Analyzing the Post-Pandemic E-Commerce Landscape

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2020 was the beginning of a new world in retail. The pandemic took what would have been years of physical and digital commerce growth and compacted it into a matter of weeks, requiring sellers and consumers alike to adapt and innovate at an unprecedented rate.

While the evolution of retail and e-commerce has been expeditious as of late, consumer behaviors, expectations and priorities are always changing. It’s why, for the better part of a decade, Dotcom Distribution has conducted an annual study of online shoppers to track how those changes are shaping the evolving e-commerce landscape and share those insights with retailers and brands.

To ensure this year’s data provided actionable insights, the survey explored not only what’s occurred since the start of the pandemic, but lasting impacts, trends and intentions that suggest likely future consumer behavior in the post-pandemic e-commerce reality. Here are some of the key findings of the latest research, as well as implications that suggest what retailers can do to model the ideal customer experience.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Today’s socially conscious consumers want to associate with companies whose values appear to reflect their own. That means every retailer and brand is being evaluated not only based on the products and services it sells, but by what causes it supports, what it gives back to and, ultimately, how it’s helping to improve the world.

Looking through a social lens, 53 percent of respondents reported being more inclined to purchase from a business that supports diversity, racial and social justice initiatives. And if you’re looking at the influence of environmentally friendly efforts, when it comes to inner packaging, sustainable packaging was more likely than any other factor to compel online shoppers to become return customers (42 percent).

The customer experience has become one of and often the biggest factor in consumers’ purchase decisions. As such, retailers and brands should be embracing causes that dovetail with their corporate identity; figuring out what issues matter most to your customers should be part of that process.

Wherever Your Customers Are, Be There

With the explosion of e-commerce, it would be natural to assume that the role of physical retail is shrinking, but really, it’s just shifted. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents reported adopting new cross-channel shopping options, such as curbside pickup, during the pandemic. With 45 percent saying they’ll continue utilizing curbside pickup post-pandemic, and another 45 percent planning to pick up and return online orders in-store, there are no signs of fading interest in continuing to use these store-centric methods.

This is just more evidence pointing to the importance of maintaining a robust, seamless presence across every retail channel available to customers. Building and maintaining a successful multichannel strategy requires tracking customers’ shopping journeys and accommodating those patterns to deliver the ideal experience at every touchpoint.

Don’t Overlook the Power of Returns

Anyone in retail knows that returns are simply a cost of doing business. More than ever, companies are leveraging reverse logistics and return policies to improve the customer experience, minimize environmental impact, and sometimes even lessen operating costs. This latest survey data revealed that not only do 86 percent of respondents credit free returns as the policy that makes them most likely to shop with a brand, but 55 percent of respondents won’t even shop with a company that doesn’t offer free returns.

A more novel policy online shoppers appear to be embracing lately is “returnless refunds.” Many consumers might not have even heard of it yet, but according to our research, 40 percent of respondents who have experienced it said it makes them want to shop with the brand again, and 27 percent said the fact that it eliminates return shipping tells them the brand values sustainability. While consumers are responding favorably, this offering doesn’t make sense for every company, and certainly not every product. But it’s worth considering when the cost of a return outweighs an item’s value and can result in improved brand image, customer trust and loyalty, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Only time will tell what the future holds for consumer behavior, but the findings of this year’s study underscore the benefits retailers can realize by tapping into the evolving customer mindset. As the market continues to grow, having this insight facilitates anticipating needs and delivering a tailored shopping experience that makes customers feel valued, heard and excited for more.

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