When the majority of us haven’t gone out quite as we used to in the past year, online shopping has seen a spike like no other. Last year, during what is normally the biggest, lines-around-the-block shopping events for retails stores every year, many people took Black Friday and their holiday shopping online. Instead, CNBC reported that many shoppers are now turning to apps and online sites for their shopping and that this trend, though COVID-19 induced, is here to stay and foreshadows the future of brick and mortar establishments.
In the fall, when most stores were opening up and people felt safer going out with masks and standing apart, I worked at a shoe store that sold designer shoes and handbags. It was a chain, so there were four different locations in the same state, but regardless, they’d been in business for a while and people loved to go there – they knew them, they grew up going there.
I worked mostly on weekends, which would, in a normal world pre-pandemic, mean that customers would come in and out all the time, but there were few times where there were more than four parties in the store at once – and those moments, that rush, tended to pale in comparison to the hours of restocking the empty store and tending to lone stragglers throughout my shift. It was disheartening to see every time. My bosses and associates who had worked there for years mentioned almost daily how weird it was to see the store this empty all the time.
While this is just one scenario with many other potential factors involved, it’s interesting to note how many people came in asking about things they saw online, returning online orders to the store, etc. Even these stores that have a heavy history in their communities were feeling the shift to online shopping, rather than in-person.
Faster and easier
And when you think about it, it makes sense: online shopping is much more convenient, you have access to every available size and color, you can see everything they make, you can ‘Add to Cart’ and come back to it later – the world is your oyster, you just have to pay shipping fees.
In a traditional retail store, they may be out of your size, or have to order it from another store, not to mention you have to drive wherever it is you want to buy from, look presentable (to an extent that the safety of your bedroom does not require) and probably talk to more than one actual person. None of which is required in the online shopping world.
However, there are pluses to shopping in person that online could probably never offer (well, we don’t know the future of technology, so we can’t be too sure). You can touch fabrics and see how they feel, hold up a pair of pants to see if they’re long enough on you, talk to other people (a real luxury these days, if we’re being honest), try things on, and…well, go outside. Something that we’ve also taken for granted this past year.
Nevertheless, convenience often champions even the oldest traditions, so it looks like online shopping is not a fad, but becoming the new classic. Since the pandemic really took hold in April of 2020, Forbes reports a 129% e-commerce growth in the U.S. and Canada and a whopping 146% growth in all online retail orders.
If the numbers didn’t already speak for themselves, try reflecting back on your spending habits in the past year. Have you bought more online, whether it be groceries, clothes (who could blame you?), or anything in between?
The pandemic has substantially escalated a trend that was already in the making since the Internet gave way to online shopping. According to a survey from BigCommerce, 96% of Americans have purchased something online, and 51% of which prefer online shopping to the in-person experience.
Online consumers spent 44% more in 2020 than they did in 2019, which, considering that Americans spend billions in retail, means a hefty increase from $598 billion in 2019 to $861 billion this past year.
After all, if a store doesn’t have a website, how are people supposed to find it? Even thrift stores now have websites, making it easier for customers to shop without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Plato’s Closet is a great example – sure they’ve had a website for a while, but now there is the added labor of photographing, staging and uploading products to the website so that customers can buy directly from there.
What about the future?
The future of retail is looking pretty bleak, all things considering. Besides the fact that you get to leave your home and spend time with other people, shopping online has many more benefits. It’s usually quicker, and websites like Amazon even often offer next-day delivery. What could be more convenient than that?
Although e-commerce and online sales have been steadily (or sharply if you account for the 2019-2020 jump) increasing over the past 10+ years, in-person retail still makes up the majority of all retail sales, according to recent data from DigitalCommerce360. In 2019, for example, found e-commerce to be 15.8% of total sales, and in 2020, it accounted for 21.3%. That’s a big spike, and those percentages mean billions, but regardless, e-commerce still doesn’t make up a quarter of total retail sales. Not yet, at least. In 2010, e-commerce sales made up 6.4% of the total sales, so there’s still an obvious increase in the popularity of online shopping as time goes on.
When the pandemic is over, it doesn’t seem like the trend of buying online is going to disappear, on the contrary: the last year may have just sped up the inevitable takeover of e-commerce and online shopping as the mainstream way of buying clothes (and maybe everything else too). It is still going to be gradual, and we aren’t going to be seeing the total collapse of brick and mortar stores anytime soon, but who knows where the next 25 or 50 years will take us – probably to the Internet.