For the retail industry, any economic downturn has its casualties. But COVID-19 has wreaked a particular sort of havoc on face-to-face retail, effectively grinding it to a complete halt. So, with the exponential rise in Ecommerce sales, a boom in social media usage and hundreds of big brands collapsing under the strain, are we entering the era of the small business?
The COVID-19 Impact On Retail
As with any sudden cultural or economic shift, there have been winners and losers in the last few years. It often feels like not a day goes by without hearing of another high street store closure: Monsoon, Debenhams, Cath Kidston, and Laura Ashley have all announced either full or partial closures since Coronavirus hit.
Even before COVID-19 struck, high streets across the country looked sparse, with high rent costs and increased online shopping forcing many long-standing retailers out of the running. Now, with retail prices falling by a massive 2.4% in May 2021 (the most significant monthly drop since 2006), even the retail giants are facing financial difficulties. Clothing and furniture retailers face the most critical struggles, with consumers prioritising food and essential items.
And, with only 6% of people saying they’ll make an effort to shop more in-person after COVID-19, we’re likely to see long and lasting impacts on the high street.
The Rise Of Ecommerce
Ecommerce isn’t new. For years now, we’ve seen hundreds and thousands of retailers making the most of online sales – and plenty of new retailers who are online-only. Online shopping has become the default for many of us as it often aids convenience and gives us time for other, more enjoyable things in life. With COVID-19 closing down high streets and restricting our shopping abilities, 48% of us have done more online shopping since lockdown.
With just 9% of respondents saying they’ll return to the high streets ‘immediately’ once shops reopen, Ecommerce stands to benefit hugely from the pandemic. Online shopping is the natural solution to the restrictions placed on us by COVID-19: it’s the safe, easy and often cheaper option than in-person shopping, especially given the rise of Direct To Customer brands.
However, it’s worth noting that the Instagram-friendly visuals, san serif fonts and quirky messages can only get a brand so far. Most industries are now full of tough competition, and growing a solid and long-lasting brand takes a lot more effort. Nevertheless, with online experiences getting better by the day and more previously-in-person businesses pivoting to online platforms, we certainly expect to see ecommerce continue its growth trajectory in the coming years.
Ecommerce Giants VS Small Businesses
Online shopping is growing, and there’s no escaping that fact. Amazon dominates ecommerce in almost every retail sector. Their Q1 2021 global sales increased by 26% to a whopping $75.5 billion, transactions total an average of $4,722 every single second, and only 4% of 26-35-year-olds don’t shop with the retail giant.
For small businesses on our high streets, COVID-19 has been challenging. Forced to close with very little financial security and very little ability (or resources) to pivot to online sales has been devastating for many. But, as is the theme here: there have been plenty of winners, too.
Small businesses have a unique ability to serve their customers and communities with a touch of personality and individuality that Amazon can never hope to attain. We’ve been advocating for small businesses for as long as we can remember. Still, we’re seeing a shift in consumer attitudes and a buoying sense of community around our local businesses as well as those we work with.
With the shift towards Ecommerce, the financial barriers to entry are lower than ever before. With no rent costs, business rates, or other physical overheads, small businesses pivoting to ecommerce are noticing higher profit margins and lower expenditure than ever before – while big brands on the high street are stuck in multi-year leasing agreements with little revenue being generated.
The High Streets Future
Only time will tell what our high streets look like in the future. In the short term, we’re expecting to see steady growth in ecommerce sales. People realise the power of online shopping and are unlikely to return entirely to their everyday shopping habits – especially if they’ve discovered local or small businesses providing a personalised shopping experience. The benefits of ecommerce, for many, will outweigh the novelty of reopened high street stores.
Is It Too Late?
For small businesses in particular, while COVID-19 has made things challenging over the last few years and it’s been make or break for many, the playing field has levelled out and the opportunity to compete effectively with big brands, mainly via websites and social media, has never been greater.