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Jan 2021 Uncategorized

How COVID changed ecommerce in 2020 (for the better)

2020, amongst other things, saw a shift in the way people used e-commerce, both here and world-wide. The previous decade and a half had taken online shopping from a niche activity to a widely accepted way of purchasing goods, but after a gradual climb year-on-year, 2020 made changes unlike any seen before. Here are some of the biggest differences last year made to shopping online in the UK:

Over a third of all uk retail sales are now online

It’ll surprise nobody that 2020 saw the biggest increase in online sales the UK has ever seen.

In February 2020, 19.1% of all retail sales were performed online which was still pretty high compared to all of 2019. In fact, since 2006, The proportion of retail sales that were conducted online had been growing slowly by a percent, or sometimes two, each year.

Then March 2020 came with the commencement of the first lockdown, and by May we’d seen online sales in the UK rocket to 32% of total sales. By September it had reached 36%, meaning e-commerce was now accounting for over a third of all retail business in the UK.

Almost a quarter of all retailers embraced ‘Click and Collect’ for the first time

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s had already long been offering a click and collect service for online shoppers as an alternative to home delivery, but social distancing rules meant it became an attractive proposition for many other retailers also. It was a way to keep shops open and trading, even those not seen to be selling ‘essential’ goods (Hobbycraft, for example) allowing people to buy online and then turn up to collect their order at the door. Even as time passed and non-essential stores let customers back in again, it was still a useful way to trade and keep within the social distancing guidelines.

Nearly half of all consumers feel that the pandemic will have a permanent impact on the way they shop

According to research commissioned by O2 in August, 44% of consumers believe that the pandemic will have had a permanent impact on the way they shop – with 47% stating that the number of times they shop online will definitely increase. The research also revealed that customers are spending much more time researching their potential purchases online, meaning that we’re not only spending more money online than ever before, but that we’re spending more time online planning our shopping. Browsing physical shops is being replaced with browsing reviews and competing websites.

A quarter of all shoppers tried new online retailers

A study by Arlington Research found that 25% of all online shoppers tried out sites they’d never used before for purchases with this figure being more like a third for Generation Z and Millennial web users (32% and 35% respectively).  This appears to be partly because of shoppers sourcing products online that they had not considered buying over the internet before, such as pet food and footwear. It is also possibly due to a growing trend in morality focussed shopping with over half (54%) of UK online shoppers saying they would be less likely to spend money with brands and retailers that treat their staff poorly – a perception that online retail giant Amazon suffers from.  This expansion of shoppers’ virtual high street can only be a good thing for companies offering e-commerce as it shows a willingness by web users to explore options beyond the big names in online retail, giving smaller and independent traders a much needed boost.

So what does the future hold?

By all accounts, the changes seen in 2020 are likely to remain in place even when “things return to normal”. Habits have changed. People are accepting online shopping as a genuine alternative to visiting stores as opposed to a just a temporary solution during the pandemic. Retailers have responded to the situation, making significant changes to how they connect with online customers.  And new technologies are emerging that further change the shape of the e-commerce landscape, for example Go Instore (which provides a live video-retail experience to customers)  which has been implemented by a large number of high-profile brands like Currys/PCWorld, Mammas & Pappas and Pets at Home.

What we saw happen in 2020 is perhaps the start of the next phase of online business. People will, of course, still want to visit real-world stores as part of their shopping activity. But with the changes in attitude towards just how necessary it is to physically go somewhere to find and buy something, perhaps our approach to shopping in person will change too, transforming it into more of an event than a chore.




Office for National Statistics

Barclays “Survive and thrive: How the UK’s retailers are adapting to the ‘new normal’” report

‘Big Ask’ research by Retail Economics on behalf of O2 business, 

Arlington Research for PFSweb, Inc, ‘UK Coronavirus consumer research findings’

Posted by: Chris Hands

Jan 14, 2021

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