Updated November 19, 2020, 2:31 pm
Canada is in the midst of a sudden and dramatic shift. While interest in e-commerce has been growing in recent years, the arrival of COVID-19 forced Canadian retailers of all sizes to quickly adapt and avail themselves of this resource, opening their virtual doors even as their physical ones closed.
This forced evolution had the effect of putting smaller businesses on an even footing with much larger competitors, allowing them to connect with new customers in an unprecedented manner. The old way of doing things was suddenly no longer applicable, and retailers large and small were essentially starting from the same place.
Even as businesses found themselves needing to shut down, consumers began changing their shopping habits. According to research, the month of April saw 60% of Canadians using search to see “what is open or closed near me.” Pandemic or not, they still had needs, and were seeking new sources for obtaining the products they desired.
To help you cope with the evolving retail landscape, here are some recent trends that you should be following.
Even as you read this, growing numbers of consumers are going online to make purchases. E-commerce is growing rapidly, and retailers need to keep up. According to Google Trends, Canadians searching for “buy online” have increased significantly in recent months, and the number of searches using terms related to curbside pickup jumped 70% in late March.
Consumers have also showed greater flexibility and willingness to consider buying from new retailers when those they normally frequent are unavailable. Research conducted by Ipsos in mid April revealed that more than 25% of consumers tried new brands and products when confronted with the inability to procure their usual brand.
This highlights the importance of not only ensuring product availability, but product visibility. To purchase, consumers need to know that the product they seek is available. Communication with customers is vital and using tools such as social media has become an essential part of business.
Be sure to update your website with information regarding changes to products, and Google My Business to detail changes to important information about your business such as opening hours and delivery options. Use key words and phrases such as such as “curbside service,” and “contactless.”
New Trends in Products
Prior to this shift in buying habits, it was easy to anticipate certain search trends at specific times of year. Swimwear and pool accessories, for example, would trend in summer months. There now exists a much greater variety in searches being conducted. Fear of shortages of a certain product will drive increased searches, but other factors have been coming into play as well. Concerned parents began to buy more educational books, while other home-bound bodies adopted new hobbies and would purchase products as diverse as vegetable seeds, running shoes, games, puzzles, and more.
Consider the changes occurring in everyday lives. How have habits and needs been disrupted? What are people likely to want and need in these new circumstances? Staying on top of evolving market trends will help you anticipate the needs and wants of your customers both today and in the weeks to come.
As an example, there was a surge of interest in office chairs (an increase of more than 100%) in early March as Canadians found themselves working from a home office. Using Google Trends and Google Alerts, you can stay informed about search activity for your product and category. Just as interest skyrocketed for hair clippers when barbers and hairdressers were unavailable, other products will continue to see surges of demand.
The New Normal: E-Commerce
With the changes being wrought by COVID-19, the term “new normal” is being used quite frequently. It is quite appropriate where e-commerce is concerned. Although the current popularity of online shopping is related to current world events, it is important to recognize that this trend will continue in the weeks, months, and years to come as even those who were hesitant to purchase online are now recognizing the advantages it offers.
Now is the time to ensure that you are well-prepared for the future. Is your website up to date? Are your products well-represented, easy to find, and most of all, available? Is the check-out process on your site easy to navigate? Are you well represented on social media to help consumers find your business?
Online shopping is meant to be easy and convenient. If your site is slow, counter-intuitive, or otherwise frustrating for users, you will be placing yourself at a severe disadvantage. By using available tools such as those offered by Google, you will be able to test your site to ensure it is clear and accessible. Shoppers will continue to buy online even when stores reopen and will remain an important part of your customer base.
You may be tempted to shut down your website if you start to be overwhelmed, or if you are having trouble in meeting order demand but keep it open. You can manage the flow in other ways, such as pausing checkout options while still permitting site visitors to browse and add items to their cart for purchase later.
With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day all on the horizon, you should have an online strategy in place. It’s probable that social distancing measures will still be in place, and even stricter measures may be introduced. Knowing that, consider how important e-commerce will be, and how you can accommodate customers. What products will they be buying as gifts? How will order fulfillment be affected by shipping and delivery concerns?
Going forward, shoppers will continue to enjoy the ease and convenience of buying online, even when stores return to normal operation. Although this sudden wide-spread adoption of e-commerce may have been unexpected, it is here now and is not going away. Your road to continued success lies in staying on top of consumer trends and being ready for a future that includes online shopping.