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The Pandemic’s Impact on the State of Online Shopping Worldwide

This report examines how COVID-19 has affected the ecommerce industry and the customer experience space.

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As the world responds to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we’re seeing a dramatic shift from in-person to online shopping. Consumers are relying on the digital world more than ever and businesses are forced to adapt their strategies and shift toward digital transformation with much more urgency than before. 

Back in late 2019, Forrester surveyed online retailers in its annual "The State of Retailing Online” study, in partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF). The study showed that a majority of retailers ended 2019 with a greater number of bricks and mortar stores. 

Unfortunately, in the wake of the coronavirus, bricks and mortar retail has slowed to a standstill. As a consequence, many omnichannel retail organizations around the world have been scrambling to improve their digital experiences (DX) as their customers flock online. 

COVID-19 has underlined the value of digital sales and customer relationships. The questions that arise immediately are: “How do you keep up with the changing consumer behavior?”, “How do you anticipate their requirements?” and more importantly, “How do you stay ahead of your competitors in this new digital landscape?”   

To help answer these questions, Usabilla by SurveyMonkey conducted a study that examined the aspects of ecommerce in the age of COVID-19 across Germany, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom (U.K.).  

Although these countries show differences in terms of the online shopping behavior, one thing is certain from our findings: Companies who listen to their customers and deliver a great experience—in line with or above expectations—stand the chance of actually growing during a downcycle like this one. In fact, the no. 1 factor that points to increased customer loyalty is having a previous positive experience on that website or application. 

What you will learn from this report 

This report highlights the individual key takeaways from each country (Germany, France, U.S., and U.K.) as well as the common thread between all countries. In particular, you will learn:  

  • The state of the online shopper: prior to, during, and educated predictions for a post-COVID-19

  • The impact that the online shopping experience has on customer loyalty.  

  • The value of implementing a digital customer feedback program. 

  • The importance of closing the loop with the online shopper after a negative experience.

The state of the online shopper: prior to, during, and educated predictions for a post-COVID-19

According to Forrester’s Report, “Forrester Analytics: Online Retail Forecast, 2019

To 2024 (Western Europe), Q4 2019 Update,” retail sales and online retail sales are expected to grow at an average of 2.5% and 11.5% per year, respectively, over the next five years in Western Europe, with ecommerce driving more than half of retail growth. 

Furthermore, the report states that “Over the next five years, ecommerce growth in Western Europe will slow, from 12.5% in 2019 to 10.6% in 2024. Retailers will increasingly focus on marketplaces, margins, and the growth of underdeveloped online retail categories.” 

The report shows that the expected slower growth in ecommerce sales is mainly due to the fact that a majority of sales is expected to go online in the coming years, specifically for categories such as fashion and consumer electronics. E-tailers will therefore have to think of other ways to achieve growth.

Shortly after this report was published, the global health pandemic began and changed everything for the retail and ecommerce industry. With stores being closed, consumers became, sometimes fully, dependent on shopping online. Earlier research conducted by ContentSquare indicated an increase in web traffic across multiple industries, with supermarket, retail tech and media being the top drivers. 

Usabilla by SurveyMonkey asked respondents about their shopping behavior during COVID-19 times; 54% of respondents in the U.K. indicated to do more online shopping, followed by France with 45%. In Germany only 38% of respondents indicated an increase 

in online shopping, whereas the remaining (51%) reported about the same amount of online shopping as prior to the coronavirus outbreak (see chart 1.0). 

The question that many ecommerce and retail organizations are probably asking themselves is: “Will the shift from offline to online shopping go back to normal after COVID-19, or is this really the new normal?” 

One scenario could be that consumers who were used to doing all their shopping in physical stores have gone through a personal transformation and will not return to their old shopping habits. 

When asking the respondents about this, 60% of the respondents in the U.K., and 58% of the respondents in Germany, indicated that they will do “about the same amount of online shopping as they are doing today,” whilst 48% of the respondents in the U.S., and 40% of the respondents in France, indicated they will probably do more online shopping than they are doing presently during COVID-19 (see chart 1.1). 

Chart 1.0
Chapter 1.1

The impact that the online shopping experience has on customer loyalty

While “total cost” is initially the top factor in deciding whether to buy from one company over another, “previous positive experience” is the no. 1 cited factor in deciding to return to make a purchase on a website or mobile app. 

In fact, when frustrated with an online shopping experience, shoppers in the U.K. and the U.S. have the greatest shares of shoppers saying they would go to a different company’s site, with 62% and 57% respectively. 

Not only that, 72% of shoppers in the U.K. find it extremely or very important that a company follow-up with a resolution to a reported negative experience in determining if they will shop that company again (see chart 1.3). 

For French online shoppers, the most important factors that influence their loyalty to a given brand are “previous positive experience” (34%) and “user-friendliness” (23%) (see chart 1.4).  

