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EDITORIAL Ecommerce stats hide the real challenges to etailer growth

How consumers have changed is the real challenge
How consumers have changed is the real challenge

The statistics surrounding how ecommerce has changed across 2020 are as astonishing as you might expect after such an unusual year.

 

Ecommerce revenues across Europe have risen 30% in 2020, fuelled by the lockdown and are likely to double there share of total sales by 2025 from where they were in 2019. China and the US are set to account for 60% of ecommerce this year and 99% of adults now use the internet with some degree of regularity.

 

This is the good news for pureplay and omni-channel retailers from the pandemic. The bad news is that it is very hard to predict where that spending is set to go. Many established retailers have already seen that the wholesale switch to ecommerce worldwide in 2020 hasn’t necessarily come their way.

 

For many, the pureplay disruptors in their sector have suddenly seen a level playing field and have reaped the rewards. For others that were perhaps not as far along their ecommerce journey as others, these statistics only reinforce the pain they have felt these past 12 months.

 

Some retailers have adapted to this by looking at how to create an omni-channel presence on the fly. The Cotswold Company, for instance, has used video from its stores to offer online customer service, while WatchPilot, a pureplay, has gone the other way and opened a store.

 

However, these are just following the herd. What really matters is where consumers go next. The changing shape of how consumers shop can’t be underestimated. While the move to digital has been largely driven by the shops being shut, there are other forces at work here that come from that shift.

 

The changing shape of how consumers shop can’t be underestimated. While the move to digital has been largely driven by the shops being shut, there are other forces at work here that come from that shift.

 

Many shoppers have not only embraced online shopping as a substitute for physical retail, they are likely to stick at it.

 

But that isn’t the half of it. The real issue lies in other things they are now doing around that. A study out this week that looks at which shoppers in which countries are the biggest bargain hunters – Belgium, if you want to know – belies the fact that online searches for discount codes and savings has rocketed in recent months.

 

Shoppers now want to not only shop online, but to use the online tools to make it as cheap and efficient as possible. Catering to this cut in margin, meeting the needs of aggressively savvy shoppers and doing all that with an eye on ethics and sustainability is a tall order.

 

The other issue that faces all retailers, omni-channel or otherwise, is that consumer habits around shopping have not only changed, but also are in a constant state of flux now. In the UK, lockdown may be lifting and vaccination is going well, but the uncertainty surrounding daily life remains – and is likely to be fixture of life for years to come. This means that what shoppers did in 2020 isn’t going to be what they do in 2021. It certainly won’t be what they do in 2022.

 

While understanding where we have been in important, for retailers to grow and thrive going forward now requires the ability to be agile and to turn, as many did in 2020, on a dime when circumstance and how shoppers behave shifts. This is the real challenge for growth.

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