COVID-19 has forced businesses to take e-commerce seriously

For the past decade, online business and shopping have been on the rise. The industry pre-COVID-19 was predicted to see $ 35.2 billion in revenue this year and Australia is positioned as the 10th largest e-commerce market in the world by revenue.

Despite this, in 2019 over 59 per cent of businesses did not have a website with many feeling that a presence online was not necessary. Along with this, only 47 per cent of SMEs used Social Media. This highlighted that most Australian small businesses were not present online.

But then came COVID-19.

As more and more regulations and restrictions were enforced, more industries were forced to shut their physical doors. And whilst many bricks and mortar locations weren’t able to open, digital platforms thrived. More businesses began to adapt online – setting up websites, turning to online delivery platforms like Uber Eats & Menulog, using marketplaces like Etsy and eBay to sell goods or setting up stores on Shopify. Shopify reported businesses moved swiftly online during the Coronavirus pandemic with sales up 47 per cent on the platform.

COVID-19 forced consumers to evolve their buying behaviours. Not just for necessity but also when they were forced to work from home and needed goods, services and equipment to do so. And as consumer behaviour was forced to evolve, businesses were forced to adapt to the world of e-commerce, whether they liked it or not.

For those who already had some digital infrastructure to complement their bricks and mortar offering, they were already able to use their websites and social media to their advantage. Those businesses were able to offer incentives such as free delivery, discounted stock as soon as restrictions were in place, identifying that as workers were forced home that disposable income would decline drastically.

For those SMEs who were forced online, some were left on the back foot. Not only did they have to set up and mould their business model into the fast-changing self-isolating climate but also dish out money at a time when sales were in rapid decline – not the best time for increasing your capital costs.

And so, when things return to some sort of normal, will online shopping play as a vital role in the household shop or not? Online shopping is becoming more and more attractive to many Australians who lead busy lives and this is only improving as more platforms offer easier “path to purchase” journeys for consumers. Click and collect models, the rise of online marketplaces such as Ebay.com and Etsy, Buy now pay later, faster payments and even multiple delivery options are all adding to an improved buyer experience.

Social media, too, continues to evolve with the public’s needs and for businesses, this continues to make things easier when selling and promoting products and services. Social commerce was a growing trend in 2020 with the announcement from Facebook that Instagram Shops would be launched sometime this year.

So yes, whilst pre-COVID-19 it was suitable to consider that a business wasn’t big enough to have a website, post-COVID-19 shows that when the world needed to continue to shop it was websites and marketplaces they were looking for 24/7.

We don’t know what is in store for the world post-COVID-19. But what we do know is that online shopping during this crisis has forced consumers to sample what they might have feared (online safety, product quality, refund issues) before, showing that purchases can be made quickly, efficiently and cashless.

Demelza Leonard, digital marketing and social media expert 

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