The global outbreak of COVID-19 had a major impact on almost every aspect of our lives. It changed the way we work, travel, communicate and, more importantly, how we shop. The introduction of social distancing laws and restrictions had a major impact on all types of retailers.
Social distancing laws saw ‘non-essential’ stores shutdown physical operations, while essential retailers and grocers had to completely reinvent the in-store experience. As the panic set in, so did panic buying, with products going out of supplies in waves. First it was toilet paper and pasta, then office supplies, gym supplies and jigsaw puzzles.
This changed the way consumers shop as we know it.
The surge of the inexperienced consumer and retailer
Widespread shutdowns and depleting stock in essential stores generated a major surge in online shopping. This saw a generation of consumers who would rarely shop online prior to the pandemic rushing to online stores to find the remainder of essential items. As for retailers, those who were forced to shut down physical stores also took advantage of the surge of e-commerce and accelerated the establishment of their online presence.
However, while online sales were booming and consumer saw the value of e-commerce, it also meant there was a surge of unaware consumers who were not as aware of the dangers of online shopping. These consumers are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, for example, a phishing attack where the hacker sends the target an e-mail updating an online order.
The same goes with retailers who fast-tracked their digital transformation through a digital store, but failed to consider the importance of cyber security, consumer data privacy and security of payment card information. While a digital presence supported the retailer in the short term, these vulnerabilities can hurt businesses down the track.
A consumer hangover effect
In May, the Australian government announced the easing of some social distancing restrictions, seeing the return of some non-essential stores. As the curve continues to flatten and further restrictions ease, many consumers will experience an initial ‘hangover’ effect – where there will be a massive flood back to brick-and-mortar stores due to the instant gratification it offers
But this doesn’t mean consumers will move away from online shopping. The pandemic has bought about a behavioral change. Those who rarely shopped online are now more experienced and hooked, sitting in the comfort of their living rooms and virtually window shopping.
They have also become smarter. They are aware of the benefits that online shopping offers – a wider range of products, more availability, more comparisons, and better bargains. Then there is the convenience factor which lures the ever-busy consumer. Online shopping will continue to surge, meaning retailers will need to create a robust and secure digital presence.
The digital wave
The pandemic has pushed both consumers to become more experienced with e-commerce and retailers to fast-track their digital transformation. However, building a digital presence requires more than just installing an e-commerce plugin on an existing website.
To develop a sustainable channel, retailers should look to work with reputable suppliers to help embrace the opportunity, especially if they are new to the e-commerce space. In addition, they need to ensure that the platform they build is safe and secure. Security, especially payment card information and data compliance, should be on top of mind while going digital, as it will reduce the likelihood of future cyber-attacks.
For those retailers who already have a digital presence or online store, it’s crucial to assess the vulnerabilities and see whether you are compliant with data regulations and protecting the customer. Companies like KJR help organisations in the retail space meet payment card and data protection standards by evaluating the vulnerabilities and ensuring a secure and compliant retail experience.
Retailers can also look at joining communities and networks that can provide support. For example, NORA Network is a platform for retailers that can offer shared knowledge, advice and advisory from industry experts.
These unprecedented times have forced consumers to explore their purchasing options, with some having gone from never online shopping to relying on it as a necessity. The emergence of this ‘new normal’ will forever shape consumer behaviour, therefore it’s important for retailers to adapt and meet the new digital appetite.