Pandemic Accelerates Pace Of Online Shopping Adoption

Ecommerce was a growing trend in consumers’ shopping behavior, but the pandemic has accelerated its pace of adoption forward by nearly two years. eMarketer’s third-quarter U.S. retail forecast predicts ecommerce sales to reach $794.5 billion in 2020, up 32.4 percent year-over-year, a significantly higher growth rate than the 18 percent in its second-quarter forecast, as consumers continue to avoid stores and opt for online shopping.

“We’ve seen ecommerce accelerate in ways that didn’t seem possible last spring, given the extent of the economic crisis,” says Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “While much of the shift has been led by essential categories like grocery, there has been surprising strength in discretionary categories like consumer electronics and home furnishings that benefited from pandemic-driven lifestyle needs.”

eMarketer’s forecast projects ecommerce sales to reach 14.4 percent of all U.S. retail spending this year and 19.2 percent by 2024. When excluding gas and auto sales—categories sold almost exclusively offline—ecommerce penetration jumps to 20.6 percent.

“There will be some lasting impacts from the pandemic that will fundamentally change how people shop,” said Cindy Liu, eMarketer senior forecasting analyst at Insider Intelligence. “For one, many stores, particularly department stores, may close permanently. Secondly, we believe consumer shopping behaviors will permanently change. Many consumers have either shopped online for the first time or shopped in new categories (i.e., groceries). Both the increase in new users and frequency of purchasing will have a lasting impact on retail.”

Online shopping is expected to be strong enough to more than offset the 3.2-percent decline in brick-and-mortar spending this year, which will drop to $4.711 trillion. As a result, total retail sales in the U.S. will remain essentially flat.

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