COVID-19 will change consumers’ online shopping behaviour

Retailers across the world have adapted their delivery and returns propositions to ensure customer and staff safety during the COVID-19 crisis, and these changes will transform consumer expectations of online delivery and returns, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

The company’s latest report, COVID-19 impact on delivery and returns, reveals that contactless delivery was widely introduced in China, setting the bar high for retailers and foodservice providers globally. E-commerce giants Alibaba and’s food & grocery arms introduced contactless delivery methods, as well as foodservice providers such as Meituan employing this method for takeaways with customers being informed of both the chef and delivery driver’s temperature – a level of detail that has not yet been replicated in other countries. Contactless delivery has been introduced by retailers internationally, including in the UK and US, helping them to keep their online operations open.

Emily Salter, Retail Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “The impacts of COVID-19 have the potential to decrease the popularity of click & collect beyond the outbreak as more people are expected to work from home in the long term, so will be able to accept home deliveries. Additionally, when stores re-open many consumers will be reluctant to visit busy locations due to lingering concerns around their health. Consumers may switch to third-party pickup options instead, especially lockers as this fulfilment method has no contact with others, as long as shoppers are reassured about the cleanliness of the facilities.

Returns timings and methods are also being affected by COVID-19, with many consumers being unable to return items if they are self-isolating, or if the shop they usually return items to has closed. In response to this, retailers have extended their returns periods to either a set number of days (which may not be long enough to guarantee that stores will have re-opened and so will need reviewing) or a specified number of days after stores re-open. Consumers may come to expect this longer returns period, though many will not want to wait this long for a refund so this change will have little impact on long term behaviour.

Salter concludes: “We expect there to be an increase in returns rates for clothing & footwear as many shoppers will want to return products that they purchased before the crisis, have not worn and no longer have a reason to keep, especially occasionwear purchased for events such as parties and weddings that have been cancelled. Retailers need to be prepared for this influx of returns, especially after stores re-open, and ensure that they refund customers within their stated timeframes.”

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