The World Health Organization (WHO) officially characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Less than a week later, Ontario declared a state of emergency, with Premier Doug Ford ordering the beginning of an extensive list of shutdowns and restrictions doled out over the following weeks. Across the country, Canadians were strongly advised to stay at home.
Canada started the month of April with 10,000 confirmed cases—a number that would double in only a week. As the number of cases reached a new peak with each passing day, so did the importance of isolation.
The desire to avoid social contact at all costs led people onto apps and websites, where the tap or click of a button set a chain of events in motion that ended with the contactless delivery of prepared meals, groceries, or household necessities. Middle-ground options like curbside pickup became rapidly available.
According to a survey conducted at the end of March, when social distancing was still in its early stages, 24% of Canadians planned to increase their spending online over the next three months, with one-fifth preparing to spend more on grocery delivery services.
The longer we stay home, the more packages are showing up on our doorsteps. As malls across the country remain deserted, many Canadians have taken their shopping sprees online. Whether we’re looking to stock up on household essentials or groceries, the outbreak of COVID-19 was the push many of us needed to hit “Add to Cart.”
While younger generations have long been accustomed to fulfilling their needs through the web, the pandemic has brought a new demographic of customers online. Historically, older generations have been hesitant to use online delivery services, but the risk of catching the virus and becoming seriously ill has left Canadian seniors with few alternatives.
Regardless of what age bracket they fall under, people are anxious and frustrated by crowded aisles and lines that wrap around the block. Grocery shopping in person has become a perilous and stress-inducing operation that leaves us feeling drained. Food delivery apps have eased some of the stress by delivering the essentials straight to our doorsteps.
Online grocery delivery services allow shoppers to track when their groceries are being picked up by workers and when their items are out for delivery. A strict no-contact policy ensures that customers are notified with a call or a text when bags have been left outside their door.
The end of lockdown is now in sight as provincial governments proceed with cautious optimism in reopening businesses. But what sort of marketplace will we see on the other side?
Before the pandemic, the ease and convenience of food delivery apps weren’t enough to sway many Canadians into pressing the download button. By now, Canadians have had a taste of what it’s like to have both food and non-food items simply brought to them. If the habit sticks around, even for a minority of new customers, we could be seeing a significant shift in the retail industry, which, historically, has been slow to pivot toward online platforms.
As COVID-19 spread like wildfire across the globe, one of the first responses we saw on behalf of consumers was panic buying. Hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper were among the first to go as people responded to the news of a worldwide pandemic by stocking up on the essentials.
But as bulk buying died down, it was replaced with a new trend—one that has the potential to have lasting effects for years after the number of cases subsides and lockdown procedures are lifted. As experts identified the risk of the virus being transmitted from package to person as too low to be a concern, Canadian consumers embraced online shopping in entirely new ways.
Online food delivery services have soared. Never before have Canadians thought more seriously about ways to secure food and household essentials than now. According to a survey by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, 22% of Canadians are planning to purchase food online even after the pandemic is over—more than five times the percentage of Canadians who considered using online food delivery services a year ago.
Data from the same lab has shown that only 24% of Canadians are comfortable with in-store grocery shopping at the present moment. Concerns about health and safety have pushed consumers to online shopping platforms more effectively than any marketing strategy ever could. And the result could prove permanent.
While it’s clear that the recent boom in online shopping is primarily driven by the sale of household goods, food products, and stockpiling of sanitary and medical supplies, as social distancing eases, other categories of ecommerce will likely see a similar lift.
Already, we’ve seen traditional walk-in businesses, such as Belgian Nursery, create digital platforms to tap into their online audience. Jewelers, clothing stores, and sporting good retailers are headed towards the same transition to bypass store closures and capitalize on the number of customers that have flocked to their mobile devices or web browsers to purchase goods. Nordstrom, for example, has launched Nordstrom.ca to compete for online sales.
When stores are once again open to the public, many consumers may have lingering concerns about their health and safety. When it comes to revenue, many retailers are likely to start focusing on creating a successful digital experience.
Business owners and consumers are both faced with uncertainty. As the situation evolves with each passing day, staying on top of current trends and adapting your approach as a retailer will ensure that you continue to meet your customers’ changing needs.
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