Is E-Commerce immune to COVID-19?

    Madhav Garg

    History has shown how lifestyles get affected with the emergence of every economic recession or pandemic worldwide. For instance, the SARS outbreak in 2002-2004 led to the growth and expansion of the then small e-commerce, Alibaba in order to minimize crowd formations and human contact. On a similar note, preferences for ride-sharing apps such as Ola and Uber and room-sharing apps such as Airbnb soared as side-effects of the 2008 financial crises. Lower incomes and lower savings of people catalyzed the concept of sharing assets to make up for the deficit. The outbreak of COVID-19 has already started disrupting the trajectory of businesses. Schools, colleges, shopping malls, supermarkets, gyms, tourist places are shutting down everywhere, firms are operating remotely, aviation industry is witnessing its worst profitability, retail stores are running out of supplies and cities are getting locked down. There has, thus, been a dramatic shift in the behavior of both consumers and businesses today.

    Social distancing is a necessity

    With COVID-19 spreading like wildfire, social distancing has become a primary preventive measure amongst masses. According to a recent survey, more than half of the respondents who avoided going to supermarkets completely were elderly. This isn’t surprising as COVID-19 has hit elderly people the hardest. Given the uncertainty of complete check and control of coronavirus, the avoidance of physical environments by vulnerable populations is understandable, however, one must acknowledge the fact that their household needs won’t get compromised. Moreover, the tendency to stockpile household resources is found to be increasing day by day. All these observations indicate that there could be more adoption of e-commerce, even by the section of people who are not pro-online shopping.

    Sudden Impact on E-commerce

    According to industry-insiders, Amazon is all set to hire 1,00,000 workers in US due to a “significant increase in demand.” E-commerce companies in India such as Flipkart, Amazon, Big Basket and Grofers have witnessed around 20-30% rise in orders as more and more customers started switching to online platforms for all transactions. An interesting trend to note here is that online shopping for items such as groceries, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, medicines, and toiletries has risen significantly as compared to the commonly shopped items such as apparel, footwear, etc.

    Challenges of a rising demand

    One of the critical challenges faced by e-commerce companies due to rise in demand is delay in delivery. Customers look for on-time delivery and are now-a-days preferring to a contactless delivery option also. While e-commerce businesses strive hard to meet the surge in demand by strategizing in innovative ways, what is expected to be seen is a rise in customer support services. Making customers a part of their transformative journeys and letting them know of the steps being taken to keep their employees safe and healthy are the needs of the hour. In this way, businesses can foster relationships with customers, built out of trust, cooperation and empathy.

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