Online shopping is safe and is here to stay

It was a no-brainer when Facebook announced Facebook Shops to target the millions of local stores

  
Tablet shopping. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Tablet shopping. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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I put on my mask, wore a pair of gloves, sprayed some hand sanitizer. With that ritual, in another time, I should have been a healthcare worker. But today I am just an ordinary shopper headed to my neighbourhood store.

Shopping has changed. It's been swift and sweeping. We have seen big behavioral shifts in consumers everywhere in the world. The butterflies have returned to their cocoon, becoming cost-conscious, simplifying their lives, and playing safe.

When we chose to spend on staples such as essential groceries, toiletries, hygiene products, we essentially took control of our lives. The average shopper is thinking, I may not have much control over the storm raging outside, but I can surely control what happens inside my home. This meant a spike in demand for home entertainment, fitness, and work from home gear. If I can't buy something online, I head to the local store, armed with my sanitizer, gloves and mask. I mostly prefer stores that offer self-checkout, one way I take control of my shopping experience.

Under lockdown, our local stores equipped with a human runner became the lifeline for the average homemaker. They started taking orders on WhatsApp. For digital platforms, these stores are a goldmine waiting to be unearthed; the final frontier for digital transformation in the retail industry. So, it was a no-brainer when Facebook announced Facebook Shops to target the millions of local stores. This made clear its motivations behind the recent partnership with Reliance's Jio digital platform in India. Reliance's commanding business presence across its ventures has always been predicated on small businesses.

How is Facebook Shops different from Amazon? Think of Amazon as a massive store that sells your products online. While Facebook offers you an online mall, where sellers are provided a digital key to their online store. They can manage their store, beautify them and make them available across all Facebook apps. As things stand today, you have more control over your customer on Facebook and Instagram, but you still need to think about your logistics and warehousing.

A prescient Facebook is certain that online shopping will become foundational even after the pandemic has abated. In the post Covid-era, our fears, concerns, desires and aspirations will manifest into new shopping behaviours. E-commerce sites will align with the new breed of consumers such as the hoarder, the frugal, the hermit, the cautious, the vulnerable.

Those who stockpiled for an apocalypse will be wondering what to do with their unused stocks. They will look to barter their unused stocks for things they need. Reverse buying will open up the possibility of exchange sales, although stores have suspended their exchange policies today. The returns will be mandatorily quarantined for a few days. Home cooking will continue to drive the online sales of fresh foods as is evident in China where some platforms saw 200 per cent increase in sales. Not surprisingly, home delivery of fresh food will see innovation in hygiene, quality control, and distribution. Delivery models such as click and collect, already in use will become more of a norm.

It is easy to see why luxury brands have their work cut out in the post Covid-19 era. Their stores will need to create safe havens and virtual experiences for their customers as part of the retail experience. The fitting room will never be the same as we will expect frequent disinfection of clothes after trials. If the stores completely do away with trial rooms, they will need to consider virtual trial apps that have so far remained experiments. Shoppers will need to be more mindful of the personal space of other shoppers.

We know that when chasing a ball, an average player will run after it, while a great player will run where the ball is going. Those who are waiting for 2019 to return will be left behind. Every retailer is changing in anticipation of lifestyles changes.

The manner in which we consumers have consciously changed our shopping habits is a testament to our adaptability and resilience. We haven't given up; we have simply hunkered down to defy the odds. In the post Covid-19 era, we will expect to remain in control of a more mindful and sanitised retail experience.

Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies

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