Retail revolution
Speed Philippines|September - October 2020
Retail revolution
How COVID-19 has turbocharged the shift to online shopping and changed consumer behavior
CARMEL A MARAAN FERNANDO

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced several countries into an unprecedented lockdown to avoid transmission of the virus. Within less than three months, the entire world had turned into a dystopian urban wasteland. Governments placed cities and districts under quarantine, so only selected groups of people were authorized to go out and about. Because of this, public facilities had to close down and most general businesses had to cease operations.

Unemployment rates skyrocketed as companies placed employees on furlough. A lot of businesses were unfortunately forced to shut down. Public life as we knew it had stopped and the once-bustling shoppers’ paradise in various locations around the world closed off indefinitely.

Or did it?

While the situation had drastically forced consumers to rethink their spending habits and plunge into a world of DIYs and cost-cutting measures, these practices were just a temporary fix for most. People still needed access to commercial goods, the workforce needed jobs, and a massive shortage of operational enterprises would hurt the global economy in the long run.

Fortunately, online shopping was already part of the norm long before COVID-19 hit. It just wasn’t the norm at the time.

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Before the pandemic, a good number of retailers had already established a firm foothold in the digital market, offering greater accessibility to consumers of all demographics and locations. This wasn’t just limited to small and medium businesses; well-established brands with traditional physical stores expanded their point of sales to online marketplaces, dedicated websites, and social media.

For working consumers with a fast-paced and busy lifestyle, online shopping was a highly convenient way to get daily and weekly supplies, as well as entertainment and luxury purchases. But it was still an option since a significant portion of goods and services were only obtainable at physical outlets. Plus, people still enjoyed going out to shop, escape, and reconnect with friends and loved ones.

Sadly, COVID-19 exposed one of the traditional shopping experience’s key elements as its Achilles heel: human contact.

When the lockdown and quarantine measures were first implemented, businesses that heavily relied on close and constant human interaction were the first to be crippled. Some of these include amusement parks and themed play areas; theaters, cinemas, and museums; malls; entertainment bars, live music, and party venues; brick-and-mortar shops; supermarkets and farmer’s markets; schools and other educational facilities; restaurants, fast food outlets, bars, and buffets; gyms, spas, and personal wellness clinics; and service centers for automobiles and tech.

The lockdown also drove the closure of several offices in these industries’ backend and supply chain operations, greatly affecting employment. Micro and small business operations, especially those that didn’t offer online services such as independent cafes and mom-and-pop stores, also suffered a massive decline in business activity, as plenty of them were forced to cut down on staff or close down.

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September - October 2020