As the UK emerges from its third and (supposedly) final lockdown, online retail faces the challenge of maintaining the significant growth it’s seen because of successive lockdowns during the global pandemic. Here Eleanor Thomas spokesperson for fast-growing zero-mark up online retailer, Wholee Prime, sets out five ways lockdown has changed the world of e-retail for good.
Demand: Make no mistake about it, lockdown has transformed the world of online retail. The most obvious single change is the sheer level of demand. While overall retail sales fell by a record 1.9 per cent last year, online e-commerce sales were up 46 per cent; the strongest ever growth for more than a decade.
Online retailers have been able to step up to the mark at the start of the pandemic, ensuring availability of products and fast delivery for consumers, and maintain this level of service for the duration. The ease and sheer convenience of online retail has seen experts predict that this level is likely to grow even lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Pricing: The second effect on e-commerce is pricing. In the same way that the UK supermarket landscape was transformed by the emergence of lower cost alternatives such as Aldi and Lidl that also offered consumers good quality, so too have new entrants, like Wholee Prime, transformed the online retail landscape. In our case we offer consumers a unique zero mark-up where consumers only pay for the costs on good quality products as set by the manufacturer.
Consumers only pay for the raw materials, intellectual property, and manufacturing costs that go into creating finished useable consumer product. For the first time consumers have access to a platform where they can consistently avoid the marketing and distribution that often end up amounting to significantly more than the original price to manufacture the good itself. This is a game changer and is driving up competition for the betterment of consumers themselves.
Brand Loyalty: A report from June last year by professional services firm Ernst and Young found, among other things, that brand loyalty is likely to become less important to consumers. They found that 35 per cent of those under 45 would, over the next couple of years, be looking for new and innovative brands produced by start-ups and show less loyalty to brands they have used previously than other consumer demographics.
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This means both existing brands need to work to ensure they keep customers, but it also offers hope to start-ups looking to challenge the status quo. It also means there’s likely to see a continuing uptick in demand for platforms like ours that offer its users an extensive range of unbranded high-quality products at an extremely affordable price.
Age. As well as a general surge in demand for e-commerce, we’ve also seen shifting demand for different sub-sectors over the course of the pandemic, which appears to have been driven by different consumer demographics.
The textile, clothing, and footwear sectors have seen the most significant growth, driven by the closure of high street stores, but also stoked by lingering fears over close contact in store changing rooms. Interestingly, a report by marketing agency, MiQ, found that UK consumers are more likely to buy clothing online than any other product category post-pandemic. Of these consumers, 51 per cent are 18-25, 50 per cent are 26-35, and, perhaps most surprisingly, 40 per cent are aged 56-65.
This shifting demand for online fashion retail means those platforms, such as Wholee Prime, that offer a range of products that cater to a range of demographics and tastes are best place to take advantage of the shifting tectonics of online retail.
Interaction. The final key long-term effect of lockdown on online retail is how businesses online interact with their customers. Customers’ shopping habits have changed to an online-centric approach, but it’s important that customers still feel a connection with the business they are shopping with.
This means ecommerce needs to try to replicate the benefits of in-store shopping online, including the customer service experience, which is something Wholee Prime has consistently offered its members through the provision of its dedicated 24/7 customer support to ensure their shopping experience is more personal and not just a click-and-buy situation.
The pandemic and its lockdowns have irrevocably changed the way we shop. These effects will filter up to how businesses operate post-pandemic, and it will be interesting to see how, indeed if many businesses do, adapt to a changed online retail environment adequately.