbers of purchases being made on mobile devices.

Online shopping was responsible for 16.3% of all retail sales in Britain in 2019, an effect that has really been felt by those brick and mortar outlets on the high street. Toys ‘R’ Us, Mothercare, BHS, were all casualties of the change in shopping habits thanks to online outlets such as ASOS, Ocado and Feelunique who as part of the top 20 online-only retailers have grown by nearly a quarter in the last year.

Even faster increasing in popularity is smartphone purchase. Smartphone based purchases in the UK have increased by over 100% in the last 2 years according to Criterio who analysed purchasing data from over 5,000 retailers. Such a huge change in such a short time frame emphasises the speed at which users are embracing new technologies and the freedom to pretty much do anything anywhere.

The other feature that smartphones offer is voice search. Smart speakers are the new must have gadget around the house. ComScore predictions indicate that over 50% of searches are voice searches in 2020. Amazon Echo owners noted an increase in spending on Amazon by 6% after purchasing an Echo, a figure that gives us a clear idea of how consumers are using the devices. Whether through laziness or the intricate nature of phone keyboards and clunky mobile sites, voice search is here to stay because of its ease and efficiency.

These features make it easier for the customer to shop, so it is essential that brands are optimised for these features because being up to date will make it more likely that a customer will purchase from you. You’ve got to be accessible online to remain relevant, and nowadays having a good website isn’t enough. You’ve got to be fully-optimised so you rank in relevant searches, your service should be seamless, your site should be fast, and easily readable so they’re picked up by voice searches. These may seem obvious, but as the collapse of many high street favourites has shown, if you don’t keep up with the changing habits of shoppers, you’ll lose them.

How online shopping changed at the start of the lockdown

As Government Daily briefings have been telling us since March, we’re living in unprecedented times, which now feels something of an understatement. Something that changed seemingly overnight was the behaviour of shoppers across the country. Bulk/panic buying became a huge problem, toilet roll and hand sanitizer were the first to be limited to one per customer in shops across the country. For those shielding because of either age or underlying health conditions, online shopping became a necessity because it wasn’t possible to go to the supermarkets.

Online delivery slots were hard to come by and supermarkets had to employ additional pickers and delivery drivers to meet with demand. It saw a whole raft of customers navigate a totally new way of shopping, using apps, and websites where they’d previously only ever done their shopping in person, they now relied on other people to keep their cupboards stocked. We can split the categories of goods being purchased into six categories, with research conducted by Nielsen.

Health and Safety Products

Data suggests that the purchase of face masks, and other hygiene products has increased by up to 300%, as items are being sold quicker than they can be produced.

Food and Beverage

As mentioned earlier, food and beverage shopping has seen a huge change with many choosing to shop online for either delivery or click and collect to minimise contact with others.

Shelf-stable goods

With people planning for long term quarantine and self-isolation, there was a huge increase in stocking up on cupboard essentials and items such as long life milk, dried products and snacks that have a long shelf life. Nielsen research again shows an increase of 300% on spending on such items.

Digital Streaming

With theatres, concert halls and cinemas all closed, mass gatherings banned and events cancelled left, right and centre, inevitably streaming services have had an increase in subscriptions. The graph below from Google Trends shows the spike in Google searches for Netflix, Disney+ and Prime around the time the UK went into lockdown.

Luxury Goods

The message that was drummed home throughout lockdown was that you were only allowed out to shop for necessities, and even though these products were available online, people were focusing on food products when purchasing. Vogue Business projects a potential loss as great as $10 billion for the luxury goods industry in 2020 as a direct result of Covid-19, not only because of the reduction in spend in the west, but also because the industry relies heavily on the buying power of the Asian Market, which has been floundering under virus restrictions since January.

Fashion and apparel

It has become abundantly clear that omnichannel retailers are seeing big losses. Not only has the government closed down all non-essential retail outlets, but shoppers understandably have very little interest in shopping for clothes in person. The likes of Marks and Spencer have been able to keep some of their shops open, because of the presence of the food hall, however the clothing and other aisles have been cordoned off to stop the potential spread of Covid-19.


How online shopping changed 10-12 weeks into lockdown

Ever since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a Global Pandemic, the retail landscape has changed beyond recognition. With no say in the matter, retailers have had to react to something nobody saw coming. All non-essential physical stores were forced to close until further notice, and stores that remained open fell victim to limited stock availability and having to police shoppers according to social distancing guidelines. This, amongst other factors such as having to shield, have forced many shoppers online with the Bazaarvoice Network showing a 21% increase in online orders in March 2020 vs March 2019 with 3000 members of the Influenster community surveyed and 41% admitting they were now shopping online for things they’d normally shop for in store.

As people spent more time at home, their browsing increased, with necessities obviously being prioritised, and unfamiliar brands often being bought due to stock shortages, however as lockdown continued, unnecessary items were being browsed for more frequently as families sought to stave off boredom. Towards the end of April, toys, games, art equipment, entertainment, pet accessories and sporting goods were pulling in the largest number of page views.

As the products customers are looking at, have changed so have their priorities, with previous priorities quality sat at 48%, price 47%, and brand at 24%. Now we see availability at 49%, price at 36% and quality 34%, with customers focused on simply being able to get the product they need, rather than worry about the quality of it.


How online shopping looks post-lockdown in China

The initial outbreak of Covid-19 in China took place over Chinese New Year, when all of the shops were shut anyway, so the automatic reaction was to shop online for essentials. Fortunately, the Chinese e-commerce ecosystems were sufficiently prepared for this and thus there were no major shortages such as those we’ve experienced in the UK. The increase in online shopping was 8.6% compared to the same 4 months last year, and the shift from offline to online has continued post-lockdown.

Championing the shift to online shopping during lockdown were younger generations, who’re more tech savvy and flexible in the way they can adapt to changing times. It was also the younger generations who helped their parents, grandparents and extended family figure out the intricacies of ordering through an app or a website to ensure that essentials for the whole family were available.

One thing that hasn’t ebbed away during lockdown is the appetite in China for big celebrity endorsed brands, and this loyalty has remained strong as fear of price increases due to Covid interrupted production lines. That said, in a similar fashion to what we’ve seen across the UK, there was widespread community spirit supporting local suppliers and retailers.

Whilst consumers have been more restrained in making purchase decisions during the course of the uncertainty associated with a Global pandemic, we are seeing far more purchases for items that make being stuck at home more bearable. Books, games, exercise equipment and comfortable home furnishings were all popular items. Post lockdown, as China eased into the “new normal”, it is the little things that you forget about that have seen huge drops in sales, for example, lipstick. As a result of facemasks being part of people’s daily outfits, lipstick sales have fallen, however eye makeup products have noticed a spike given that the eyes are seen and the lips are not.


In conclusion

It has been abundantly clear that 2020 is a year like no other, and society will probably never be the same as it was before Covid-19. Some countries are seeing their second spike in virus cases since easing lockdown, and the UK is only just beginning to return to some sense of normality with non-essential retailers now allowed to open for business. Whilst you’d need a crystal ball to see what the future looks like in terms of shopping trends, we can be fairly confident in the claim that online shopping is here to stay, it is easier, more convenient and brands and retailers are constantly striving to make the whole process and experience more user friendly.

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