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EDITORIAL How the meaning of online is evolving – and who are going to be the winners

Voice is starting to reshape how people shop – and that's just the start of it

What online retail means is rapidly changing as the continuing impact of the pandemic plays out. While more people than ever are shopping online – with many ecommerce firms reporting a 15% spike in revenues – how shoppers are buying has changed in a matter of months.

A study out today from  GlobalWebIndex (GWI), suggests that social media is now playing an increasing role in how consumers – especially the young – shop. Separate research from Rakuten Advertising and a third study by Bazaarvoice seem to back this up.

According to GWI, nearly a third of Gen Z discover brands via ads on social media, compared to the average of just 27%. That said, social media is not just a Gen Z obsession; ads seen via this platform feature in the top 7 ways in which both millennials and Gen X also typically discover new brands and products. 

Similarly, Rakuten finds that there is a growing move towards social media among younger demographics to find what they are looking for, while Bazaarvoice quantifies that as 57% of all UK shoppers of all ages use social at least for shopping inspiration.

How all these consumers buy is also changing. Both Rakuten and Bazaarvoice find that more and more transactions are taking place on marketplaces, with the former saying 48% of shoppers are turning to them for inspiration and the latter claims 74% are planning to buy from marketplaces during peak.

However, this isn’t the really interesting bit. What is perhaps more crucial is that all of this is happening on mobile and, for the younger shoppers, is increasingly involving voice and image search on mobile.

According to GWI, almost half (47%) of global internet users have used either voice and/or image search in the last month on mobile to find and buy.

Globally, voice services such as Siri and visual search tools such as Google Lens, are essentially as popular as one another. In the last month, 34% of internet users have used voice search – increasing from 25% in 2017 – and 33% have used an image recognition tool on their mobiles.

This is quite a startling shift in a very short time and one that retailers need to adapt to right now, as all three studies agree that this is going to continue to develop as a trend and will shape much of the peak retail starting now.

And the winners are…

So, with all this change in mind, who are going to be the winners in this new ecommerce world? Amazon, clearly, is in pole position to capitalise on the shift to marketplaces. The GWI study suggests that more than half (52%) of UK internet users have used the Amazon app in the last month alone, making it the most used app out of the 26 tracked by GWI. 

With 44% of global consumers very or extremely concerned about a second wave and the same percentage expecting the outbreak to last longer than a year, Amazon is positioning itself for the near future through eye-watering aggressive investment in COVID-19 measures – no other company has the capital and investment available to do this on such a huge scale.

Elsewhere, online grocery shopping is the vertical that’s seen the most explosive growth. The US and Canada have seen the greatest increase in ecommerce demand, as major platforms, notably Amazon, look to secure their cut of this demand. Interestingly, in the US, grocery subscriptions (32%) are slightly more popular than music streaming (28%). 

Between Q3 2019 and Q2 2020, the percentage of internet users who have purchased grocery items online in Europe has steadily increased from 20% to 24%; a small, but statistically significant increase. In the US and Canada this is even greater, growing from 21% to 31%.

Some brands are also coming through strong, with Nike being particularly worthy of note, with online sales up 82% across June, July and August, helping to offset falling store sales.

This is a pattern repeated across retail, where brands and retailers that get their omni-channel services aligned are seeing at least some sales. The important thing now is to tap into the shift to marketplaces, mobile, voice and visual right now as that is where the consumers are.

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