The coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown, was the start of a major shift in shopping habits, with ecommerce pushed to the forefront of retail.
From 23 March to 15 June, the UK government ordered the closure of any non-essential stores, meaning any consumers wishing to buy a ‘non-essential’ item had to go online.
How has this impacted ecommerce businesses?
Looking at the industry as a whole, the percentage of retail sales completed online increased dramatically after the UK lockdown began. The Office for National Statistics reported that 32.8% of all sales in May were from eCommerce sites.
Since June, brick and mortar stores have been steadily reopening, but shopping in-store is still far from the experience we once knew. Social distancing means the number of people who can visit a store at once is limited, and longer queues are common. And with many people avoiding busy places for safety reasons, although the reopening of stores did cause a dip in ecommerce’s overall percentage of sales, it’s no surprise that online orders still accounted for 28.1% of all sales in July – well above last year’s peak of 21.5%.
And it’s not just on a macro level that we’ve seen such a rise in online sales. Many D2C businesses, who have been in a stronger position during lockdown than traditional and offline retailers, have enjoyed significant surges in orders – including some of our ecommerce clients. From March to August 2020, one client enjoyed a 49% increase in sales compared to the previous year, with a 103% increase in sessions from new users which resulted in a transaction.
Fashion giant, ASOS UK also reported an 18% increase in sales this year to a total of £1.18bn, and a 3.1 million increase in its international active customer base. So despite how uncertain the retail market was back at the start of Q2, many businesses that had the systems and processes in place to enable (or in the case of the two brands we’ve mentioned here, to continue) operating completely online, have experienced a lucrative season.
What does the future look like?
Looking to the end of the year, the UK market seems set to tell a similar story as the previous months.
56% of British consumers have said they expect to order more online this Christmas than they have before, according to research from Klarna and Retail Economics. And when over 70% feel reluctant to shop in-store at all, it’s safe to say that ecommerce retailers should expect another surge in sales this festive season.
How to make the most of peak trading this year
Focus on gifting – regardless of how strict lockdown restrictions are this Christmas, gifting will undoubtedly be a key component of any successful ecommerce strategy this year.-
From creating seasonal collections or gift guides to highlight your most giftworthy products, to offering gift wrapping and plain packaging so that orders can be delivered straight to the person the present is for, focus on making the experience as easy as possible for gift buyers this year.
Be clear about delivery – with consumers likely to be even more concerned with whether their orders will arrive in time for Christmas, effectively communicating your delivery options is more crucial this year than ever.
We’ve seen a rise in novice online shoppers this year, as those who would usually shop in-store have had no choice but to change their habits. Make sure all important information regarding shipping options, timescales for delivery and last orders for Christmas are clear and easy to find on your website so that both new and experienced online shoppers can find the information they need.
What about after Christmas?
The surge in ecommerce sales is not expected to continue at the same level over the next year. In fact, eMarketer predicts that as the market steadies in 2021, UK ecommerce sales will see a 6.3% decline, and figures are unlikely to return to pandemic levels until 2023.
However, this doesn’t mean that the shopping habits formed this year will disappear. More people, and businesses, than ever have adapted to taking their lives online. We see the expectations for online services increase every year, with customers expecting more and more from the business they shop with. But moving forwards, the expectation for the online experience to improve upon (or at the very least to match) the offline experience will only become more evident.
So while retail may not be quite as online-centred as it has been this year for a while, the need for a robust ecommerce strategy has never been quite so important.