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Global 2021 report: how consumers responded to coronavirus around the world

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Covid-19, now in its second year, has continued to encourage shoppers to buy online in 2021. From Europe, Africa and Asia to the Americas, Australasia and the Middle East, shoppers are now more likely to turn to digital in order to buy than they were before the pandemic. The extent to which that has happened has varied by country and by age group but nonetheless, this change has been seen around the world. Brand organisation Unilever, which sells in all of these markets, has seen its ecommerce sales grow fast over the last year, to the point where it accounted for 12% of sales in the third quarter of 2021. That’s despite the return to face-to-face shopping, which Unilever has also detected in its sales figures. Some of that return to stores has come as customers have felt safer to buy in person. In some markets – including the USA and Northern Ireland – a factor here has been shoppers spending government issued economic stimulus payments. Overall, shoppers across markets now appear more open to buying across a range of channels, whether via stores, mobile apps, websites or other emerging channels. 

Looking at the numbers we can determine how retail cultures of different countries have – or haven’t – changed in the wake of the pandemic. 

In Germany ecommerce had a 14% share of the overall retail market during the pandemic, up from 9% before. Following multiple lockdowns, the equivalent figure is 10%. In contrast, ecommerce in the USA represented 11% of the market pre-pandemic. The equivalent figure today is 17%, suggesting a major shift in consumer behaviour.

Zooming in on Japan, 46% consumers of those surveyed, don’t think the pandemic affected their online shopping behaviour. However, it’s worth noting this may be in part because Japan already had a strong ecommerce sector. Out of the respondents aged 30-39, 15% said their online shopping activity had “increased by a lot”. On the other hand, we can see that some older Japanese consumers are still reluctant to take up online shopping, with 21% of over 70s stating that they do not purchase online at all.  

Turning to the Middle East, consumers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE discovered a new enthusiasm for contactless payments (37%) and being offered different delivery options for their purchases (52%). This is likely to increase overtime in sync with the region’s rapidly developing digital maturity with 82% already noted as internet users across Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in 2020 (up from 78% in 2019). 

The analysis found in this article was originally featured in the Global 2021: Ecommerce Region Report. To learn more about global ecommerce issues, changes to consumer buying patterns and future trends – download the full report today. 

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