Omnichannel Retailing: Covid-19 accelerating the growth of omnichannel sales

The pandemic has accelerated the trend of moving to online sales, but why? Well, in a nutshell, the main reasons are store closures and the danger of contracting the Covid-19 virus keeping consumers at home, forcing them to purchase online.

However, online only stores will not be the sole winners of retail. An omnichannel approach will better serve modern consumers who have different needs.

Online sales growth.

In the UK, non-essential stores were closed during the Christmas and Black Friday periods, which the CBI reported to be the highest growth period for online sales. Overall, the UK saw a 74% year-on-year growth of online sales in January 2021. The ONS breaks down the statistic further by explaining that card spending was similar during the second and third lockdowns, but significantly lower during the first lockdown Britain faced.

Pent up demand, purchasing power, lack of social events, and of course, adjusting to the shift from brick-and-mortar to online shopping are among some reasons why consumers spent more online during the second and third lockdown. Fashion and textiles category, for example, saw a 78.2% year-on-year growth in online sales in March 2021 as people start preparing for the summer 2021, with the potential to attend social events and even travel.

Companies like Kingfisher, Amazon, and Ocado increased their sales during the pandemic thanks to their online efforts: Kingfisher’s ecommerce sales increased 158% year-on-year in 2020 to £2.3 billion; Amazon’ssales grew 38% in the same period reaching $368.1 billion; and Ocado was named UK’s fastest growing retailer.

With retailers making online shopping easier by providing easy pick-up and returns, cheaper deliveries, and price competitivity, consumers will continue to buy online post pandemic due to the price and convenience. Perhaps that’s why the Retail Economics and Natwest found that 46% of UK consumers have purchased a product online that they had previously purchased in store. Close to 30% of UK consumers have even become accustomed to purchasing groceries online, without needing to check for quality of fresh produce.

Thus, online retailers have been forced to adapt very quickly and answer to the demand. Now that the infrastructure is in place and consumers are accustomed to shopping online, online sales will continue to grow, albeit at a smaller rate.

Brick-and-Mortars.

The brick-and-mortar rebound is already causing online sales growth to decline. While in April 2021, ecommerce accounted for 41.5% of retail sales, it was down from 68.8% in April 2020. Paul Martin, head of Retail at KPMG does assure that online sales will continue to grow across most categories but at a lower rate.

With the success of the vaccine rollout, good weather, and reopening of stores, consumers are leaving their screens, stepping out, and into the highstreets. High street footfall, as a result, is increasing since retail reopened on April 12th despite being 27.5% lower than May 2019 levels. The May bank holiday saw numbers growing 25% on the 30th of May and 16% on the 31st.

Brick-and-Mortar retailers have also played a part in attracting consumers by creating experiences, since there is a huge demand for social interaction, amusement, and spending. Experiential stores, concept stores, and pop-ups are emerging in greater numbers on the high street to satisfy the consumer demand.

However, these are costly changes for businesses so it is important for retailers to also focus on selling products and services whilst delighting consumers with experiences. That is the only way brick-and-mortar stores can survive.

Omnichannel solution.  

Consumers are now a blend of online and offline shoppers. They can appreciate the prices and convenience of an online store; and they can also enjoy completely immersing in a brand at a brick-and-mortar store. Both stores lead to conversion. Therefore, providing a seamless omnichannel experience is a must! Omnichannel retailers saw a whopping 99.8% year-on-year sales growth in January while online-only stores grew by 31.2%.

It is difficult for retailers to effectively market an online-only brand since consumers can’t touch and feel products, hear the music, or taste any samples; even the sense of seeing is distorted on a screen, so often consumers may overlook a product online which they might otherwise buy in store.

Seamless flexible payment options are also valued by 78% of consumers. 90% consumers are even willing to spend more if retailers are flexible with payment options. 45% of shoppers look for convenience over price and 95% want convenient delivery services.

These demands of consumers can only be met through an omnichannel approach. For some shoppers, convenience means purchasing online and collecting in store while others might go in store for inspiration and order online. An omnichannel approach is fundamental to the success of any retailer.

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