The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the shift towards a more digital world and permanently changing shopping behavior, a recent online consumer survey shows.
The survey of about 3,700 consumers in nine emerging and developed economies showed that online purchases have increased by 6 to 10 percentage points across most product categories since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Covered in the survey are consumers from Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey.
The biggest gainers are ICT/electronics, gardening/do-it-yourself, pharmaceuticals, education, furniture/household products and cosmetics/personal care categories.
However, average online monthly spending per shopper has dropped markedly, the report said. Consumers in both emerging and developed economies have postponed larger expenditures, with those in emerging economies focusing more on essential products.
In addition, tourism and travel sectors have suffered the strongest decline, with average spending per online shopper dropping by 75%.
The survey, entitled “COVID-19 and E-commerce,” was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Netcomm Suisse eCommerce Association, in collaboration with the Brazilian Network Information Center and Inveon.
Following the pandemic, more than half of the survey’s respondents now shop online more frequently and rely on the internet more for news, health-related information and digital entertainment.
Consumers in emerging economies have made the greatest shift to online shopping, the survey showed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world. The changes we make now will have lasting effects as the world economy begins to recover,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
Increases in online shopping during COVID-19 differ between countries, with the strongest rise noted in China and Turkey and the weakest in Switzerland and Germany, where more people were already engaging in e-commerce.
The survey found that women and people with tertiary education increased their online purchases more than others. People aged 25 to 44 reported a stronger increase compared with younger ones.
Also, according to survey responses, small merchants in China were most equipped to sell their products online and those in South Africa were least prepared.
The most used communication platforms are WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, all owned by Facebook.
However, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have benefitted the most from increases in the use of video calling applications in workplaces.
In China, the top communication platforms are WeChat, DingTalk and Tencent Conference, the survey showed.
The survey results suggest that changes in online activities are likely to outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most respondents, especially those in China and Turkey, said they would continue shopping online and focusing on essential products in the future.
They would also continue to travel more locally, suggesting a lasting impact on international tourism.