Surprisingly enough, many online shoppers (47%) in Germany are willing to exit the website and/or app and try again later if they experienced a poor user experience when they tried to make a purchase. However, if they report a negative experience to a company, 63% of German online shoppers find it most important that the company reach back out to them with the resolution before they will consider buying from them again.

Across Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S., there is one common denominator: The vast majority of respondents indicated that a previous positive experience and user-friendliness of a website or mobile application matter most in deciding whether to purchase from the company in the future (see chart 1.4).  

Chapter 1.3
Chapter 1.4

The value of implementing a digital customer feedback program

There is no doubt that a great customer experience positively impacts your customer retention as an ecommerce organization. The difficulty comes into play when you need to understand what is perceived as a positive experience.

Many organizations find truth in their data. By looking at quantitative data you’re able to capture a clear understanding of the behavior of consumers on your website or mobile application. 

Data allows you to see a jump in traffic, a sudden increase in conversion following a newly launched ad or improved navigation on your website. It can also raise awareness around significant drops in conversion during the checkout process or earlier in the customer journey. 

Quantitative data shows you what is happening on your digital channels. It doesn’t necessarily explain why certain things are happening. This is where digital feedback comes into play. By asking your site visitors and mobile application users the right questions at the right time, based on their behaviors, you are able to capture this why

Imagine you see a sudden significant drop in conversion throughout the checkout process. You can spend time on identifying the problem yourself or you can ask your users why they are leaving your page in such a late stage of their buying process. Identifying bugs and aspects that build up to a negative customer experience help you improve; understanding why customers are returning helps you identify what makes up your positive customer experience and ultimately helps you to build competitive advantages over your competitors. 

When asking the respondents about their likeliness to fill out feedback surveys about their shopping experience, across France (83%), Germany (75%), the U.S. (68%) and the U.K. (56%), the majority is either very likely or somewhat likely to complete one of those surveys (see chart 1.5). 

Among those likely to take this survey, we asked whether they are more likely to take the survey after having a positive or negative experience. Across the board, the majority indicated that they would be equally likely to leave feedback, regardless of it being a positive or negative experience (see chart 1.6). 

Chapter 1.5
Chapter 1.6

The importance of closing the loop with the online shopper after a negative experience

Many brands use digital feedback as a way to understand their customer’s needs and requirements in more detail. It allows them to understand the why behind their data analysis and make well-informed decisions. 

These decisions can range from prioritization on their product roadmap to identifying bugs which need immediate attention as well as improving their overall website experience to increase conversions and stimulate revenue growth. 

The likelihood to leave feedback after both positive as well as negative experiences shows that consumers are invested in helping companies to make improvements and maintain their positive experience with these companies. An important aspect of collecting feedback is acting on the feedback and more importantly, closing the loop with your customers. 

When asking the respondents how important it would be that the company informs them on how they resolved the problem after reporting a negative online experience and deciding to buy from them in the future, the vast majority indicated this to be either extremely important or very important across the the U.S. (74%), the U.K. (72%), France (69%) and Germany (63%) (see chart 1.7).

Chapter 1.7

Key learnings

  • Increased buying since COVID: Compared to shopping pre-pandemic, online shoppers have all boosted their online buying behaviors since the coronavirus outbreak began. (54% of English, 48% of Americans, 45% of the French, and 38% of Germans). In fact, 46% of French, 44% of English, 40% of Americans, and 39% of Germans are shopping online once a week or more often. 

  • Shopping surges into the future. Across all 4 countries, between one quarter (25% in U.K.) and over one-third (40% in France) plan to increase their buying behavior in the future.

  • First impressions and customer retention. While “total cost” is initially the top factor in deciding whether to buy from one company over another, “previous positive experience” is the number 1 cited factor in deciding to return to make a purchase on a website or mobile app.

  • Closing the loop is very necessary. In instances where customers report a negative online experience, large majorities find it important that the company follow up with the resolution in deciding if they will make a purchase from that company in the future.

  • Shopper silence consequences. With the exception of shoppers in France, majorities of those that are likely to respond to feedback surveys are not motivated to do so based on the type of experience they had with the company.  BUT, beware of those shoppers that businesses are not hearing from, because 39% of French shoppers and 23% of German shoppers are less likely to respond to feedback surveys when they’ve had a negative experience. 

Our sister company, Usabilla, can help you jumpstart your UX metrics program today. Click here to learn more. 

SAMPLING AND WEIGHTING METHODOLOGY

United States data: This analysis is based on SurveyMonkey online polls conducted among adults ages 18 and older in the United States and Canada. Respondents were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and Statistics Canada’s Census Profile to reflect the demographic composition of the age 18 and over within each country.

For all countries outside of the United States, SurveyMonkey used a third-party panel provider to obtain the sample with quotas for gender, age, and region, where available. France and Germany surveys were conducted in-language. Data have been weighted for age, sex, education, and geography using the country’s respective census data for the United Kingdom. Data have also been weighted for age, sex, education, and geography using the Pew Global Attitudes Survey for Germany. Data have been weighted for age, sex, and geography using census data and education using the Pew Global Attitudes Survey for France. 

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