Mobile phone applications for e-commerce websites eBay, Amazon, and AliExpress. Photo: iStock

The world has witnessed unprecedented destruction caused by Covid-19. Governments across the globe have taken precautionary measures to contain the infection rate, which included lockdowns and border restrictions, and even economic activities were strictly restricted.

On the one hand this strategy has proved the best measure to reduce the rate of infection, but on the other, because of minimal economic activities, the economies of many countries have been badly affected. Thousands of traditional-style businesses and companies were severely affected, and lot of them have even gone bankrupt. 

In these circumstances, e-commerce appeared to be a promising pillar in the fight against Covid-19 as it helped reduce the rate of infection by offering online delivery of commodities and services. Supermarkets started online delivery of groceries by providing door-to-door services to their customers, preventing risks from in-store visits, and subsequently online payments obviated in-person cash transactions. 

Moreover, e-commerce helped economies preserve jobs during the crisis. Online businesses strove to maintain the basic revenue stream, which helped them stay afloat. Restaurants and food chains started offering online takeout services. Almost all famous brands of clothing, shoes and many others transformed their business from traditional to online. 

Many companies changed the nature of their businesses and were successful in creating new jobs as consumers shifted toward online offerings. Recently a Dubai-based raw-coffee supply company transformed from B2B (business to business) to B2C (business to consumer) because of emerging demand for consumer products. 

Interestingly, many new small ventures were set up during this period. People started delivering home-made food and home-grown fruits and vegetables to meet the needs at both ends, and the response from their customers is most encouraging. The continued availability of these consumer goods helped governments increase the acceptance of persistent physical “social distancing” measures.   

Lockdown orders will definitely be lifted eventually but there are millions of customers whose purchase patterns have changed drastically toward more comfortable ways of getting what they need at their doorsteps. They are comfortable with the online system not only for convenience but also to reduce the risk of getting ill.

According to a recent survey on social media, young consumers are more motivated than ever to maintain social distancing and shop online while staying at home. This trend is creating ideal market conditions and great motivation for new-entrant digital entrepreneurs. 

The trend of changing buying habits and behavior is an opportunity for digital entrepreneurs. Once the situation improves, e-commerce sales may stabilize at a lower growth rate than currently, but the changing behavior of customers is already in action, set to bring overall change to retail and commerce for years to come.   

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Ehtisham Ali

Ehtisham Ali is a research scholar pursuing a PhD from Zhengzhou University, Henan, China. He is the author of a number of research articles and papers. His research interests include supply-chain management, e-commerce and financial management.