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Is e-commerce a sustainable option in times of crisis?


While shops were shut, and following the implementation of lockdown, e-commerce became the natural and feasible solution in order to procure day-to-day necessities. From social distancing to the other measures established by the government to stem the spread of the virus, the sector encountered unprecedented growth. Throughout the lockdown period there was a +61% for pickup systems and almost double the amount of sales with nearly 90% growth for home delivery. Click&Collect recorded an average increase of +30%. While e-commerce was able to hold its own during the crisis, will it remain established as the best option for consumers in times of crisis?

Are we moving towards new consumption habits?

When thinking about e-commerce over the last few weeks, there must be some distinction made between food and health shopping from other sectors. The majority of consumers have changed their buying habits since the crisis began and have concentrated on only buying essentials. Travel, fashion, and the luxury sectors are understandably in difficulty, even though some sectors should bounce back fairly quickly.

The majority of consumers affirmed their interest in continuing to regularly purchase fresh products and essential products online, as Marc Lolivier Representative for E-Commerce and Distance Selling confirmed when invited to share his thoughts about the situation in France, “Some consumers who don’t usually make use of the internet for their daily purchases will have got into the habit of doing so during the lockdown, and will be converted for some of their purchases. In particular, organic products and local fresh products will benefit from the current crisis by gaining new converts”. If habits that were developed during the lockdown endure, we will continue to see a rise in e-commerce sales revenue in the years to come.

A resilient sector which never ceases to grow

How can you make the buying experience as smooth as possible despite the restrictions of the health crisis? To better respond to the demands of consumers during the lockdown period, e-commerce had to adapt in its entirety when faced with higher volume of stocks and flows, especially for food items. Big distributors, whether they are food or specialised, developed their online services and redesigned their logistics systems in order to provide the most efficient solutions possible.

One of the stand-out initiatives during lockdown was Carrefour, who announced on 23rd March the launch of a new e-commerce service called “Carrefour Essentials”, accessible from a dedicated website. The idea was to propose baskets of basic food products to consumers while also taking each customer’s preferences into consideration. Delivery took place by bus.  What’s more, brands like Nike who had skillfully negotiated the shift in its digital transformation in advance, were able to deal with the surge in e-commerce activity during the lockdown in a more relaxed manner.

Already well established in the consumption habits for some years, the sector will come out of the health crisis strengthened and bringing with it the players who make up its value chain. E-commerce is a natural growth accelerator for the logistics real estate market for example. As René Jeannenout Logistics Director, France at BNP Paribas Real Estate said “If people are going to receive more home deliveries we will naturally turn towards urban logistics. This means using large consumption centres with adapted warehouses, smaller formats at the entrance to cities like those that already exist in the centre. I think that this will be one of the major developments”. A trend which will become a way of responding to the challenges that more responsible consumption will give rise to, respecting and caring for the planet.

The shift to phygital commerce

Even though e-commerce has proved itself the solution of choice in times of crisis, it gives rise to many complex logistical questions and significant costs. This model isn’t profitable for all brands, in comparison to physical shops. It is usually part of a process which boosts the sales outlet while also registering orders. While the consumer is being put back in the centre of these omnichannel strategies, we can see a rise in the popularity of phygital, which blends the physical and the digital. The hybridisation of distribution channels offers many possibilities in order to give the consumer a unique buying experience.

The field of e-commerce has no limits, apart from, perhaps, the density and quality of urban infrastructures. During the health crisis, the sector proved the perfect way to clear spaces which were ill-equipped to deal with the social distancing measures. The digital and the customer experience have a central position in the challenges of retail, e-commerce integration allows retailers to adapt to the different crises, thanks to in particular, Click&Collect, online reservation or even pick-up services. Now that the lockdown is over, retailers can rely on their digital transformation to provide more agility which could turn out to be crucial in times of crisis.