How the ecommerce explosion is shaping the way we shop

Cara van Rhyn, Strategist at Leagas Delaney explores the shopping evolution that she hopes will lead to a more hybrid relationship between ecommerce and retail in the future.

Cara van Rhyn

Strategist Leagas Delaney


Ecommerce is nothing new. It has been a steadily growing giant looming over bricks and mortar for years. The enormous growth of platforms like Amazon, Etsy and Shopify attest to this digital shift and the past year has helped accelerate this change even further. The major shutdowns of the high street and traditional retailers has meant that emerging trends have been brought to the fore.

Trends like ‘click and collect’ and QR codes offered brands a safe way to provide consumers with goods during the pandemic. Online grocery shopping saw such an uplift that businesses have since created innovative solutions to deal with the mass demand, such as micro-fulfilment centres and new state of the art processing software. But how are other brands dealing with this shift?

Unilever has been quick to refocus their strategy on ecommerce after seeing a 61% increase in online sales during lockdown. One of their portfolio brands that has helped them make this change is Graze, the original snack subscription company. When they bought Graze back in 2019, they decided to adopt their technology and ecommerce expertise across the rest of their business.

Now more of their brands are taking a direct-to-consumer approach as well. Ben & Jerry’s launched an ecommerce site last year and Marmite now offer personalised jars, mugs and posters on their new website. While Unilever has seen the benefit of taking certain businesses online, not all brands can pivot so smoothly.

Perhaps, when lockdowns lift, and shops reopen this evolution will lead to a more hybrid relationship between ecommerce and retail.

Cara van Rhyn

The struggle to adapt

While ecommerce might look like the solution to our problems and the future of shopping, there are still brands and categories that are struggling to adjust. The beauty industry has been greatly impacted by the pandemic for a whole host of reasons. Makeup brands have had to rely on ecommerce sales which can be tricky as many people like to test these products out in store. The use of coloured cosmetics in particular has also dropped due to people working from home and wearing masks, therefore impacting sales of products like lipstick and blush.

Although makeup sales were already decreasing due to the growing desire for a more natural look, according to Mintel, colour cosmetic sales in the US dropped by a further 10% in 2020. This shift to online beauty has accelerated two emerging trends in the industry: a focus on skincare rather than makeup and ‘try on’ technology that allows you to virtually test products.

Another industry that has been hard hit with adapting to online sales is fragrance. Due to its olfactory nature, people prefer to try out their chosen scents before purchase. One way that the industry has been adjusting is by focusing on the sale of classic, tried and tested scents and postponing the release of new fragrances.

Change is afoot

Some brands, especially small businesses, have adjusted by setting up entirely new websites to meet consumer demand. Shopify, the ecommerce website builder, said it had a 53% increase in people creating new online stores in April compared to March.

But Shopify is seeing bigger changes beyond websites. In October 2020, they partnered with TikTok to bring in new ecommerce and advertising capabilities to the viral app. This will be a huge opportunity for brands to capture the attention of the one billion active, largely Gen Z, users. According to a recent survey by Kantar, TikTok advertising investment is set to increase this year, with 66% of global marketers planning to increase spend.

So, while many brands, for better or for worse, are shifting to online sales and adopting new methods of reaching consumers, it begs the question, what will become of the high street? The recent closure of Debenhams stores after their purchase from Boohoo and the closure of the iconic Oxford Street Topshop store are examples of how the physical shopping experience is evolving. Perhaps, when lockdowns lift, and shops reopen this evolution will lead to a more hybrid relationship between ecommerce and retail.

Guest Author

Cara van Rhyn

Strategist Leagas Delaney


Cara van Rhyn is a Strategist at global agency Leagas Delaney, where she has worked across a range of different clients such as Patek Philippe, Investec, Bosch and Openpay. Living and working in London, she is a keen writer and researcher and enjoys finding insights that can drive brand desire. As her first agency role, she has been at the London office for nearly three years after joining as an intern. Cara is an alumna of the University of Bristol where she completed a joint honours in History of Art and Italian.

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