By Raghav Sood
The COVID-19 pandemic has widely altered the retail as well as the e-commerce sector in India. Though the year wasn’t great from a business standpoint, the e-commerce sector saw a boom in sales. The reason being the pandemic transformed the way consumers shop by accelerating massive digital adoption throughout the country. Research states that 86% of Indians adopted online shopping during the pandemic, which has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce across consumers of all age categories.
During the pandemic onset, the e-commerce sector was trying to adjust itself to the behavioural changes in consumers, coping with unprecedented demand for items and the courier restrictions in containment zones. Right now, they have adapted to the new normal.
With the increase in online shopping, the e-commerce sector has reimagined the customer experience by focusing on providing a mall-like in-store experience. This involves leveraging the big data to recommend similar products, sending customised emails, analysing customer behaviour and recommending personalised suggestions based on their browsing history. Additionally, they have also focused on providing customers detailed product details to make the right choice and offering them huge discounts.
Seizing the opportunity of lasting growth, the e-commerce players have also expanded their capacity to accommodate more sellers and the structural shift in consumer behaviour.
The new norm fuelled a surge in healthcare supplies, electronic products for working and learning from home, groceries and personal grooming products. As a result, the last quarter of 2020 saw a 36% increase in order volume. With orders piling up, e-commerce upped the game by improving logistics and hiring more staff to meet the surge.
Many retail stores had also come onboard with established companies like Amazon, Flipkart, and the likes to leverage digital technologies and reach customers to sustain their business. Apart from this, many new businesses have set up independent online stores. Additionally, many online players have leveraged technology to aid first-time shoppers by introducing facilities like voice assistants with a vernacular interface.
Another challenge that the e-commerce sector faced last year was to plan the deliveries in the “containment zones and red zones”. They had to configure their systems amidst the shortfalls. This made them form tie-ups with other industry leaders, paving the way for more expansion. Here are few examples of such adaptations in recent times.
- Our very own homegrown e-commerce giant Flipkart announced a commercial collaboration with Adani Group in April 2021 to boost the company’s logistics and data centre capabilities. This alliance is expected to create about 2,500+ direct jobs in India.
- Zomato entered a tie-up with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in Feb 2021 to onboard 300 street food vendors on its platform. This initiative is initially set to encompass six cities where street benefits will be helped with PAN and FSSAI registration and trained on digital app usage. This initiative empowers them to harness the power of e-commerce and go digital.
- Future group’s retail chain Big Bazaar, which had launched its two-hour instant delivery service in April, has now touched 50,000 orders per day, reaching half its initial target of 100,000 orders per day in two months.
There have been many such cross-industry tie-ups that have played a significant role in revolutionising the e-commerce sector. Apart from this, last year saw the e-commerce platforms encourage their customers to pay digitally by offering rewards, discounts and cashback options to reduce the dependence on the cash on delivery system.
Though undoubtedly e-commerce has adapted to the new normal, I would say the changes are here to stay even when the world returns to normalcy. The best is yet to come. Let’s wait for it.
The author is co-founder of Skin Elements. Views expressed are personal.