eCommerce in the Age of COVID

Aug 6, 2020

As COVID-19 dominates the country’s attention, online shopping continues to be popular with many consumers. Instead of simply heading to a favorite store as we did in pre-COVID days, consumers are thinking twice about venturing out. The last couple of months have seen infection rates spike in different states across the country, spurring new stay-at-home orders and safety requirements.

Given the fluctuating circumstances, shopping online instead of in stores just seems like the easier, more feasible choice. And until the pandemic is officially behind us, the heyday of eCommerce is likely to continue.

To examine recent eCommerce trends, GutCheck conducted a survey of 3,900 consumers in June. Here’s what we found out about online purchasing in a pandemic.

Where, what, and who

When buying online, it didn’t surprise us to see that consumers tend to start with Amazon but they’re also visiting the websites of major retailers like Walmart and Target, and are turning to Google to search for what they want. No matter where they’re shopping, convenience is key. Consumers expect to be able to easily navigate websites to find information and conduct product comparisons. Apps must work equally well, and websites need to be easy to use on smartphones—not just computers.

Before COVID, clothes, shoes, and accessories, consumer electronics, and personal body care were the most popular online shopping categories. However, in the past month there has been a stronger focus on food, household products, and alcohol.

Since COVID-19, consumers increased their purchases of fresh groceries through shopping or delivery services (13%), meals or prepared foods from restaurants (12%), and fresh groceries through an online retailer (12%). Consumers also increased their purchases of health foods and supplements, shelf-stable foods, alcoholic beverages, and meal kits or subscriptions, with 2-4% of consumers purchasing these items online for the first time. Online purchases of household paper goods and cleaners also increased, especially since these items were often difficult to find in stores.

Online shopping also varies by gender. Males tend to shop for more and different product categories than females, the former making purchases in an average of 4.2 categories and the latter focusing on an average of 3.4 categories. Females prefer to use just one website, while males like to compare across different sites. Males are also more likely than females to use another search engine outside of Google, such as Yahoo, Bing, or Ask.

A full 50% of consumers say that stay-at-home orders triggered them to shop online. Of those who are shopping online, they tend to be quite active, starting on Amazon and using a search engine to further explore their options and not being timid about purchasing food or beverages online.

How consumers make decisions

Online purchasers typically go through a multi-step process to make a purchase decision—the average being 3.7 steps. The most common steps include reading customer reviews (54%), comparing product prices (53%), reviewing shipping/delivery information (49%), and viewing product pictures and videos (47%). The decision-making process exposes some generational differences as well. Baby Boomers do review available information, but Millennials go further by reading articles and blogs (23%) and requesting additional product information (21%).

Price is a key factor in decision-making, and looking for the best deal shapes consumer journeys and expectations around online shopping. For example, 32% of consumers compare prices for one product across different websites, 18% compare prices of other products on the same website, and 17% look for the best discounts or promotions. Gen Z focuses on price comparison more than other generations, with 41% checking against other sites, whereas only 32% of consumers across all generations do so.

Smartphones (66%) and laptops (51%) top the list of devices that consumers use to make purchases. But it’s also important to call out that consumers don’t just use one device to shop online; they rely on several, sometimes in parallel with each other.

Shipping, payment, and other concerns

The biggest concern with online shopping is shipping costs, with over half of consumers (54%) mentioning that in our study. Other issues include complicated returns (50%), not knowing if a product will work, fit, or meet their expectations (45%), and shipping delays (43%). Once a purchase is made, however, consumers like to use their smartphones to quickly check delivery status instead of using laptops or other devices.

PayPal is the most popular form of payment, with 50% of consumers (and 55% of Millennials) saying they use that specific service. The next two most popular methods include debit cards (47%) and credit cards (45%), with 57% of Baby Boomers preferring to use the latter option.

Since females are more likely to purchase with price or discounts in mind, they’re also more likely to walk away from a purchase if a coupon code isn’t accepted. Males, on the other hand, walk away if the checkout process doesn’t go as planned, such as a payment type not being accepted or getting transferred to another site they don’t know or trust. And overall, Gen Z shoppers have no problem leaving the purchase experience – they lead the group of shoppers who stop their online checkouts more than 50% of the time.

Leveraging data like this is critical to adapting and optimizing your eCommerce strategy during COVID so you can provide a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience for customers and grow your brand. There are a number of ways you can incorporate these findings into your strategy, which we’ll explore in an upcoming blog.

In the meantime, reach out to us for deeper insights from the full report and learn how you can incorporate research insights to build a smarter growth strategy and maximize your revenue stream.

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