As mentioned in the previous article, online sales of sports equipment have been rising during the lockdown. But fitness is not the only sector that has basked in the growth of e-commerce. According to McKinsey's research, more consumers tend to buy groceries, household goods, OTC medications and personal care items through online shops. A report published by the British telecommunications provider O2 also shows that e-commerce has started to play a more significant role in our daily lives. Over 60% of the surveyed consumers said that “being connected is extremely important.”
Apart from essential goods, consumers also feel more comfortable buying luxury goods online. José Neves, the CEO of Farfetch, told Time in an interview that the company had gained 900,000 new customers during the lockdown. Although the overall luxury goods market went south during the pandemic, the Chinese e-commerce sector grew by 23%. The Swiss luxury powerhouse Richemont partnered with Alibaba last year, investing over 1 billion USD in Farfetch to propel the growing e-commerce market in China.
While e-commerce has become part of our everyday lives, digital payments play an indispensable role in completing the online customer journey. The transaction volume of digital payments has increased by 21% during the pandemic (The World Bank and the World Economic Forum). Meanwhile, Apple Pay, one of the major players in the digital wallet sector, reached over 500 million users worldwide.
FinTech company Square provides an omnichannel point-of-sale solution that bridges the gap between offline and online sales channels. With a Square account, retailers can manage all transactions in one place, avoiding inventory discrepancies between physical and online shops. It also provides retailers with various POS terminals — from a classic checkout registry to a tiny portable card reader connected to retailers' smartphones through the audio jack. McKinsey's report found that more than 80% of consumers use both online and offline sales channels, and digital payment solutions give retailers, especially brick-and-mortar stores, much more flexibility to juggle between offline and online businesses.
Many brick-and-mortar stores have been trying to stay afloat during the pandemic by transitioning into a ‘click-and-mortar’ model. With ‘click-andcollect’ becoming a popular e-commerce model for both big and small retailers, extra time and resources need to be spent on improving the online customer journey, adding an extra burden to this barely-surviving sector. Innovative solutions have helped the industry enhance customer service, online marketing and selling process with digitised solutions, making e-commerce as engaging as an in-person experience.
The US-based startup Remesh has made customer service effortless and smarter by creating an AI-powered chatbot that can have real-time conversations with customers by learning their interests, messages and personas. The chatbot can talk to 1,000 customers at once, improving the user journey by reducing waiting time in line. Kustomer is another startup that studies customers’ emotions and needs through machine learning. Its system connects customers to the CS agent with the right skills and knowledge by learning their messages, enabling CS agents to provide empathetic services by learning about their customers in advance.
In the age of e-commerce, social media builds brand awareness and drives sales performance. Smartzer, a Fabrica incubatee, is an online platform that empowers brands and retailers to add clickable tags on videos, transforming them into an interactive and shoppable experience. Similarly, the New Yorkbased startup The Call List has developed a website extension that facilitates retailers and influencers to host live stream sessions on websites, creating an online community where customers can interact with product experts and ask them questions.
Since customers are unable to visit retail shops in-person during the lockdown, retailers have been partnering up with innovators to create an immersive shopping experience online. Louis Vuitton launched a virtual showroom showcasing its capsule collection with the NBA in December last year. Customers can browse the items at the legendary Madison Square Garden stadium virtually with a VR device. The furniture industry has also applied similar technology to enrich user experience — American hardware chain Lowe’s has co-created a mobile app with Google and Lenovo, enabling customers to measure and style their homes with augmented reality. Users can complete the entire process from start to finish on their smartphones or tablets, allowing them to start home improvement projects without leaving their homes.
Restaurants have shifted to a takeaway model to survive the crisis. In addition to traditional delivery apps like Deliveroo, mobile apps specially designed for cloud-kitchens (takeout businesses without dine-in areas who receive orders via mobile apps and share their kitchens with other food businesses) have helped the food industry transition to the new normal. The New York-based startup Lunchbox is an app that brings scheduling, delivery and digital payments together. It even helps food business owners manage social media campaigns and creates customer loyalty programs, equipping them with all features necessary for launching a food business. Quick commerce is the model behind the growing food delivery industry, providing a more agile and efficient process by delivering orders with motorcycles or bicycles in the fastest possible time.
OECD’s figures show that demand for grocery doubled in 2020, inspiring more startups to adopt quick commerce to modernise the sector. Based in London and Berlin, Weezy and Gorilla are two grocery startups that promise their customers to deliver fresh produce by bikers to doorsteps in 15 minutes. Since they both have local warehouses in the neighbourhoods where they provide the service, groceries are now just a click away. Food delivery apps Deliveroo and Foodpanda have also partnered up with retailers like Don Don Donki and Marks & Spencer to deliver food and household goods. Although quick commerce has made running errands so much easier, not everyone has the time and creativity to decide what to eat every day. Meal kit subscriptions allow busy individuals to skip the chore by delivering ready-to-cook ingredient boxes with simple cooking instructions.
Most meal kit providers did not make a significant profit over the past few years up until the Covid-19 outbreak — Gousto, a London-based meal kit provider, needed to pause on receiving orders due to a massive influx of new customers at the beginning of the lockdown. The abrupt surge has revealed significant potential of the meal kit business, leading the company to an expansion funding of 33 million GBP. Meanwhile, HelloFresh, one of the first-movers within the meal-kit sector, reached 19.5 million users last year, while its annual sales have increased by 112%. The company plans to expand into two new markets every year, with an ambitious annual sales goal of 10 billion EUR.