NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 17

Future of e-commerce after pandemic

Electronic commerce may appear an unfamiliar phenomenon to many people but it has emerged as a big reality. On the one hand, it seems like it is the one that will revolutionize the way business is transacted online. On the other, its business model often seems identical to physical retail that has been around for centuries.

The truth is that both points of view are valid. E-commerce does much the same as physical retail. However, the fact that it operates digitally, introduces some unique business elements. Here is how e-commerce works. When facemasks and hand sanitizing first became mandatory, many wondered how the effects of the global pandemic would affect us. For many people, a year of lockdowns and social restrictions has changed the way in which we live and work. Businesses have been forced to close, while workers have been made to work from home.

Let’s have a glance at how the global pandemic changed the ways we work and what are the prospects of the e-commerce industry. Small and medium-sized businesses have suffered financially under governments’ social restrictions with the retail sector facing the biggest setbacks and social distancing requirements having a huge impact on businesses ability to trade. During the first 12 weeks of the lockdown, it was estimated that millions of workers had been made jobless globally. Many retail outlets closed and various businesses have gone into liquidation.

As of 2021, COVID-19 has plunged the world’s economic market into the deepest recession on record, with the retail sector accounting for about one in four of the totals. By the end of 2020, worldwide retail sales declined by 3.0%, with many consumers now choosing to purchase online due to convenience and value for money.

According to a report in the Financial Times, as the pandemic continued to take hold throughout 2020, several global leaders have since said that they initially didn’t realize how impactful and long-term the pandemic changes would be.

But while COVID-19 has greatly affected people’s lives, many businesses have also taken the pandemic as an opportunity to learn lessons along the way. Some of these lessons have included finding new ways to connect with colleagues and clients, and understanding that emails and instant messaging can work just as well as face-to-face conversation. Videotelephony software like Zoom has been particularly popular during the pandemic, while business communication platform Microsoft Teams has added another 40 million daily active users since April 2020.

With many workers working from home, the bedroom has now become the office. And while many sellers and e-commerce businesses may have already operated remotely pre-COVID-19, having to adapt to changing shipping and delivery regulations has proven difficult for many online businesses. Another issue that has arisen since working from home is the lack of space, and in particular, how the mattress has become the desk. But while working from your bed does sound appealing, when it comes to working on your mattress, sometimes it isn’t as comfy as it sounds. In fact, during the pandemic, a majority of homeworkers reported uncomfortable aches and pains due to the lack of a proper desk and having to resort to working from the confines of their bed.

With many of us having to readjust from working in an office to working from our bedrooms, sometimes the lines between work and personal space can be blurred. But while working from home can sometimes be cramped and confined, there can also be positive benefits to working from your bedroom.

According to statistics, working away from the office can have mental health advantages, with many workers reporting an increase in overall effectiveness and time management. As the effects of the global pandemic continue to take their toll on the economy in major cities across the world, an industry that has suffered increased financial and footfall loss has been the retail sector and particularly high-street fashion stores and brands. With the pandemic continuing to drive shoppers online due to a combination of convenience and value for money, physical stores may have to become more versatile to keep attracting customers who are disappearing in crowds.

In a bid to compete with online marketplaces and declining sales, retailers are looking to change the customer experience, particularly becoming less about generic transactions and instead, more about building relationships with shoppers. The world’s big retailers are turning their shops into new roles as distribution centers and many are going in a different direction by adding attractive physical platforms to attract and retain new customers. With many consumers adjusting how they purchase products and choosing to buy online, 2021 will see many brick and mortar retail establishments look at ways to differentiate themselves from their digital competitors.

How will the working world look once social restrictions and lockdowns are over? With many traditional retail outlets reporting profit loss or even going into administration, research suggests that the digital footfall of online marketplaces will continue to grow as consumers turn to e-commerce platforms to replace previous traditional retail shopping patterns such as the weekly grocery shops and clothing brands.

For the Pakistani business community, now is a more profitable time to kick-start their own online businesses, with 2021 seeing start-ups and entrepreneurs take their first steps and start selling in the local as well as in international e-commerce marketplaces. The Pakistani virtual business industry can provide a remarkable boost to our economy only if we utilize the talent and plan our future policies accordingly.

(The writer is a Lahore-based senior educationist and freelance contributor)