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UK a leader in the 2020 shift online – while studies suggest shoppers want to buy more in-store, but as yet are not returning to shops post-Covid 19 lockdown

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UK a leader in the 2020 shift online – while studies suggest shoppers want to buy more in-store, but as yet are not returning to shops post-Covid 19 lockdown

The latest figures show shoppers buying more online during Covid-19 and beyond. Meanwhile, footfall research suggests that shoppers want to buy more in-store, but the number of people visiting shops last week was down compared to the previous week.

 

Almost a quarter of UK retail sales took place online as shops closed for Covid-19 lockdowns, new figures suggest.


UNCTAD - the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – said in a report that online sales moved quickly online during the pandemic - and especially so in countries including the Republic of Korea, where 25.9% of sales are estimated to have taken place online in 2020, up from 20.8% the previous year, China (24.9% from 29.7% in 2019) and the UK (23.3% from 15.8%). In the US, 14% of sales are thought to have taken place online, up from 11% in 2019.

 

The figure is a first take on how ecommerce has grown over the year. The latest full-year estimates for global ecommerce sales suggest they grew to $26.7 trillion in 2019, 4% up on the previous year, the latest figures suggest. This includes both business-to-business (B2B) sales of $21.8 trillion – accounting for 82% of online sales – and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales of $4.9 trillion.


But while retailers – led by Alibaba, Amazon and JD.com – have seen their ecommerce sales grow, other service providers, including Uber, Expedia and Airbnb have seen their online sales fall.

 

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities. They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

 

Commenting on the figure, Elliott Jacobs, director, digital marketing at LiveArea EMEA, says: “For the foreseeable future, digital is the priority. Only by investing in online capabilities will companies be able to adapt to, and predict, market changes – from the rise of mobile and social to the emergence of voice command devices. With consumers flocking online last year, retailers were utterly reliant on sold back-end operations, enabling integration and agility across every touchpoint. It is now a stark fact - companies that don’t make the right investments will not stand the test of time.

 

“The pandemic changed our lives forever. Whilst the survival for brick-and-mortar is uncertain, we know that digital is here to stay.”

 

Longer-term, Juniper Research suggests in a new white paper, Digital Commerce & Opportunities for Post-pandemic Growth Whitepaper, that digital commerce spending will top $11.6 trillion by the end of 2021, 11.5% up on $10.5 trillion in 2020. The figures include buying digital and physical goods and tickets, and payments via banks, QR codes, money transfer and more. It also suggests that 73% of all digital commerce transactions will take place over mobile devices in 2021, rising to 79% in 2025.

 

Research author Nick Maynard says: “Mobile apps are the dominant force in digital commerce, with user experiences becoming critical, as products become heavily commoditised. Merchants must leverage AI-based analytics to ensure a truly personalised mobile commerce experience, or they will lose out to more digitally adept merchants.”

 

Are shoppers returning in-store?

The figures come as the latest UK footfall insights suggests that 71% shoppers want to buy in-store as the market emerges from lockdown 3.0. The Sensormatic research, UK retail beyond a year of lockdowns www.sensormatic.com/en_uk/resources/eb/2021/beyond-lockdowns, found that 66% say they have missed the high street, and 74% say it will be liberating to buy in-store rather than behind a screen.


But concerns remain, with 55% wary about in-store safety, including social distancing (73%), catching Covid-19 (59%) or passing it on to others (48%).

 

Andy Sumpter, Sensormatic’s retail consultant for EMEA, says: “We have already started to see the green shoots of retail’s recovery beginning, fuelled by growing consumer confidence and the promise of greater freedom as society and the economy open up. There is clearly a huge demand for real-life shopping experiences after months stuck shopping from behind their screens, causing many to rekindle their love of the High Street after it was closed for so long in the past year.

 

“But, the real test will be ensuring that this isn’t simply a case of pent-up demand; after a year of yoyoing in and out of lockdown, retailers will be counting on the continued support of shoppers if any sort of bounce back can be sustained in the long-term. And that requires re-evaluating the in-store experience so it’s both safe and engaging for the shopper.”

 

The research comes as Springboard footfall figures suggest footfall is declined by 2% last week, compared to the previous week – despite a bank holiday weekend lift (+3.2% Saturday week-on-week, +7.2% Sunday). The gap also widened last week compared to the same week in 2019 (-25.9%, from -19.9% the previous week). Now, says Springboard, the footfall is “at virtually the same level as it was after three months following the end of lockdown 1 in 2020”.

 

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, says: “Footfall across UK retail destinations dipped a little last week from the week before, driven by fewer shoppers visiting high streets whilst in retail parks and shopping centres customer activity rose. In part, this is likely to have been due to the rain and cooler temperatures in the second half of the week in a number of areas across the UK which will have deterred shoppers from external locations.


“Despite this, activity rose in regional cities outside of London, whilst in tourist destinations and smaller high streets it declined, suggesting that the appeal of major stores that are present in large city centres was enough to offset the less favourable weather. The uplift in footfall in both Scotland and Northern Ireland following the opening of non-essential retail last week was significant, with these being the only areas of the UK where footfall rose from the week before.

 

“Over the bank holiday weekend, however, footfall across the UK strengthened once more, increasing from the previous week on both Saturday and Sunday although Monday was adversely impacted by the wind and rain.”

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