Home Spotlight Will COVID-19 prove to be gamechanger for e-commerce?

Will COVID-19 prove to be gamechanger for e-commerce?

COVID-19 is playing havoc with human lives not only in India but all over the world. Not only lakhs of lives have been lost, the pandemic has pushed the world economy into one of the worst recessions. Wearing masks, social distancing and work from home – all have become new norms. There are talks of changing the city planning to suit the new norms. Offices will be arranged to suit these new norms as some the local governments have made it mandatory.

Finding opportunity in adversity

COVID-19 no doubt has scared the people and shaken the confidence of one and all. However, there is one sector which is hoping to see its fortunes turned around because of COVID-19 breakout and the subsequent norms and practices adopted to contain it. With work-from-home and social distancing becoming new norms because of the coronavirus, people are now taking recourse to E-commerce sites to buy their regular supplies. Even those who never used e-commerce to buy things are now forced to do so and many may develop special love for this kind of shopping because of convenience and also hygiene factors.

Non-traditional items too in demand

In fact, e-commerce companies were the first one to get benefited when lockdown was relaxed in May. When lockdown was partially lifted (in Green and Orange zones) e-commerce companies started getting enquiries for not only traditional items like apparel but also for other items like  laptops, consumer electronics (such as headphones), mobiles, air conditioners and coolers. When Kerala government allowed air conditioners along with other essential commodities to be sold through e-commerce sites, AC makers sold many units through this mode. It clearly indicates that following the current Covid situation, there is some shift in consumer behaviour and a net addition to online retail volumes.

Warehouse owners say e-commerce is growing

Post lockdown e-commerce business has gone up if the feedback from others like warehouse owners are to be considered. Post-lockdown relaxation, e-commerce and grocery demand which has gone up which in turn is helping the warehousing industry. Of course, the industry was handicapped in initial days of lockdown relaxation due to logistics problems like driver shortage but these problems have been sorted out now.

Realtors opting for digital route

Adversity has brought out best in our real estate companies too who have come up with a variety of schemes using the digital route since the beginning of April 2020 to generate sales in ongoing projects. During the lockdown developers were using their websites offering virtual site visits and helping customers engage with housing loan companies. This practice has been continued even after the lockdown was lifted. For example, Godrej Properties’ ‘Hope Has a Plan’ started during lockdown offers customers a 10:90 scheme across 30 ongoing projects of GPL in MMR, NCR, Pune, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. Customers can go online and choose across projects in various cities and schedule a virtual home presentation (akin to presentations at project site offices). Similarly, Sunteck Realty (SRIN) has launched its “Sunteck AER” activation scheme recently to drive sales particularly in its Avenue 1 residential project at Oshiwara District Centre (ODC), Goregaon and Phase 1 of its affordable housing project in Naigaon in MMR. Customers can schedule an online visit with the respective sales manager, post which they can evaluate the current status of the projects and go ahead with their home buying decision.

Sheela Foam sees increased sales

Experience of Sheela Foam, one of the leading mattress makers in the country, is an indicative of the trend in the post lockdown phase in the country. E-commerce accounts for 4% of the total revenue of the company and in post-lockdown period the company’s sales through e-commerce is more than  the pre-lockdown period. It shows that wherever possible, people are preferring e-commerce route to buy than the conventional methods partly due to convenience factor and partly due to social distancing norms.

Century Ply launches e-shop

Growing trend of e-commerce is now acknowledged in building materials industry. For example, Century Plyboards (India) Ltd, one of the leading players in wood panel industry, recently launched CenturyPly e-shop operation across pan India. CenturyPly is the first to introduce its own shopping platform where consumers can now browse and buy brand products directly from the company website and purchase their product of choice. Experience of the CenturyPly will be closely monitored by other players in the industry and if the company is able to generate substantial business others too may be motivated to follow CenturyPly.

IKEA firms up e-commerce strategy

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Swedish furniture firm IKEA is forayed into e-commerce with a launch of its online delivery system ahead of the opening of its first physical store in Mumbai (however, opening of its Mumbai store has been delayed due to pandemic). This move of the home furnishing giant clearly indicates that Indian shoppers (in sizeable number) are slowly moving towards e-shopping even under the normal circumstances and COVID-19 led lockdown is just a trigger for them to abandon the traditional method of shopping.

Paints is an exception

Though India’s internet population is increasing steadily, paint and coatings companies are yet to fully embrace selling their products over the web. While a number of industries have found success by offering products directly for sale online, this has not been the case for most of the paint and coatings industry. As a result, rather than viewing their Internet portals as direct revenue generators, the majority of paint and coatings manufacturers are currently content with using their sites as information resources and brand-builders. According to paint manufacturers, this is mainly due to customers preference to visit shops and make purchase rather than order online. Paint manufacturers use their web portals to increase their visibility and depend upon network of dealers and distributors to sell the products.

Does it mean that future of business lies in online sales platforms? Not entirely, online and conventional methods will co-exist. E-commerce is the sunrise sector and therefore one may see increased growth figures in the foreseeable future but conventional methods will not vanish and cannot be ignored. This is because in India people love to go out and shop every now and then as it gives an opportunity for family outing. This often helps to break the monotony of 10-5 jobs. That may be the reason why IKEA when it opened its first store in India in Hyderabad in 2018, one of the facilities within its premises was a 1,000-seater restaurant!

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