We have all been through a global whirlwind since the COVID-19 virus was first identified in 2019. A series of lockdowns and restrictions forced businesses to adapt quickly to a changing environment and the changing needs of consumers. All of a sudden, consumers were isolated to their homes, with rigid restrictions or fear of uncertainty. The need for home delivery, online information and digital transactions increased, and with this, the need for businesses to stand out online in order to survive this generational crisis skyrocketed. Below we have highlighted how the pandemic has shaped the business landscape we see today and expect to see for the future, and why online presence is so important, now more than ever.
A Change In Consumer Behaviour
During the pandemic we saw an increase in the use of digital tools in all areas of life, including work, personal finance and social interaction. People turned to online platforms in order to stay connected in the increasingly disconnected physical world that quickly became the ‘norm’.
Many that never or rarely used online tools before, quickly realised its convenience and consumer benefits. It’s predicted that people will continue to use online tools to carry out day to day activities and remain digitally connected, post pandemic. This combined with the large number of people who were already utilising tools such as online shopping, banking and social media, suggests that increased online activity is here to stay.
With this in mind, the importance of getting the attention of consumers online is growing. Businesses need to ensure they can inspire, engage and interact with customers online, whether sales are made online or in-store.
The Shift To Ecommerce
It’s clear to see the accelerated shift from in-store shopping to online purchasing in what seemed like overnight. We saw an increase in online grocery orders as well as household essential purchases such as cleaning supplies, both in and out of lockdown. The biggest shift from in-store to online shopping can be seen from consumers aged 35 and above. With this in mind, retailers that previously relied upon the older demographic for in-store purchases also needed to move online in order to compete.
During the first and third lockdown, we saw the closure of all non-essential shops. This proved fatal to some businesses, despite government help. Businesses were forced to move online and for some this was a new and scary concept, but a vital one to avoid being left behind. With more eCommerce companies in the market and a consumer spend of £243 billion in 2020, it became more important than ever for traders to stand out online.
The New Role Of The Physical Store
It’s expected that those newly shifted to online shopping will seek an omnichannel experience going forward, meaning the integration of online and physical stores working together to enhance customer experience . This highlights how the physical store can still find its place within the current landscape whilst remaining responsive to changing customer needs. For some, this may mean rethinking the purpose of the in-store experience. For businesses that prioritize in-store sales, this hybrid approach can work by generating engagement and interaction online that will encourage customers to visit the store, for an experience that they cannot get online.
Online Marketing Opportunity
Although the pandemic forced many businesses to embrace the online space, it also provided opportunity for growth. With consumers having more free time and increasing screen time there was opportunity for businesses to exploit increased online activity to reach new customers. There was still a high number of searches and engaged traffic at this time with consumers looking to make purchases out of boredom or make plans for post lockdown life.
For businesses that were forced to close, and therefore unable to make money, it was a natural assumption that pausing adverts and investing less in marketing was a good method of cutting costs in uncertain times.
However, those who could continue marketing despite the lockdown, used this time to invest in more brand awareness. With competitors pulling back on marketing, click costs in affected industries generally got cheaper, meaning more brand awareness for a lower budget. It was also good for populating remarketing lists at a cheaper cost which could then be utilised after lockdown.
To Sum Up…
Before the pandemic we could already see a gradual switch to e-commerce and online advertising, however, the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated us into a more digital world for business and for day to day living. This digital space not only provided opportunities for businesses to survive but also to grow and develop.