Article provided by Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express
As we begin to emerge from Britain’s lockdown for the Coronavirus pandemic, we may observe an entirely different consumer and business landscape than the one we knew before.
As traditional brick and mortar retail outlets were forced to shut, causing footfall and therefore customer uptake to plummet, it is natural that eCommerce has experienced a boom.
The difference is striking. The OECD estimate that eCommerce represented a 31.3% share in retail expenditure in the UK in the first two quarters of 2020 – a sharp rise from just 17.3% in the first quarter of 2018. While this spike is significant, it should be noted that it follows the general trend of the last years, with eCommerce making consistent growth against struggling physical retail.
Furthermore, a recent survey by Retail Economics and NatWest found that 46% of UK consumers have turned to Ecommerce to purchase products they had only ever bought in shops prior to the pandemic.
A sign of the times
The aforementioned figures highlight how the pandemic has affected consumer behaviour, as well as the operations of small and large business alike. That said, some industries have thrived under such testing circumstance, effectively adapting their business model and embracing eCommerce fully.
An interesting example sector which reflects this trend is the fashion industry. The ONS reported that in November 2020, heading into the most recent lockdown, sales at clothing retailers were nearly one third (30.5%) below February levels. Meanwhile, online fashion retailers had seen rapid growth. In November 2019, online sales accounted for 18.2% of fashion sales – by the following November, its share had risen to 39.3%. Clothing giant Primark, notable for its lack of eCommerce presence, reported a 60% slump in profits.
In the unprecedentedly difficult market of 2020, it goes without saying that eCommerce was a necessary step for business to take. However, as lockdowns are lifted and high streets come back to life, will businesses and consumers stick with online shopping?
The future of the business landscape
The data certainly suggests that online trading is here to stay.
Prior to the pandemic, the logistical infrastructure was firmly in place for UK consumers and businesses alike to lean more on eCommerce. Infrastructural advancements over the last decade have made online shopping significantly more reliable, with faster and more tailored delivery options, delivery tracking, and easy returns for unwanted goods. As such, eCommerce businesses have met the UK’s increasing demand for convenience.
That said, eCommerce businesses are not perfect; whilst convenient, they also have their drawbacks.
For example, many will always see cultural value in physical retail and face-to-face trading. To revisit the fashion industry, most customers always prefer to visit a store to get the right fit – or from a manufacturers point of view, visit a factory to see and feel the quality of the material they wish to purchase. This sort of quality control, from the consumer- or business-facing standpoint cannot be guaranteed via solely online transactions.
There are also logistical issues which must, in time, be resolved. Trust is, as they say, hard to win and easily lost. For example, customers and clients will expect a level of protection, to ensure that their products are not damages upon arrival, as well as the ability to return the product if they are not satisfied. Failure to provide this could ultimately dissuade customers from using such services.
As such, eCommerce businesses should look to invest in innovative solutions to ensure that customers are easily able to track their products, and easily make returns where necessary. Today, certain tracking and returns software can make this process more transparent and hold the eCommerce business accountable for its logistical strategy. Such changes are easy to implement and will only help to build trust amongst consumers and businesses alike.
It will be interesting to see how eCommerce reacts to the reopening of the high street. It is possible that, with swathes of UK consumers turning to online retail for the first time, and others replacing past physical retail behaviours with eCommerce, this consumer trend is here to stay. I believe the quality of service will be the winning factor – there will always be a place for traditional high street shops, but the convenience of online retail is valued now more than ever.
About the author
Atul Bhakta is the CEO of One World Express, a position he has held for over 20 years. He also holds senior titles for other retail companies, underlining his vast experience and expertise in the world of eCommerce, trade and business management.
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