As the second year of the pandemic draws to a close, we’re unfortunately far from seeing the end of this era, which has brought with it a slew of new trends in global commerce.
The “new normal” is becoming clearer every day as certain shopping trends that emerged in 2020 and 2021 show no signs of slowing down, despite COVID-related supply chain issues, rising costs, manufacturing burdens, and labor shortages. Let’s explore what these trends are, and how they might shape consumer behavior in the coming months.
Spending is On the Rise
While slowly, the economy is recovering. 2021 was a year of economic healing (albeit a slow one), and that means people are spending more money this holiday season.
That’s a good thing, of course, as it means retailers can expect more sales this year than the last – and that despite 2020 being a record-shattering year for online shopping. Furthermore, ecommerce growth is expected not only to stay, but to outperform predictions made earlier this year.
But Supply Can’t Keep Up with Demand
The global recovery process has been slow, given that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and even with fewer lockdowns and more (relative) cash in people’s pockets, the economy is not where it was in 2019.
Neither are our supply chains. Labor shortages, skyrocketing prices, lockdowns, and a slew of non-COVID natural disasters from supertyphoons to wildfires have impacted and continue to impact global freighting and shipping capacities. Maritime ports are congested, companies are struggling to find workers, and there’s a shortage of empty containers.
Meanwhile, an ongoing semiconductor shortage has made matters in the technology sector come to a head, greatly reducing the supply and availability processing units for everything from smart fridges to cars, and various tech products from smartphones to gaming consoles. It has also had a lasting impact on critical server components, limiting server spaces for major and minor companies around the world.
For the holiday season, this means increased prices for everything from a smartphone to a new GPU, and low supply for major gaming devices, including the exceptionally rare PlayStation 5, a very hot holiday item.
Sustainability is Ranking High
As far as shopping priorities go, it seems that recurring headlines are successfully pushing consumer behavior towards voting with their dollar – and that means choosing sustainable alternatives, whether it’s shopping locally or choosing gifts that are manufactured with a more environmentally-friendly design.
That means, for example, out with fast fashion and in with renewable and sustainable wear.
Consumers are more critical of brands that they might perceive to be socially or environmentally unfriendly, drawing more ire and negative sentiment than before. Record-breaking strikes and pro-union sentiment is also shifting consumer ideas and affecting company reputations.
The Omnichannel Approach is Growing
The omnichannel is the seamless combination of digital marketing and sales to create a single experience from product discovery to purchase over multiple platforms.
As many as 70 percent of consumers in 2021 are making their purchases through an omnichannel experience, and social media is the latest fast-growing window for online commerce as platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter test and integrate product browsing and buying options into their apps.
This means businesses are encouraged to work on lead generation, lead nurturing, customer interaction, and the sales experience across the web, and create their own seamless omnichannel.
“New Normal” Is Here to Stay
While it’s too soon to tell when the pandemic will be over, it’s very likely that many of these trends are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Even as brick-and-mortar stores reopened and main street became COVID-safe, statistics show that consumers are still overwhelmingly choosing to browse and shop online – and even if they do end up making a purchase at a physical location, they’re likely to do their product research over Google, Instagram, and Facebook.
Meanwhile, consumers are more brand-aware than ever, with news of company policies, worker treatment, pay, and even pro- or anti-unionization stances moving fast across platforms like Twitter.
Ultimately, small and large businesses alike should draw the following conclusions from the 2021 holiday season, and consumer behavior over the course of the pandemic in general:
- Consumers are continuing to educate themselves on both products and company stances online.
- A business’ online presence is continuing to have a growing impact on its sales.
- Brand loyalty is waning, and customers are more open to shopping from smaller or different brands.
- Smaller stores are gaining popularity, especially across platforms like Etsy and eBay.
- DIY, and environmental and social sustainability are rising as a consumer priority.
- Gaming-related gifts are continuing to climb up in rankings as a holiday favorite across different consumer profiles.
- Consumer-worker solidarity is up, especially in times of need (between a record-shattering economic downturn and a global healthcare crisis).
- Ecommerce continues to be the biggest winner in the pandemic, seeing massive growth throughout 2020 and 2021.
- Tech companies have expanded their ecommerce services, which in turn means customers will be relying on platforms like Instagram and Google even more to browse product reviews, compare items, and interact with businesses.
As the holiday season draws to a close, many of the trends that begun picking up in the early stages of COVID are continuing to pick up steam even as the worst of the crisis has arguably passed.
Despite global supply chain issues, labor shortages, and a slow-to-recover economy, both traditional retail and ecommerce sectors have seen some significant growth this year, yet all is not the same as it was.
The “new normal” seems to indicate a continuing shift in priorities towards shopping online, supporting smaller businesses, and homing in on sustainability as an important selling point.
Implementing changes that capitalize on these details in 2022 will be important. All available data points to a continuation of the pandemic as the Omicron variant continues to spread, shifting previous timetables significantly. Some heavily-affected countries have already had to reimplement harsh lockdowns over the holidays, including Canada.
While some of the commerce trends of the last two years are expected to survive well into a post-pandemic world, 2022 will likely mirror 2020 and 2021 when it comes to ecommerce growth and the continuing trend of heavily weighing a brand’s online reputation and capacity for consumer interaction.