Pandemic Culture part 3: Adapting long-term

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover content team
5 min read
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Welcome to the final article in our special three-part series on pandemic culture. We have previously explored the rising consumer trends in response to the pandemic, most notably the switch to e-commerce and what products people are buying at the moment. As we move into the ‘new normal’, which of these trends are just a fad, and which are likely to stay long term? read on to ensure your business is prepared.

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This article will cover:

The long-term effects of the pandemic and what e-commerce businesses can do to meet consumers' new needs.

The pandemic arrived like a whirlwind, turning businesses upside down almost overnight, leaving them scrambling to adjust. As we’ve previously explored, many commerce businesses have had to adapt quickly to survive, whether that has meant selling online for the first time, exploring the direct-to-consumer (D2C) model, or working creatively to take an experience-based business into people’s homes.

And it’s not just businesses having to adjust. As of March 2020, eight in ten UK and US consumers say they have altered their behaviors because of COVID-191. It seems that consumers’ e-commerce priorities are changing weekly (and sometimes daily) due to the pandemic – giving self-care, fitness apparel and home furnishing brands an opportunity to shine. In response to this constantly-changing digital landscape, Google has launched a new Rising Retail Categories tool2 on Think With Google which will give daily updates on fast-growing product categories in Google Search, and the queries associated with them.

Now, as many countries begin to take some cautious first steps towards easing lockdown restrictions, the pressing questions for e-commerce businesses are: Which trends are just a fad and which are here to stay? How can we anticipate what consumers will do next? And what will make consumers loyal to brands in the long term?

“In unsettled times, people have to reinterpret culture around them in order to get by, new innovations happen, and long-standing ideas and norms start shifting.” - Dr Ryan Hagen, historical sociologist3

So, what are the key changes in consumers' habits that your e-commerce business will need to prepare for? Below are three key factors to consider in order to keep ahead.

1. Financial adjustments

The most obvious and immediate change is influenced by the worldwide economic downturn. Stock markets are in turmoil, unemployment is at a record high, and “mortgage holidays” have become part of everyday language. In this time of financial uncertainty, consumers are watching their spending habits closely and are expecting brands to support them; in a worldwide survey4 by Global Web Index, 83% of respondents believe businesses should offer flexible payment terms to consumers in response to the pandemic. In countries most affected by the virus, the number is higher still.

Unsurprisingly, the expected global recession is likely to have a significant impact on the luxury sector. A study by McKinsey & Company forecasts5 the worldwide personal luxury goods sector will suffer a revenue contraction of 35 to 39 percent in 2020. Social shifts are having an effect too, as people re-evaluate their priorities. For many, their time in isolation has reconfigured their relationship to luxury.

In response to the outlook, some luxury brands are already exploring digital avenues that can help offset revenues lost by the virus and improve their prospects. Belgian brand Delvaux launched on Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, Prada has opened on Tmall, and French label Lanvin live-streamed its Fall/Winter 2020 fashion show on high-end e-commerce platform Secoo, incorporating a ‘see now, buy now’ function to encourage spending.

As with many other e-commerce sectors, the luxury and fashion industry will have to adapt to the effects of consumers’ changing priorities.

Lanvin magazine cover

2. Is your online presence up to scratch?

Despite the financial outlook, there are some reasons to be optimistic – after all, new consumer habits can present new opportunities as they become more open to trying new brands. To ensure your e-commerce business is in the best shape to win – and keep – these new customers, there are two key factors to address:

Think Practical. COVID-19 and the global lockdown have caused a mass switch to online shopping, which is a golden opportunity for your business – but those customers will only stay in the long term if your shipping service meets their needs.

In a recent consumer survey, 51% say they expect reliable and free delivery to be of more importance to them than pre-pandemic.

Global Web Index, 2020

To fulfill these needs, it’s worth carrying out a Website Health Check on your e-commerce site. You may be surprised to know the impact that introducing certain features can make on your sales and profitability. Did you know, for example, that adding an Express Shipping option to your checkout can increase your customers’ average basket value by up to 70%? Or that adding a simple returns service is also proven to encourage spend? As experts in e-commerce, DHL can help you get these things right. Read our e-commerce guide for more tips to optimize your site.  

Think Engagement. We’ve seen brands acting creatively to stay connected with customers during the lockdown – from virtual bars, to online cooking classes, and even DIY hair tutorials. This creativity doesn’t have to stop in the future. Treat your e-commerce store’s as more than just a virtual sales cart; it's also a valuable platform to tell more of your brand’s story. Introducing video content, tutorials, or a Live Chat function will help you to engage with your customers on a deeper level and build brand loyalty. Remember, content is king.

“People are going to remember who looked out for whom and firms that treat their workers as disposable are going to pay a price.” - Dr Ryan Hagen7

3. How you behave now will make or break long-term consumer loyalty

In this time of crisis, the idea of brand purpose has shifted significantly. People are looking closely at what brands are doing to help, and how they’re protecting their employees – both of which are likely to have long-term implications for the brand-consumer relationship. A recent survey found that 65% of Americans expect that companies' actions during the crisis will impact the brands they later buy from.8 People aren’t averse to brand activity during the pandemic, as long as it's not solely profit-driven. Right now, brand purpose isn’t about brand health – it’s about public health, so look at where your business can truly add value and support customers.

Luxury goods firm LVMH was one of the early heroes of the crisis, pivoting its perfume factories to produce hand sanitizer, a move that marked the start of a widespread corporate-responsibility drive. Clothing company Pair of Thieves temporarily repurposed its factory resources to source and ship N95 masks to hospitals and firehouses; UK-based food delivery app Just Eat is providing a £10 million (USD$12.2 million) emergency support package for its small independent restaurant partners; and Walmart has given its frontline workers a raise during the pandemic, to name just a few examples.

Some brands have committed long-term support too. Wellness app Headspace is giving free, year-long memberships to Americans who are out of work because of the pandemic. And Shopify has invested in the comfort of its staff as they transition to working from home, giving each a $1,000 stipend to buy necessary supplies – such as a desk, chair, or lamp.

woman opening boxes

As we continue to move forward into a strange and unpredictable new world, one certainty is that e-commerce is here to stay; its unstoppable rate of growth has only been accelerated by the pandemic. If you are considering taking your business online, or indeed you already own an e-commerce business, remember these key considerations:

- Budgets are changing. With the world in financial turmoil, many consumers are more conscious of their spending. Consider your product pricing and where you can offer discounts or deals.

- The subscription economy is booming. The pandemic prompted many brands to pivot into a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model. Now is an ideal time to test a D2C model without the scrutiny you might otherwise face during normal times.

- Your e-commerce website is more than just a store. It’s a valuable opportunity for you to really build a brand. Introducing video content such as online tutorials and Q & A sessions to your site will allow you to build a relationship with your customers.

- Don’t forget the checkout. Customers want convenience, flexibility and choices in their delivery options. Getting this right will encourage repeat custom.

By investing in your e-commerce business, you can ensure it is prepared to meet consumers' new needs and maximize every opportunity that comes as a result. Our e-commerce experts are here to help you do just that – contact them today.

1 – Global Web Index, March 2020

2 – Rising Retail Categories, Think With Google, 2020

3 – Dr Ryan Hagen, Canvas8, March 2020

4 – Global Web Index, March 2020

5 – McKinsey & Company, April 2020

6 – Global Web Index, April 2020

7 – Dr Ryan Hagen, Canvas8, March 2020

8 – PEOPLE Insiders Panel, 2020