The Covid-19 pandemic forced an abrupt transition and although life in Australia has returned to some sense of normality, the lockdown has left its mark and changed how consumers shop forever, according to Cashrewards chief executive, Bernard Wilson.

“We know more Australians turned to online shopping with parcel delivery data showing that one million new households shopped online between March and September,” he told Retailbiz.

“In response, many retailers made once-in-a-generation investments in their e-commerce platforms to manage the uptick and position themselves for the new normal with growth unlikely to abate.”

A recent Cashrewards Online Shopping Intentions Survey revealed that more than half of Australian shoppers are still avoiding stores, but more importantly, it confirms that almost one-third of shoppers will never return to old bricks-and-mortar shopping habits.

In particular, busy families with children at home and people aged between 36 and 45 years old are most likely to say ‘convenience’ and ‘enjoyable new brand shopping experiences’ are driving their intent to shop more online.

“This migration to online shopping has got Christmas spending off to an early start with more than 40 per cent of shoppers in our research starting their festive buying earlier this year to avoid crowded shopping centres or save money.”

Many took advantage of the major digital sale days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with Cashrewards data suggesting that people have become more comfortable buying discretionary items such as fashion, homewares, outdoor and lifestyle goods online.

The Cashrewards platform experienced record transaction volumes through November including Black Friday through to Cyber Monday, according to Wilson.

“Christmas 2020 looks to be a story of opposites. Our data suggests that while some consumers are doing it tough and tightening their belts, some, unable to holiday overseas and enjoying record low interest rates, intend to spend up this Christmas after a tough ten months,” he said.

The data revealed that just under one third of shoppers are more likely to shop for bargains this Christmas and 13 per cent are using cashback platforms more than last year to save money.

At the same time, 18 per cent of Australians are planning for bigger than usual Christmas celebrations and their festive spend is also likely to be spread broader. Further, more than two thirds of the shoppers who tested out new products and merchants over Covid-19, plan to stick with these brands and habits.

Seven out of ten Australians are comfortable ordering at least some of their clothes online, even after a vaccine has been distributed, with purchasers of utilities, insurance and financial products likely to transact significantly online.

By comparison, there are some categories where increased shopper trends are more likely to converge with pre-Covid behaviours, notably grocery shopping.

“Despite the fact that a good portion of Australians shopped online for groceries during Covid-19 for the first time, and it is reasonable to expect many of them will continue to do so, our research suggests that the ability to select their own fresh food remains a significant driver for many grocery shoppers, with 55% of shoppers saying they will never buy fresh food online post-COVID (the highest of all categories).”

But before we get past Covid-19, Wilson expects a unique Christmas ahead of us.

“I have a sense that many people feel like we’ve survived something together as a community, a challenge that has caused us to reflect on our own core values – with many focused more than ever on the importance of connections with family and friends. There’s rising optimism that we’ll have a vaccine in the first half of 2021 and that’s what business and consumer confidence needs.

“I think the pent-up yearning for a real celebration with those we love, after so many events were cancelled this year, will make Christmas 2020 something very special, in terms of gifting but also celebrating our relationships with those close to us.”