It was a year-and-change ago that we first addressed the good news/bad news narrative ecommerce merchants were facing after a global pandemic kneecapped economic and public health concerns around the world. That was a seismic shock on a number of levels, but as business and life needed to go on, we explored strategies for preserving investments and even making the most of a new captive audience of shoppers forced to buy online.
Fast-forward to this point, more than halfway into 2021, and we are still here. After a brief period of “reopening” after a vaccination purported to liberate us from isolation, a resurgent Covid-19 wave has yet again imperiled virtually every aspect of our lives.
How did your store fare during the initial lengthy duration? Did you thrive or struggle? Whatever is your story, it’s about to again face challenges. But the shift toward online buying has paved the way for a potential continuation of opportunity.
Lockdowns hitting physical retail establishments last year bumped up the statistics for ecommerce merchants worldwide, but not by a significant margin – at first. Eventually, those numbers increased, reflecting comfort among consumers who grew familiar with and appreciative of the convenience of buying online.
Averages being averages, not everyone fared the same. The Latin American marketplace Mercado Libre doubled its daily sales between the second quarter of 2020 and the same period of 2019. Coronavirus, not a friend to anyone, did boost sales in the US for ecommerce merchants. Year-to-year sales increased just over 32 percent at the height of the lockdown. Perhaps Americans were more motivated than anyone to shift their shopping venues.
Not all good news
Though a general trend sent consumers to their computers and phones in record numbers, that did not translate to a universal benefit for all sellers. The reason will resonate as obvious: averages are driven by big players, and all in all, the existing ecommerce giants such as Amazon and Walmart saw the most gigantic hikes. In other words, either those who had experience with established online sellers were more likely to go to them for all or most purchases, or shoppers who were new to the game decided to trust the marquee merchants over smaller entities.
“Digital divides” played a role in this; online infrastructure was prepared to deliver, so to speak. Mid- to small-level sellers had a lot of catching up to do. And for some it never really materialized.
That said, this continued global struggle with a pathogen that doesn’t seem likely to go away presents a renewed opportunity to seize on what is already existing in everyone’s business model, provided they made early efforts to transition.
An important factor for sellers around the world is the role governments play in facilitating access and relaxing regulations. Convincing elected officials that economic fitness, including critical levels of tax revenues essential for day-to-day operations, is a primary goal, is paramount. Most understand but may lack the willingness to invest at a time when budgets are shrinking. Economists understand this is the opposite of good economic policy. An organized effort to convince them otherwise could make an extraordinary difference that benefits all.