The old normal of 2019 and the early months of 2020 is almost certainly gone for good. 68% of consumers surveyed say COVID-19 elevated their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities. And holiday shopping started early, thanks to Amazon's October Prime Day.

U.S. ecommerce, already growing fast before the pandemic, accelerated when the pandemic hit the United States in March. But that’s just part of the story about how the COVID-19 crisis has changed shopping behavior around the world.

Recent studies reveal how dramatically consumer shopping habits have evolved over the past several months—and why the old normal of 2019 and the early months of 2020 is almost certainly gone for good.

In a global study released this week by Salesforce Inc., 63% of consumers said the way they obtain goods and services “transformed” during 2020 and 57% said the same about the ways they engage with companies. 62% said this year changed how they conduct their lives offline and an equal percentage said it changed their online lives.

Also, 58% of consumers said they expect to do more online shopping after the pandemic than they did before it and 80% of business buyers surveyed expect to do more business purchasing online in the post-pandemic era, compared with the pre-pandemic period.

Salesforce collected its data from a survey conducted from July 16 through Aug. 18, 2020. Respondents represented 27 countries on six continents. The study included responses from 12,000 consumers and 3,600 business buyers. Salesforce weighted the data to represent the general population accurately.

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While the world waits for vaccine or therapeutics capable of ending the pandemic, Salesforce found consumers now interact online with companies 60% of the time and offline 40% of the time. In 2019, the split was 42% online and 68% offline. And they expect to do more of the same in the future: 88% of customers expect companies of all kinds to accelerate digital initiatives due to the pandemic and 83% expect retailers to provide flexible shipping and fulfillment options such as buy-online-pick-up-in-store.

Also, 68% said COVID-19 elevated their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities, 61% expect to spend more time online after the pandemic than before it hit, and 60% said COVID-19 is changing their relationships with technology.

Salesforce also found a heightened awareness among consumers and business buyers about companies’ ethics and values and their suppliers. In the Salesforce survey, 71% of consumers said they pay closer attention to companies’ ethics than they did a year ago and 61% said they stopped buying from a company because its values did not align with theirs. Likewise, 75% of business buyers said vendors’ ethics increasingly factor into their purchasing decisions. 90% of consumers surveyed say how a company acts during a crisis reveals its trustworthiness. 51% of consumers trust a company more because of its response to this year’s crisis and 31% trust a company less for the same reason.

Holiday shopping started early, but it’s far from over

Like most other things in 2020, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Day event was different this year. Not only did Amazon hold the two-day sale on Oct. 13 and 14 (instead of  in July), the retailer benefited from many shoppers’ desire to buy holiday gifts early. Sales surpassed last year’s 48-hour event by 45.2%, an early Digital Commerce 360 analysis shows. Digital Commerce 360 estimates Amazon’s sales on 2020’s Prime Day hit $10.40 billion globally, up from an estimated $7.16 billion during the 48-hour event in July 2019.

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According to data from last-mile technology vendor Convey, shipment volume for the week of Prime Day increased 8.5% compared to the previous week. Last year, the week-over-week increase was 3.2%, Convey says.

“Moving Amazon Prime Day from July to October lured holiday shoppers to start early. In effect, Amazon has created a 75-day holiday season, instead of the typical 30-day sprint we see from Black Friday to Christmas,” says Carson Krieg, co-founder and director of strategic partnerships at Convey. “Second, with the pandemic still lingering across the U.S., people are still buying more online, whether for the safety it provides or due to shuttered stores. A new generation of consumers have learned to buy online this year and are shifting their buying behavior,” Krieg says.

Parcel carriers like United Parcel Service and FedEx have dealt with holiday-like spikes in shipping volume since the pandemic hit, Krieg says. He adds that Convey expects that kind of volume to continue during the holiday, which could mean higher costs for retailers as carriers place limits on the number of package pickups and increased surcharges.

“We are advising our retail clients to broaden their carrier networks and consider adding regional carriers, as well as encourage new fulfillment methods that don’t require residential shipping such as BOPIS. Perhaps most importantly, we’re advising retailers to communicate early and often around shipping delays so that consumers have transparency into when their gifts might arrive.” Krieg says.

Despite the early holiday shopping start thanks to Prime Day, most holiday shoppers are procrastinating, leaving a lot of potential sales for retailers to pursue, according to a survey from logistics vendor Pitney Bowes Inc. and Morning Consult, a data intelligence firm. 26% of consumers surveyed had started but not finished their holiday shopping and 6% had completed it. Also, 57% of consumers plan to shop online more this year and spend about $80 more overall (online and offline) than in 2019.

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According to the survey, 45% of consumers say they  do more than half of their current shopping online–nearly three times pre-pandemic. Breaking down the data a bit more, Pitney Bowes and Morning Consult found:

  • 12% of parents have already finished their holiday  shopping, while 52% have not started.
  • About 20% of adults expect to finish holiday shopping before Black Friday this year.
  • At 28% and 31%, respectively, millennials and parents with children at home are the most likely to finish shopping before Black Friday.
  • 86% of online shoppers expect to complete holiday shopping by the week of Christmas.
  • 14%  of online shoppers plan to finish their holiday shopping during the week of Christmas.

The Morning Consult conducted the survey on behalf of Pitney Bowes in October. The survey included 2,094 U.S. online shoppers ages 18 and above. Researchers conducted the survey online and the data was weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, education, gender, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

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