In the height of the COVID19 pandemic the UK was one of the many countries around the world with imposed lockdowns and restrictions meaning the closure of non-essential shops. This drove the majority of consumers online, boosting online shopping behaviours to new highs and early data suggested buying trends looked set to stay that way.
But have consumers kept to the predicted increase of shopping online? Or has the re-opening of department stores and non-essential shops driven them offline and back into physical stores?
We explore how consumer behaviours changed during the lockdowns, the impact this has had on online shopping and brand experiences and ask the ultimate question- are people still shopping online?
How Online Behaviour Has Been Shaped Due To COVID19
During a UK-wide lockdown in 2020 and into 2021, consumers were still actively looking to buy what was then deemed ‘non-essential’ goods such as fashion and beauty products to help get them through a global pandemic- and who can blame them!
Industries saw an increase in consumers from broader demographics choosing to shop online and despite non-essential shops reopening in April 2021, this growth continued.
Research from Think with Google has recently highlighted the continual growth of online shopping in the beauty and fashion industries, indicating the pandemic had influenced consumer behaviours and their interest in ‘self-care’.
Traditionally, these industries benefited from physical stores displaying their products but with the shift to being entirely online, brands have had to re-evaluate the experience for their consumers.
The percentage of consumers who, pre-pandemic, nearly always shopped online for beauty, fashion, or telco products have remained significantly high and these figures are predicted to stay for the next 6 months, according to data from Google.
Another significant shift in behaviours that the data highlights is the decrease in the number of consumers returning to shopping in-store, with the percentage of beauty consumers buying in a shop falling to an all-time low of 27%. This is predicted to fall again to 26% over the next 6 months, indicating the permanent change in consumer buying for an industry that was previously very ‘experience-heavy’ with physical tester products being the norm for beauty buyers.
One of the key things brands need to be considering, as well as their online experience and presence, is the demographic their products are now reaching too. With more people choosing to buy online, “over half of consumers globally discovered at least one form of online shopping” (Google), there is a direct impact on the demographics of consumers too. Both younger and older generations have changed their buying habits to reflect the restrictions they were living with during the pandemic, so is this set to continue?
The Post-pandemic Shift In Consumer Demographics
With the heavy use of social media and smartphones, the demographic of consumers buying online was always going to change but with enforced closures of shops, it was artificially sped up. With additional new audiences to appeal to, have brands noticed a change in their consumers, and are they prepared to meet the demands from this new audience?
Brands that traditionally appeal to just one age group of consumers will now find themselves with new ages to target, creating more opportunities to tailor products to their own demographic needs or concerns. The same can be said for the ranges brands offer now, with the need to be more inclusive to suit all genders and skin colours as wider demographics naturally need more choice.
The brands who saw this as an opportunity took to Instagram, utilizing the power of influencers and introducing a new side to their brand. Maybelline and Glossier often use male influencers on their Instagram accounts to showcase products and have regularly featured male models in their campaigns.
Searches for ‘male skincare’ saw a significant increase in 2020 of 82%, and as we previously covered, the growth in male demographics looking for grooming products is looking set to continue through into 2022 and beyond. According to data from Global Web Index, 38% of male beauty consumers want to see more representation within the industry, as popularity continues to grow in their demographic.
The Lockdowns And Gifting
As well as demographic changes, there was a noticeable change in searches for gifts for men specifically in the beauty and skincare industry. Insights from April showed 4.6x more searches for “gift ideas for men” in particular as consumers search more for ways to treat the men in their lives. This was then supported by 24% of consumers sharing that the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged them to make extra effort for Father’s Day in 2020.
Did the pandemic give more people time to consider their loved ones, or was there simply more choice from brands to specifically ‘gift’ men skincare and beauty products?
We would suggest that both are true; during the pandemic brands realigned their product ranges to target new audiences, particularly in the skincare and beauty industry, creating new ‘gifting’ opportunities at a time when people had no choice but to find gift ideas online. Interestingly, searches directly on Google Images for ‘unique gifts for’ have grown globally by over 100% YOY.
The term ‘send gifts online’ also saw a significant increase in search trends over the last 12 months, suggesting people were actively looking to send gifts more, during the pandemic.
Whilst this data is less surprising as the closure of shops would have naturally stopped people searching for gifts offline, what is interesting is the percentage of cross-generational consumers continuing to shop online, despite shops opening.
With an increase in online shopping across all demographics comes a new demand for customised journeys and higher expectations from consumers for brands to readily offer help.
Consumers Have Developed Higher Expectations From Brands
The shift to online shopping has meant consumer expectations and demands from our favourite brands have changed. Consumers are actively looking for ‘perks’ like free delivery and online chat boxes to help answer their questions there and then. Google trends data for searches around delivery supports this, with a spike throughout 2020 for ‘delivery’ terms.
With the removal of human interaction in a physical shop, it would seem consumers are seeking out alternatives online, meaning brands need to consider their online experience and how they can meet these demands from their customers. Live chat assistants are another one, with search for ‘live chat service’ increasing over the last 12 months, compared to the previous year, in red.
If brands want to meet these expectations, they’ll need to review and adapt their customer services online to reach new consumer demand. This means having a responsive team on hand to react to any questions customers might have via email, instant chat and social channels.
Having a strong presence on social media will help consumers build a stronger brand association with your content and products whilst having more platforms available for people to reach out and ask questions across various channels.
So, Are People Still Shopping Online in 2021?
The short answer for the start of 2021 is- yes, people have continued to shop online more than they would have pre-pandemic. Online shopping has overtaken traditional offline shopping in the beauty, telco, and fashion industries suggesting consumer behaviours and needs are changing permanently.
In fact, whilst previous trends looked set to grow 8% YoY for online shopping, there’s now evidence to suggest this will actually be higher. Data from Enders analysis goes a step further and suggests that because of the pandemic, e-commerce shopping has accelerated by four years in just 12 months, above the predicted trend of online shopping.
That’s a significant shift in consumer behaviour online in the UK and it’s one that we predict is set to continue. To keep up with the change in consumer behaviours, brands need to now review and invest in their online experiences- from all angles. This means improving product ranges to be more inclusive, listening to reviews and feedback and actively increasing their cross-channel presence on social media as well as other digital touchpoints such as email and their own website.
Without improving on all of these new demands from consumers online, brands are at risk of being left behind from the e-commerce boom. The opportunity for new brands to emerge as a completely digital company is also significantly increasing which means more established brands will need to work harder to stay front of mind for consumers who now have a whole new world of choice when it comes to buying non-essential products online.