"It is possible to survive this, but not unaltered." Station Eleven quotes resonate deeply today, as the COVID-19 pandemic still rages, and the world continues to face many unknowns.
Remember window shopping? What about malls? When was the last time you walked into a store – just for the fun of it? You may not realize it, but your answer likely depends very much on where you live.
According to e-commerce transaction trends from customers of the SAP Commerce Cloud solution – used by B2B and B2C companies worldwide – shopping trends continue to shift amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dramatic shifts in consumers’ e-commerce and in-store shopping preferences have been well documented, and it appears that one of the factors contributing to these shifts has been the result of countries’ varying virus responses.
In-store shopping: Vaccinations bring foot traffic
Deep in the throes of the first lockdown in 2020, social media was rife with jokes and memes that went a little something like this:
“I can’t wait for the pandemic to end so I can go to the store and smell all the candles.”
But as the COVID-19 virus lingers, the punchline has changed. Now, many consumers are content with merely getting vaccinated before they head out and sniff candles, try on shoes, sit on showroom furniture – all to enjoy the simple pleasures of in-store shopping that we all took for granted before the pandemic.
The return to the in-store shopping experience is especially evident in the United States, which boasted some of the highest vaccination rates in the world in early 2021.
As vaccination rates increased, the United States weakened its grip on lockdowns and reduced its virus precautions. Stores, malls, and physical locations started to reopen or open more fully, enabling more shoppers to visit their favorite brick-and-mortar stores again.
At the end of April (week 18 in Figure 1 below), average online order volume began to plummet. At this same time, vaccination rates became less drastic in their upward trajectory and shifted to a more gradual rate. Could this be evidence that many of those ready and willing for vaccination had received it?
Europe sticks to online shopping
While increased vaccinations and re=openings led to more in-store shopping in the US., the data reveals a different trend in Europe.
Many countries in Europe have vaccination rates that now approach or exceed those of the United States, but lockdowns continue for the most part. And so do high rates of online shopping.
In fact, e-commerce growth in Europe has grown steadily in the upward direction in 2021. From weeks 13 to 26 (seen in Figure 2), average online order volume was 6% higher than the first 13 weeks of the year. Despite the fast rise in vaccination rates across Europe, e-commerce has remained a reliable and increasingly favorable way for people to shop.
Vaccinations and lax lockdowns drive in-store shopping
But what about regions where lockdown restrictions are ending and many populations have yet to receive vaccinations? For this, we look at Asia.
Like the United States, countries throughout Asia have scaled back on their lockdown restrictions amid increasing rates of vaccination. However, in comparison to the United States and Europe, vaccination rates remain relatively low in Asia. At the end of June (week 26 in Figure 3), vaccination rates in the United States stood between 50% and 60%. In Europe, they were rising from 45% to 50%. Across Asia, vaccination rates had yet to reach 30%.
Despite the slow rise in Asia’s vaccination rates, Asian consumers are slowly but surely returning to stores. While the hit to e-commerce hasn’t been quite as dramatic in Asia as it was in the United States, the decline is still noticeable.
Of course, it isn’t fair to blame shoppers’ in-store shopping or online habits entirely on these two forces.
Factors that have long determined whether people left their homes to go shopping continue to influence such decisions. Speaking from experience, I recently visited one of California’s finest indoor and outdoor shopping experiences – the Irvine Spectrum Center – with my family.
2021 e-commerce trends reflect a society that's forever changed. Brands must focus on DTC, mobile, social as a search tool, and data.
Weather, lockdown fatigue, and other factors will continue to shape our behavior
My family missed in-store shopping. Sitting at home and shopping online was quickly becoming a drag and a chore, especially on those especially sunny and temperate West Coast days. So, for the first time in a long time, we went shopping just because we could.
It was a beautiful day, we were all vaccinated, and the news was hopeful about COVID-19. Other shoppers clearly felt the same, because I hadn’t seen that many people in one place since 2019 – before the pandemic began.
But in-store shopping trips like these may be short lived. Already, we’re seeing a shift for the worse as the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus emerges as the primary source of infection worldwide. Cities are reinstating their mask mandates, touring artists are cancelling gigs, and individual businesses are bringing back their own virus precautions.
As countries and businesses worldwide take precautions to impede the spread of COVID-19, it’s likely that we’ll see B2C e-commerce begin to trend upward again as more and more consumers return to online shopping.
I’m looking forward to seeing how these trends change for the better, for the sake of economies, businesses – and most importantly – people, everywhere.