There’s no doubt 2020 has been an unpredictable year.
It’s taken a big toll on retailers struggling to find new customers, as well as those trying to keep up with unexpected demand or navigate new channels.
There’s been a lot of commentary about e-commerce and shifting consumer behaviour, accelerating the adoption of online retail as shoppers have needed to access items conveniently and safely wherever they are.
You’d be forgiven for craving a little more predictability.
And while it’s probably not wise to put too much money into betting markets just yet, we can cobble together a few predictions from a year’s worth of eBay data.
Some of the deepest insights have come from examining the trends shared by all states, despite wildly disparate restrictions, case numbers and circumstances.
These are the insights that help us understand which shifts are likely here to stay.
Here’s where our data is pointing and what retailers can expect through Christmas and into 2021.
Online purchasing is booming with items climbing in value and decisions taking less time
Earlier this year, Australia Post reported that over 1 million new households shopped online between March and September. eBay data reflects a similar surge and traffic has certainly increased over the past year. But that might not be the most interesting change.
We’re now seeing shoppers spend less time on the site before making a purchase, and with fewer clicks.
This isn’t just true for small purchases either. Our research with Afterpay reveals the average price point at which a shopper will make an instant purchase has actually increased, compared to pre-COVID, from $190 up to $240. This suggests shoppers have more disposable income because they’re spending less on travel overseas or experiences such as concerts.
The research also shows more Aussies are likely to make purchasing decisions within an hour, compared to pre-COVID, from 25% up to 31%. This might suggest they’re now more comfortable shopping online or perhaps more deliberate with their purchases.
There could be several different factors driving this trend — for instance, the proliferation of buy-now-pay-later options, and the increase in household savings — but it’s clear that consumers seem more confident and comfortable with e-commerce.
Buying is happening more quickly, whether it’s due to greater comfort with online shopping, or simply a more efficient decision-making process.
Purchasing is moving in a hyper-local direction
Amid supply chain disruptions and fewer planes carrying air cargo, there are straightforward incentives for consumers to favour local retailers and Australian-made goods.
For starters, products made in Australia are simply a quicker option right now. We’re seeing express shipping up by triple digits, representing a demand for faster purchases whether domestic or international.
And the benefit of in-store purchases is that they’re usually instantaneous: you buy it, you take it home.
We’re seeing that expectation shift to online shopping as consumers start leaning on e-commerce for more of their everyday essentials.
Convenience may not be the only reason consumers are going local.
Many of us like to shop in our local communities, and COVID-19 has definitely driven a new level of consumer consciousness about buying and supporting locally made goods.
But digital habits are increasingly embedded in our daily lives. Whether Aussies want to find a bargain nearby or are looking to sell items themselves, online platforms mean they can marry the spirit of popping into your local boutique with the convenience of digital shopping.
What might be even more influential are sustainability concerns and growing interest in the circular economy.
Either way, retailers of all sizes need to be thinking about how to get local goods to consumers faster.
We really are glued to our phones
More people are at home, working, accessing laptops and desktops. Fewer people are out and about.
It’d be logical to assume that mobile penetration might be on the decline.
But that’s not what eBay data shows.
Shopping via mobile and desktop both remain strong, suggesting many consumers’ phones aren’t out-of-home devices. They’re every-room-in-the-house devices.
It’s yet another reason to focus on optimising mobile shopping experiences and making it easy for mobile shoppers. However, it also signals a need to expand to a variety of channels, including ones that allow consumers to shop from apps.
Few retailers will have a customer base big enough to justify a standalone app, so entrepreneurs and home-based businesses especially need to exhaust social channels and marketplace apps that help them reach the hundreds of thousands of people shopping online for the first time.
As a major bonus, additional channels can help get 100% of your inventory online. You never know what might sell, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that demand can shift unexpectedly.
Economic impacts are still unclear but one-stop-shopping is undeniable
Encouragingly, we haven’t seen as steep a drop-off in consumer spending as initially feared.
That’s not to say that consumers aren’t struggling or worried, just that some of these trends cut against popular assumptions and point to e-commerce remaining strong throughout the Christmas period.
The only thing we can say with confidence is that more shoppers are going online and that many of them are looking for one-stop-shop convenience.
For states such as New South Wales or Victoria, where case numbers were high and lockdowns more restrictive, eBay spending habits often progressed in phases reflective of the government response.
For instance, they tended to move from health-related purchases such as face masks and sanitiser to home-office equipment or entertainment such as gaming consoles and toys for restless kids.
But, across all states and circumstances, these phases almost always converged into massive spending across, well, everything.
Even in states with zero new COVID-19 cases, even in my home state of Western Australia, and even once bricks-and-mortar retail had reopened, the trend was sustained growth online.
As far as the pandemic is concerned, we may not be out of the woods yet, and broader economic recovery will almost certainly take more time. Still, there are reasons to expect a strong Christmas spending period, and maybe even glimmers of stability come 2021?
It’s certainly on my wishlist.