Evolution of e-commerce in the post-pandemic era
By Moneka Khurana
Ever since we realised that Covid-19 is here to stay and similar health pandemics could also be expected in the future, we can no longer do simple things like visiting the local grocer to handpick fresh vegetables. Instead, we now shout out to a smart speaker and ask, “Alexa, where can I buy fresh vegetables?”. For all their needs, consumers suddenly have only one place to go — online.
E-commerce experienced exponential growth in 2020, and Indian e-commerce is expected to grow to $111 billion by 2024. E-commerce became the platform of choice because it began offering more differentiation in product ranges, competitive pricing, a unique shopping experience, and above all, convenience and safety.
The new smart shopper
Consistent digital exposure and existence of multiple touchpoints have led to an emergence of a new consumer buying process. Digital shoppers are not only using smart devices to meet their needs, but also shopping smartly. Even m-commerce is on the rise, where consumers follow a non-linear shopping journey to search, explore, compare and buy products from various platforms. According to an InMobi consumer survey, 63% respondents used their mobiles to discover new products, 77% used them to research products, and 62% to buy products.
Frivolous expenditure is being cut, and only essential household items are being bought online. In fact, online grocery shopping saw one of the highest growths in 2020, increasing by 42%, alongside OTT platforms (42%) and general media consumption (46%).
As lockdowns were enforced, a new cohort of audiences — rural and elderly consumers —turned to digital platforms for their essential requirements. Rural consumers are almost as well-connected as urban audiences due to rising smartphone penetration. Consumers in these regions predominantly use voice to surf the internet as it is easier to speak their native language than to type on an English-lettered keypad. Today, greater penetration of e-commerce and preference of voice searches are creating avenues for growth in voice commerce or v-commerce. According to The Voice Playbook, voice searches in India are growing by 270% every year, and 82% smartphone users in India use voice-activated search technology.
What brands can do
Create a social connection: Brands must tap into the inherent need for audiences to communicate, and use social media platforms, customer feedback, reviews, etc, to communicate with them on a real-time basis. Brands must also use social channels to create their own ‘identity’, and showcase their stories, engagements and products.
Provide unique experiences through voice, AR/VR: A few shopping portals offer AR trials for consumers wanting to purchase certain items, replicating trial rooms in brick-and-mortar stores. Brands can also use AR/VR to host virtual events for product launches, or even recreate in-person store experiences for customers to engage with. Voice technology helps create an immersive user experience while also giving a large part of society easy access to the internet. Smart platforms like Google Assistant and Alexa have played a big role in powering voice technology.
Keep your conscience alive: How a brand handles its employees — providing them relief and healthcare — its marketing campaigns and outreach initiatives have all been under constant scrutiny by consumers. The need for a brand to be socially aware and conscientious is of utmost importance, as all it takes is a single post for the reputation of a business to come crashing down.
Covid has changed e-commerce forever. Like in all major transformations, there will be winners and losers, and businesses will compete to gain new customers and to retain existing ones. Those who can read the current trends and evolve their strategies will be at the forefront of this evolution.
The author is country head – India, MMA