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After collating two consumer behavior reports, Euromonitor International’s senior head of digital consumer, Michelle Evans, described the shift to online commerce due to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak as one of the “most profound changes unfolding in commerce.”

In an analysis of two global surveys of 60,000 consumers (conducted pre- and post-peak pandemic), Evans noted that online sales had already been on a rapid incline. She said internationally, online purchases of goods and services reached $6.8 trillion in 2019, “more than double the amount spent in 2014.” Evans said COVID-19 accelerated e-commerce adoption, “with many consumers experimenting and even becoming reliant on the digital channel while in isolation.”

“The pandemic caused drastic travel restrictions and nonessential business closures, driving seismic shifts in how and where consumers spend their money,” Evans said in the report. “Consumers had no choice but to turn to the digital channel as brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants closed during the height of outbreaks.”

Among the key findings of the report was that online shoppers have embraced buying on mobile devices. Evans said this year was initially pegged as a “tipping point” for mobile commerce, and the pandemic accelerated the channel’s growth. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a higher percentage of connected consumers used mobile devices as opposed to computers to execute e-commerce purchases, which will accelerate this trajectory around the world,” she said. “Even while homebound, consumers relied on their mobile phones for purchases, underscoring the importance of this device for commerce activities.”

Digging into the demographic segments during this online shift, Evans said digital consumers between the ages of 30 and 44 were the most frequent online shoppers of the categories covered by the reports. “Given that this cohort already has the largest number of digital commerce users, one might not think this group would be the most likely to post the greatest increase in new users during the pandemic,” Evans said. “[But] the 30 to 44 age group did across all categories, except for travel.”

Not all of the categories studied experienced the same growth rate, Evans said.

The product/services covered in the surveys and Evans’ report included: apparel and accessories; beauty, health and personal care; consumer electronics and appliances; travel, and food service delivery. Evans said of these five categories, beauty and personal care was the only one that did not reach a double-digit increase in the percentage of shoppers making digital purchases.

In beauty and personal care, Evans said physical store retailing is the primary mode of conversions. “E-commerce accounted for only 11 percent of sales across beauty, health and personal-care products in 2019,” Evans said. “This minimal online penetration means that e-commerce could not offset the impact of brick-and-mortar stores shutting down and the subsequent shift to digital.”

But e-commerce is growing for beauty and personal care, and Evans said the pandemic “drove connected consumers to research such products online as much as in store for the first time.”

So, what can retailers and brands learn from these trends? Evans said since e-commerce remains robust, companies will need to improve fulfillment, especially the last mile. And physical stores can help by serving as fulfillment centers.

“Retailers may reduce or eliminate inventory in some stores depending on product assortment to improve efficiencies,” Evans said. “Micro-fulfillment centers, which are small warehouses compact enough to locate almost anywhere, enable retailers to fulfill online orders fast and efficiently. These centers can be located closer to the end-consumer, even taking over part of a retailer’s brick-and-mortar footprint, to fulfill curbside pickup or delivery orders.”

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