There’s nothing unexpected about the demand going up, of course. Once people were asked to stay indoors, only going outside when absolutely necessary, the desire (or need) to buy was only going to grow. And throughout 2020 and into 2021, that growth has been quite remarkable.
As a result, ecommerce has seen a major rise in interest in China, the first country affected. Per WPIC data via Technode, online searches for fresh produce on Baidu in January and February were up between 273% and 2800% year-on-year. But retailers could have taken the ball and fumbled it. Instead, they’ve adapted to the times and done extremely well through selling online.
Ensuring that staple supplies are available
Consider how leading grocery chains have had to pivot from the just-in-time model to something suiting the challenges facing them, devising various new policies in the process. They’ve rapidly ramped-up their delivery services to meet demand, prioritising elderly buyers and employing large numbers of people (many of whom needed work after losing their jobs due to COVID-19).
Due to much of the world essentially moving past food scarcity, those chains were previously able to focus on any areas they wanted, mixing regular staples with luxury items. In light of changing demand and supply limitations, they pivoted to focus on getting essentials through, even placing limitations on purchases to ameliorate stockpiling.
Couple their efforts with the continued diligence of niche online food sellers already well-positioned to maintain supply, and you have more than enough. Consumer perception seems to reflect this: a Statista survey of Chinese shoppers found that 42 percent of respondents saw a rise in ecommerce choices following the onset of COVID-19.
Providing decent ways to make money
In addition, the practice of ecommerce has been a robust backup for those unable to work. Whether they’re taking advantage of third-party marketplaces or setting up their own stores (also a low-investment option), many of those furloughed or fired are finding ways to keep paying the bills even during this indefinite lockdown.
Key to this has been the impressive reliability of mainstream ecommerce platforms, going all the way from enterprise level to small-scale. Magento, for instance, offers both power and flexibility. Highlighted in every Magento ecommerce review (including this one, for example), the Magento guarantee boasts of superlative performance. On the other end, WooCommerce — a free WordPress extension — delivers a solid framework with no entry fee (and a huge community).
The dropshipping model is particularly convenient, requiring no stock or practical activity beyond choosing, pricing and listing items. The ability to avoid inventory management costs is the key reason why the global dropshipping market was valued at $102.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to hit $557.9 billion by 2025 — and it’s globally driven by Chinese suppliers, with the biggest overall provider being AliExpress under the Alibaba group.
Ecommerce sellers are also positioned to hire those left in the lurch by the lockdown: in addition to drivers needed to meet the aforementioned delivery demand, they can benefit from hiring marketing execs, web designers, developers, graphic designers, copywriters, and social media handlers. The industry can’t provide jobs for everyone, but it’s doing far more than others can.
Showing how to operate remotely
It’s also clear that the well-established operational models of ecommerce are far more capable of enduring in situations where in-person meetings and collaborations lose viability. Some sellers have stayed reliant upon standard office setups, but most — particularly the newer merchants — have mostly worked remotely for quite some time.
We must also factor in the commonality of small sellers taking advantage of freelance marketplaces like these. Traditional retailers — and older companies in general — are more likely to stick rigidly to classic recruitment options, failing to appreciate the convenience and versatility offered by per-project outsourcing. This makes them less confident with online recruitment, and markedly less able to deal with rapid changes in demand.
Wrapping up, while ecommerce isn’t the only industry to adapt well to the unexpected demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s inarguably setting an excellent example for all other industries: not only due to its rapid pivoting, but also due to the robustness of its technology-based models (the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of daily life). Only now do many business types understand why remote working isn’t just a pleasant option for those who don’t want to commute — it also provides a massive practical advantage.