Online sales likely to remain high post-pandemic

Over half of all retail sales around the world will still be online after the Covid-19 pandemic, new research suggests.

Ecommerce consultancy Wunderman Thompson Commerce surveyed more than 28,000 consumers across 17 countries on their current and future shopping habits for its Future Shopper Report 2021.

Almost three-quarters (72%) said that online shopping came to their rescue in 2020 and 73% said ecommerce would be more important to them in 2021. One contributing factor for 60% of global shoppers was becoming more comfortable using digital technology, while 41% said they are frightened about shopping instore in the wake of Covid-19.

Online marketplaces saw their popularity rise during the pandemic, with 42% of all online spend globally going to sites such as Amazon, Alibaba, JD.com, Mercado Libre and eBay.

While not everyone is happy about their dominance, two-thirds (64%) of consumers said they are excited by the prospect of buying everything through one retailer or marketplace in the future.

At the same time, however, more than half (56%) of global consumers supported the idea of Amazon paying more taxes — rising to over two-thirds (69%) in the UK and 70% in the US.

Hugh Fletcher, global head of consultancy and innovation at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, said: “Ecommerce can no longer be treated as the supplementary sales channel. Global shoppers have clearly stated that, in the future, it will be their primary channel for retail purchasing.

“For some organisations, and particularly marketplaces, they are reaping the rewards of investing in a strong online presence, while the news has been littered with stories of businesses who have not identified these changing demands going bust.”

Fletcher added: “2021 and beyond will usher in an era of more diverse online offerings, with marketplaces, direct-to-consumer brand sites and social commerce all having a key role to play. Businesses must ensure that this more complex online landscape complements their overall retail offering which needs to span digital and physical.”

Online shopping boosts UK retail sales

High street stores in the UK remained closed in February but retail sales returned to growth thanks to strong online sales.

Total UK sales increased by 1% compared with the same month last year, an improvement from the 1.3% contraction in January, according to an analysis by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and consultancy KPMG.

UK retail sales were up 9.5% on a like-for-like basis from February 2020.

Food sales continued to show strong growth as supermarkets and smaller grocery stores remained open to customers during lockdown. Over the three months to February, food sales increased by 7.6% on a like-for-like basis.

Meanwhile, non-food sales showed 6.6% like-for-like growth.

In February alone, online non-food sales soared by 82.2% year-on-year with strong sales across all categories.

Commenting on the latest figures, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “February saw a return to growth after a disappointing start to the year. The Prime Minister’s roadmap to reopening prompted a burst in spending on non-food items, such as school uniforms. Furthermore, with another month of lockdown still to go, online sales were high, rewarding the retailers who have invested digitally.

“Couples staying home for Valentine‚Äôs Day found themselves splashing out at their local supermarket, benefitting food sales. Meanwhile, the continued closure of so-called ‘non-essential’ retail has meant that non-food instore sales remained significantly down, underlining the importance of a successful reopening in April.”

Previous reopenings have shown that demand can be slow to come back, so the government has a vital role to play in building up consumer confidence to power a spending-led recovery, Dickinson added.