India's e-commerce is booming thanks to affordable data plans on mobile. Photo: Flickr
Indian e-commerce is booming thanks to affordable mobile data plans. Photo: Flickr

With the number of coronavirus cases crossing the 150,000 mark and an average of 6,000 new infections being reported every day, Indians have become leery of conventional shopping and are turning to e-commerce, according to a study conducted by Facebook India and Boston Consulting Group.

The report, titled ‘Turn the Tide”, reveals that Indians are more inclined to turn to online channels than consumers in other leading developing economies such as China, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Across categories including household care, personal care, and food, Indians are the most willing to turn to e-commerce for their needs.

As for household care products, 33% of respondents in India expect to buy them online in the next one month compared with 19% in China, 18% in Indonesia, 4% in Brazil and 9% in Thailand. However, the Philippines saw a 6% decline.

Similarly, for personal care (44%), fresh food (31%) and packaged food categories (34%), Indian respondents led the table. However, Indonesia (47%) upstaged India (43%) in health supplements.

The risk of contracting the virus while stepping out of their homes and making purchases at crowded markets and department stores has attracted many first-time users to online shopping.

The report also said that around 50% of consumers expect to increase their e-commerce spending in the coming month, even for traditionally offline product categories such as vitamins, supplements, personal care products, cosmetics, and non-prescription medicines.

Nimisha Jain, managing director of Boston Consulting Group, said there has been an unprecedented shift in consumer attitudes and behaviors. She said, “More than 80% of consumers will continue to practice social distancing and are bringing the outside inside. Over 40% of consumers are dialing up on health and wellness spends. E-commerce adoption has already advanced by 2-3 years.” She said it could represent a long-term shift in consumer behavior.

The report urged businesses to embrace hyperlocalization, create virtual experiences and build messaging around new habits such as an increased focus on health and hygiene. It is important to engage with consumers in their context and connect with them where they are. Micro-targeting can help brands get the first-mover advantage, the report added.