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      Commerce Pulse: The Lasting Impacts of COVID on Consumer Habits

      By Brian Walker

      Jul 15, 2021

      10 min read

      Commerce Pulse: The Lasting Impacts of COVID on Consumer Habits

      Note: Our Bloomreach Commerce Pulse monthly articles explore the most interesting Bloomreach customer data points and provide key insights for e-commerce. They reveal current trends and help businesses to fully understand the digital commerce marketplace.

      As we begin to see what much of the world — and commerce — will look like “post-vaccine” we can begin to understand what role digital commerce will play even as the “offline economy” opens up.

      As we’ve discussed, things may be opening up but have not really returned to “normal”. In fact, it’s likely that many of the changes in consumer habits and expectations as a result of the pandemic are here to stay. Businesses need to stay in front of these shifting expectations; it’s simply not enough to chalk unexpected trends to COVID uncertainty. In many areas of commerce, we can see how new ways of life driven by the pandemic have made lasting impacts on the way consumers shop. 

      The organizations that stay data-driven, seeker-centric, and agile will be the winners in 2021 and beyond.

      Overall June E-Commerce Performance

      Across verticals, things are continuing to show signs of positive growth year-over-year (YoY). And while many countries like the United States and the United Kingdom may be opening up brick and mortar retail, online shopping continues to soar. In June, B2C online sales were up 19.05% YoY in North America (NA), but up a modest .26% in the UK and Europe (UK+EU).

      Interestingly traffic was down overall. In NA traffic was down 2.07% YoY while in the UK+EU it was down 13.77%. This may be a sign that shoppers are spending time in other channels, but more likely is a reflection of less time spent online as things open back up. 

      So what drove the higher sales number on less traffic? Average Order Size, which was up a staggering 39.30% YoY in NA and up 14.79% YoY in the UK+EU which really drove the higher sales numbers in June. Conversion rate actually dropped — 12.30% in NA and 8.80% in the UK+EU — perhaps in response to higher overall prices and less on sale as brands and retailers are dealing with shortages of inventories versus surpluses as was the case mid-pandemic a year ago.

      Apparel

      Looking at Commerce Pulse data from June 2021, the push for ‘return to work’ is not happening. Employees who have grown accustomed to comfortable and casual clothing seem very committed to that still. 

      Bloomreach customers in fashion retail had been seeing steady month-over-month (MoM) increases in both searches for (12%) and sales of (19%) work clothing in May. And a flurry of articles and marketing campaigns hit the scene, offering up suggestions on what workers should wear as they return to the office. Both Vogue and Wall Street Journal gave their takes on what work wardrobes should look like in 2021 and beyond: mainly more personality and more comfort, which is no surprise given most office workers spent the year in sweats. 

      While businesses and retailers alike are chomping at the bit, workers are less motivated to stock up on work-wear. June saw the end of the upward trajectory of work-clothing sales and searches. Search for work clothing is down 21% and sales for work clothing is down 31% within the month (MoM).

      And overall for June, Apparel sales online were down 9.74% year-over-year (YoY) while traffic was up by 11.99% year-over-year (YoY). The biggest reason was the drop in conversion rate which was down 26.63% in June. Shoppers were using the web to do their research and get inspiration, adding to baskets and in some cases may have decided to go in and try on those clothes once they had their eye on them, or hope that they go on sale — a habit many apparel shoppers still exhibit in droves. 

      Grocery

      The grocery sector has seen great progress — with continued increases in year-over-year (YoY) grocery sales with the grocery segment up 25.05% YoY even on top of the massive growth last year. Traffic is also continuing to improve YoY, with a 7.32% increase in traffic year-over-year from June 2020 to June 2021. The convenience of ordering groceries online and having them delivered is now something consumers are hooked on. Even if we want to go shopping, many of us simply do not have time in our busy schedules to do so, and taking a zoom from Aisle 12 is not really going to work for most of us.

       Interestingly, we do see the impact of opening back up in Grocery with searches and sales for Tupperware and lunchboxes increasing by 47% and 31% respectively month-over-month (MoM) in June when compared to May 2021. And on a year-over-year (YoY) basis, sales increased for Tupperware (June 2021 versus June 2020) of 133%, with searches increasing by 24% in the same timeframe. On the Tupperware front, this could be attributed to a continued prevalence of at-home cooking (now supported by the ease of at-home grocery delivery) that has left consumers with more leftovers to store. As for lunchboxes, folks returning back to work in person and children going off to summer camps (and eventually school in the fall) could be driving those increases.

      Home Improvement & Furnishings

      With both the weather and the housing market heating up, it’s no surprise shoppers are eager to get their hands on home improvement supplies. Compared to 2020, there has been an almost 85% year-over-year (YoY) increase in home improvement online sales in June — and that is on top of massive increases last year due to the pandemic. What’s interesting here is that traffic was actually down in June 24.16%, while Average Order Size was up a staggering 175.13%. So consumers are spending big here in June. 

      In addition, home furnishing sales are up 8.42% YoY after big gains last year. Here too, traffic was down 24.16% while conversion rate was up a strong 21.5% while Average Order Size was up 18.36% So the nesting, work-from-home, and home entertaining trends seem to be going strong even as the economy continues to open up.

      Luxury

      After a very challenging 2020, Luxury is making a strong return as travel and socializing give us a reason to buy those great outfits, shoes, and handbags again. Maybe a bit of retail therapy too that drove the Luxury segment sales up 18.68% in June YoY. And this was on very strong traffic — up 50.64% — showing that interest is running high. What is also interesting is to see that Average Order Size actually dropped 14.29% in June YoY despite the fact that last year much was on sale. This may reflect changing shipping policies and assortments in the sector to entice shoppers to convert. 

      Regardless, the upward trend in luxury is a positive indicator of consumer confidence in luxury goods spending. Shoppers who scrimped and saved during the pandemic are now ready to splurge a bit. 

      Changes in Consumer Habits Are Here to Stay

      What all this data from June shows us is that E-Commerce and Digital Commerce are firmly entrenched in consumer habits and are not regressing even as major sectors of the economy open back up and consumers get back out there — in fact it continues to grow significantly on an accelerated base off the pandemic last year. 

      About Bloomreach

      Bloomreach powers 25% of US and UK e-commerce search and commerce experiences. If you’re looking for more information or have a question, feel free to reach out to learn more. We will be bringing you monthly insights as we navigate the changes in digital commerce together — whether you are a customer or not. 

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      Brian Walker

      Chief Strategy Officer at Bloomreach

      Brian Walker is a veteran commerce strategy and marketing leader focused on the transformation of digital customer engagement and commerce.

      He has held a wide range of roles across the commerce landscape - from practitioner to analyst to consultant to software strategy and marketing leader - giving him a unique view on the evolving capabilities and approaches necessary for businesses to thrive as digital channels have evolved to become the primary driver for business growth.

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