Retail reimagined: New shoppers, new habits, big opportunity

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The most important thing to note about the way the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped retail is that the change is not for the short term.

Shopping might return to something closer to what it was in February 2020, but it will never be the same. The staying power of the significant move to online shopping, the embrace of curbside pickup and the arrival of new online shoppers is evident from the magnitude of the trends and their endurance.

The numbers tell the story. The mass movement to buying online was the sort of social change you see in the midst of dramatic world events. In the first full month of the pandemic, global online sales on Signifyd’s Commerce Network doubled year over year. In month two, they were up four times.

The increase in sales began to settle down as consumers realized stockpiling wasn’t necessary. But they realized something else, too. Shopping online was convenient, provided a greater selection and fit with their lifestyles. Even in August — five months into the pandemic — ecommerce sales were up 34% over August 2019.

Looking at how consumers are shopping provides further evidence that there has been a tectonic shift — and not a change that will settle back to the way things were. Before the pandemic, curbside pickup was practically a novelty, save for some big boxes offering grocery pickup. In 2019, only 17 of the Internet Retailer 1000 offered curbside pickup, according to Digital 360.

Today, the number of retailers offering the service is hard to pin down due to the acceleration of the trend. But it’s evident that curbside has become a go-to for plenty of shoppers. Signifyd’s Pulse data shows that buy online, pick up at the curb sales grew nearly 500% in April, compared to the beginning of the year. While that figure has also simmered down a bit, curbside sales were still up about 250% during the first week of September.

So, where people are shopping has changed dramatically — the move from in-store to online. How people shop has changed dramatically — buy online, pick up in-store or at the curb orders are soaring. But the factor that is likely to cause the most lasting change is the dramatic change in who is shopping online.

A smart aleck would say everybody. But the significance behind the wisecrack is that a whole new cohort of consumers are shopping online for the first time. And the trend is enduring.

The number of new shoppers buying from the more than 10,000 merchants on Signifyd’s Commerce Network more than doubled at its peak in May. We define a new shopper as a consumer we have not seen on the Commerce Network in the past year.

More important than the number of new shoppers flocking to ecommerce during the pandemic is the fact that those first-time buyers return to shop online again. About half of those new shoppers make multiple online purchases within 30 days of their first purchase.


New online shoppers are being added every week trend chart

It makes sense, right? Someone who hasn’t shopped online or hasn’t shopped online in some time, finds there aren’t other options with non-essential stores closed and with the best advice being avoid leaving home. So, she or he orders online. And the experience is a little unfamiliar — searching for products, typing a credit card number into a form, maybe creating an account. But the goods arrive with no complications and pretty quickly, too.

At that point, the new shopper knows the drill; the buying process is familiar. Maybe she or he has some information autofilled, which makes things easier still. And so the shopper buys more from more places more often and in fact becomes one of those who makes multiple online purchases for weeks.

All this has catapulted ecommerce years into the future. Pre-pandemic, eMarketer predicted e-commerce would grow 19% in 2020. Signifyd data shows e-commerce growing at an average of 139% a month for the five full pandemic months of the year.

Of course, maintaining that torrid growth rate requires that retailers keep their new customers once they acquire them. Those new customers are arguably a retailer’s most valuable in that they required relatively little acquisition cost, compared to the pre-pandemic days of bidding up digital ads on Google, Facebook and Amazon.

To that end, retailers will want to build marketing campaigns that cater to new customers through promotions, personalized suggestions and loyalty programs. As importantly, retailers will want to audit their entire buying journey. The goal is to make sure the merchant is providing exceptional site search, seamless checkout, instant fraud review, timely delivery and responsive customer support.

After all, the world of retail has changed. And no one wants to be left behind.

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