More than three-quarters (77%) of Australian consumers are extremely likely to continue purchasing from online stores they have discovered over this period post-pandemic, according to new data from Criteo.

Further, categories that were previously considered by many to be in-store only items such as footwear have moved online and with more consumers continuing to work from home, there are less restrictions on parcel sizes so larger goods such as TVs and washing machines will remain high on the online shopping agenda.

In turn, the normalisation of remote working during the pandemic will ensure a persistently higher level of ecommerce in Australia, is the view from Criteo Australia and New Zealand commercial director, Colin Barnard.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown an unprecedented curveball at many Australians with a significant proportion of the population feeling it financially. This has resulted in far-reaching impacts across our economy and consumer spending has been impacted like never before,” he told Retailbiz.

“Despite consumer spending being down, ecommerce is up with many consumers who rarely bought online suddenly doing most of their shopping this way. And we haven’t just seen a temporary rise in online shopping that will immediately return to pre-COVID-19 levels.”

Creating a seamless omnichannel experience

However, Criteo data has also shown that over half of Australians (56%) missed shopping at a physical store during the COVID-19 crisis. Barnard says it comes as no surprise that Australians still value physical retail as it provides a multisensory experience.

“The physical shopping experience also enables customers to seek one-on-one advice from a retail assistant. We live in an age where consumers demand instant gratification and want to be able to purchase an item and get it on the same day. For example, our data states 40% of Australians list fast delivery as a driving reason as to why they continue to purchase from a store during the pandemic,” he said.

But with online shopping becoming increasingly popular and accessible, evolving technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality and the Internet of things (loT) are now key to more interactive, immersive, and informative online shopping experiences.

“The key for retailers is to merge the strengths of in-store with online to offer a well-rounded omnichannel experience for consumers. Post-pandemic, in-store offerings will be about retail theatre and having a seamless blend of offline and online,” he said.

“Retail assistants need to be incentivised to show consumers how to order products online and have it shipped to them the next day. Why not hand out a card that invites them to join the loyalty scheme and get a first-time discount just as you would do online? Browse online and see in-store stock and then click and collect that afternoon. Retailers must have their finger on the pulse in terms of understanding and engaging their customers in real time and central to this is delivering timely, personalised interactions across every physical and digital touchpoint in the customer journey.”

When asked about his advice to retailers wanting to survive and thrive in the ‘new norm’, Barnard said retailers need to tap into the online trend rather than resist it.

“Also, data monetisation is the future of profitability for Australia’s retail industry, and if retailers do not shift their view of themselves as data-driven media businesses, they risk falling behind.

“We are talking about retail media, the placement of brand-sponsored advertising within retailer ecommerce sites and apps. Retail media is growing rapidly as shopping increasingly moves toward ecommerce, with dominant players like eBay, Woolworths and Amazon paving the way in Australia, yet retailers possess the most crucial element: customer knowledge.

“Retail media helps retailers enter a broader retail media ecosystem, where they can create enough scale to compete in the advertising marketplace and attract more brand advertisers. Whilst we cannot predict the future we can tap into now,” he said.