James Thomson, partner with Buy Box Experts, discusses how e-commerce is being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic — and how consumer buying patterns might be changed permanently.
Two e-tail and retail giants are dominating the world of e-commerce at present: Amazon and Walmart, Thomson says. The first is cornering the market for many goods that consumers might otherwise have bought in brick-and-mortar stores prior to the coronavirus pandemic, while the second is benefiting from a surge in online grocery purchases.
Shoppers who didn’t previously buy much online are moving specifically to Amazon, and will likely continue to use that channel long after the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided. “In the U.S.,” Thomson says, “any shopping destination is going to quickly end up finding that Amazon is the place to be.” The e-tailer has achieved dominance through a combination of wide selection, low prices and extreme efficiency in order fulfillment and delivery.
Walmart, meanwhile, has a customer base that differs from Amazon. The latter’s Prime members average a household income of more than $100,000, while Walmart’s loyal customers aren’t for the most part in the same socioeconomic category. Walmart’s strength lies in its huge network of physical stores, while Amazon, despite its ownership of Whole Foods and some smaller outlets, “is first and foremost an e-commerce company.”
The biggest shift in buyer behavior as a result of the pandemic is likely to be in grocery and food. In recent weeks, many consumers have experienced buying groceries online for the first time. They might continue to patronize stores out of a desire to get out of the house, but at least some will keep ordering over the internet. Grocers seeking to serve both channels could find it a challenge to build a profitable model.
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