The pandemic-induced lockdown and movement restrictions have marked an inflection point for e-commerce in India, pushing demand to record highs, pushing new buyers as well as sellers onto digital platforms and delivering the promise of sustainable growth to players.
India’s e-commerce market has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic as lockdown measures have ushered millions into the convenience of online shopping and enticed seasoned online shoppers to buy more.
Year-round social distancing constraints, the massive smartphone base, and the adoption of reliable high-speed e-commerce have galvanized beyond metros, deep into small towns and villages, bringing an element of ” confidence in e-commerce”.
The epidemic has required the use of new technological tools and contactless formats to meet unprecedented demand. Analysts said these shifts in consumer buying patterns are here to stay, post-pandemic.
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The pandemic has brought about a “structural shift” in shopping behavior, with more customers and businesses relying on e-commerce. Players like Amazon and Flipkart as well as industry watchers have noted that the need for social distancing and prioritizing safety during the pandemic led millions to turn to e-commerce platforms last year. , not only in metros but also in Tier III regions and beyond. .
From changes in category preferences to the emergence of “new essentials”, and from the adoption of native languages to the rise of new era forms of payment, the past year has witnessed a range unique consumer trends.
Amazon has also seen similar trends as thousands of neighborhood Kirana stores and offline retailers have also joined in to leverage digital technology to reach customers’ doorsteps.
A spokesperson for Grofers said that of all new users to its platform in the past year, 64% were first-time online grocery shoppers, while 20% were totally new to the store. e-commerce.
Flipkart saw nearly 50% new user growth soon after the lockdown, with Tier III regions and above seeing the highest growth of 65% during the “unlock” phase (July to September) l ‘last year.
To ensure convenience for first-time shoppers, Flipkart has introduced new features to support them through the shopping journey with the addition of a voice assistant and vernacular interfaces in multiple languages.
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“…customer retention by online platforms has improved as these platforms have become one of the lifelines for consumers during Covid-19,” observed Saurav Chachan, Head of Engagement at the consulting firm. RedSeer advice.
Notably, the demand for goods and products online reflected the different facets of life under lockdown and the pandemic.
Demand has increased in categories such as groceries, home office essentials like laptops and headphones, furniture, consumer electronics, health and fitness products, household products, personal care products, clothing, toys and books, according to e-tailers.
“While customer consumption patterns and habits have evolved, over the past year sellers have seen strong demand in categories such as groceries, work from home and online schooling tools. such as laptops, smart devices, and headphones. We have also seen significant demand for personal care products, wellness products, masks and sanitizers, and fitness products…” a spokesperson said. Amazon India.
The new normal of working and learning from home has also fueled the demand for consumer electronics.
Flipkart said laptops and desktops saw demand triple in 2020, compared to pre-COVID levels.
Opportunities, however, have been met with new challenges.
The nationwide lockdown has brought the transport of goods and the movement of personnel to a screeching halt. There were initial hiccups and e-commerce companies struggled to complete deliveries even as orders piled up.
During the first two phases of the lockdown, e-commerce businesses were only allowed to sell essential items like groceries, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. In the following phases (from May 4), the restrictions were gradually lifted.
But these digital platforms have taken a series of measures, including hiring thousands of delivery people to cope with the surge in orders.
RedSeer’s Chachan noted that the complete ban on the sale of non-essential products for the two months “resulted in low gross merchandise value for online retailers, with the exception of online grocery players.”
Additionally, players had to configure their systems to schedule deliveries to customers in areas marked as “containment zones and red zones”. A lack of delivery staff amid COVID has prompted players to explore cross-industry ties to cater to their customers, Chachan said.
Snapdeal, for example, has mobilized resources to start shipping essential items like food, groceries, medicine, masks and sanitizer that have been cleared for delivery.
“We designed security protocols for safe deliveries, went to register with local farmer mandis to begin hyperlocal deliveries of essential items, to ensure we were able to meet our users’ demands. “said the Snapdeal spokesperson.
For players dealing with categories like fashion that weren’t on the list of essential categories, the initial phases of lockdown meant zero business.
Myntra CEO Amar Nagaram said the lockdown situation was unprecedented and businesses also bore the brunt of the shutdown initially.
The e-commerce space was not entirely immune to “catastrophe”, at least in the early days, as deliveries were a physical phenomenon and the situation on the ground “was not welcoming”, he recounted.
Myntra went back to the drawing board to chart a new course to overcome this “temporary, but burdensome situation”.
“We partnered with over 80 brands to purchase face masks and worked to deliver them safely across the country at the start of lockdown. On top of that, we launched Myntra Studio, which focuses on fashion-related content on our platform to keep our audience engaged with us,” Nagaram said.
The pandemic has also marked a turning point for small and medium-sized businesses, which have quickly adapted to the new reality of e-commerce.
Market watchers believe that many of the changes triggered by the pandemic in the e-commerce space are irreversible and likely to persist.
“Post-pandemic, faster delivery, zero shipping costs, ratings and review information, and wider selection will be key drivers for e-commerce growth,” said Sachin Taparia, Founder and President. by LocalCircles.
For thousands of newbies who learned to navigate eCarts through virtual aisles in the last year, online shopping has quietly transitioned from the realm of restraint into everyday life, a comfortable and convenient way to buy what the heart desires, in the comfort and safety of home.