Online Shopping
Online Shopping in the Covid Era

Posted by    |   June 4th, 2020   |   No Comments

How do consumers feel about online vs local shopping post-lockdown?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 era, we have all been adjusting to changes in our daily lives that would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of months ago. In many areas, technology has given us salvation with streaming services helping us cope with the boredom of lockdown, video chat platforms helping us to overcome the separation from family & friends and enabling businesses to function while staff worked from home and online shopping allowing us to purchase the necessary and unnecessary items we haven’t been able to with most retailers unable to open their doors to customers over the past couple of months. 


Online shopping was already a regular pastime for many as internet access, smartphones and tablets make it easy to browse and buy anywhere at any time. There had been an expectation in some quarters that Covid-19 would be the death knell for traditional retail, particularly in light of social distancing measures. For some that may well be the case unfortunately, however, with a greater appreciation for activities we’ve had taken away in lockdown, could there be a renaissance for traditional retail when shoppers are allowed to return? To find out, Customer Perceptions surveyed 340 shoppers from across Ireland to get their opinions on shopping on the Covid-era.


Shopping During Lockdown

As would have been expected, given traditional retail was essentially shut down over the past couple of months, online shopping has been on the rise, with 53% buying more online than before compared with 16% buying less online. Just over half of respondents had purchased items online that they wouldn’t have before. While these trends might have been expected to continue when stores reopen, there could in fact be a return to the status quo, with 21% expecting to do less online shopping than before the crisis and the very same expecting to do more. Possibly the key finding for traditional retail is that shoppers were nearly three times as likely to engage in impulse buying in-store than online, and two-thirds indicated they would be likely to do engage in this the same or more than before, with months of retail therapy to catch up on. 


Shopping Local vs Online

As much as online shopping seems tailor-made for the world we now live in, there are some factors that influence consumers favouring traditional retail settings. Firstly, as an activity, shoppers prefer the browsing element of shopping in-store (52%) over online (29%). Seeing the product for themselves and getting a better feel for the quality and suitability of a product is still very important and this itself has been one area that online shopping has always been held back by, with the perception that not choosing the product yourself in person leads to a suboptimal outcome. 


The other big factor pushing shoppers away from online shopping is the desire to support local businesses and in turn local jobs, with 70% expecting to do more shopping local than online as we leave lockdown and shops reopen. Interestingly, one-in-two respondents said they would pay more to buy from local businesses, while 89% would avail of online service if a local business offered it. As many businesses offering online will have this service centralised, the perception among shoppers is that buying online can essentially take away from local businesses and potentially take jobs out of the community.


For non-essential items, twice as many would choose buying local over online given the choice. In terms of product categories, in-store was preferred over online for the vast majority of products, although computer/console games (57%), sports/exercise equipment (56%) and home electronics (52%) did have a slight majority choosing online. It is noteworthy that some of the most popular areas for online shopping like clothing, accessories and cosmetics all came down 60:40 in favour of buying in-store over online, while products that wouldn’t necessarily require the buyer’s quality checks like alcohol, pharmaceuticals and home appliances were favoured for in-store purchases even more so.


Factors Influencing Where/Whether We Shop Online

The most significant factors influencing shopping online were product quality, payment security and prices, with well over two-thirds selecting each of these. Delivery costs, website functionality and returns policy were also key, being considered ‘highly important’ by more than half of respondents. When asked what the single biggest factor was, prices was a clear winner, taking up 45% of the vote, followed by online reviews (15%) and product quality (14%). Surprisingly, the opinion of family/friends was only second lowest in terms of being deemed highly important (with only packaging style below this).


It was perhaps surprising that packaging didn’t factor much in the decision making process as regards to online shopping, given packaging has become such a hot topic, namely excessive packaging wherein large boxes with lots of paper and plastic are used in shipping the smallest of products. Despite this, the majority of respondents value the protection of items (60%) above all else, with this well clear of environmentally friendly packaging (25%) and packaging style (4%) not a major factor.


The Future of Shopping

For many businesses, moving online might have sustained them through the past few months but this online presence should be considered as a supplement to their business offering rather than a replacement. With shoppers still largely preferring to browse in-store and many of us having a newfound appreciation for being able to do activities we took for granted before the lockdown, there is an opportunity for physical retailers to take advantage and every possibility that demand will be similar to that experienced by hardware stores and fast food outlets in recent weeks as they reopened. 


For all the uncertainty around the future of retail and the difficulty in predicting what the impact of Covid-19 will be in terms of economic effects and the shopping environment itself, there is much to be hopeful about. While safety will remain massively important to shoppers, there’s a growing desire to get back to some form of normality as and when we are able to. It is probably no surprise then that Penneys/Primark was the most missed retailer during the lockdown, with over one-third of respondents overall and just almost half of female respondents choosing it. We can be confident that retail will rebound and shoppers will return. Before we know it we’ll all be hearing the phrase: “Thanks, Penneys” uttered right around Ireland – we will know then that normality has returned.


By Ronan Cassidy

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