Survey shows pandemic has changed online shopping forever

The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world. Changes in online shopping behaviors are likely to have lasting effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed online shopping behaviors, according to a survey, conducted by UNCTAD and Netcomm Suisse eCommerce Association in collaboration with the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br) and Inveon, of about 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies of Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey.

Following the pandemic, more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently and rely on the internet more for news, health-related information and digital entertainment.  Consumers in emerging economies have made the greatest shift to online shopping, the survey shows.

Online purchases have increased by six to 10 percentage points across most product categories.  The biggest gainers are ICT/electronics, gardening/do-it-yourself, pharmaceuticals, education, furniture/household products and cosmetics/personal care categories.

However, average online monthly spending per shopper has dropped markedly. Consumers in both emerging and developed economies have postponed larger expenditures, with those in emerging economies focusing more on essential products.  Tourism and travel sectors have suffered the strongest decline, with average spending per online shopper dropping by 75%.

Increases in online shopping during COVID-19 differ between countries, with the strongest rise noted in China and Turkey and the weakest in Switzerland and Germany, where more people were already engaging in e-commerce.

Women and people with tertiary education increased their online purchases more than others. People aged 25 to 44 reported a stronger increase compared with younger ones. In the case of Brazil, the increase was highest among the most vulnerable population and women.

Also, according to survey responses, small merchants in China were most equipped to sell their products online and those in South Africa were least prepared.

The most used communication platforms are WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, all owned by Facebook.  However, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have benefitted the most from increases in the use of video calling applications in workplaces.  In China, the top communication platforms are WeChat, DingTalk and Tencent Conference.

The survey results suggest that changes in online activities are likely to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.  Most respondents, especially those in China and Turkey, said they’d continue shopping online and focusing on essential products in the future.  They’d also continue to travel more locally, suggesting a lasting impact on international tourism.

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