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In the new Roaring '20s, consumers are stocking up on the products they love and seeking out variety

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Analysts can barely keep up with the skyward trajectory of online retail sales. The evidence is in the numbers. In 2020, more than 2 billion people worldwide bought goods and services online, spending $4.2 trillion. While the recent global pandemic has ignited the explosion in e-commerce, consumers have developed a fervent, enduring taste for online shopping. And many observers predict that when we emerge from the COVID-19 storm, we can expect an even more robust shopping scenario. They anticipate a period similar to the Roaring '20s, when commerce boomed at the end of the 1918 flu pandemic. The difference this time is that most shopping will be done online.

Between April 25 and April 30, 2021, Rightpoint, a Genpact company, surveyed 1,000 US millennial, Gen X, Gen Z, and baby boomer consumers about their online shopping habits in the previous six-month period. The goal was to learn more about customer expectations in this accelerating era of e-commerce. With a sharp focus on the beauty and personal care, fashion, and home categories, we asked consumers about channel preferences, purchase motivations, and the kinds of goods they are buying. Three key insights emerged.

1. Consumers are relying on e-commerce more than ever

Some 70% of those polled say they purchased items online at least once a week over a six-month period. In addition, a remarkable 94% say they are satisfied with their e-commerce experiences. And they believe online shopping will continue to meet their needs.

The quest for variety as well as for familiar, reliable products is important to respondents. Some 81% say they prefer sites that offer unlimited product options, while 70% look for consistency so they can buy large quantities of the products they love.

Respondents' shopping spanned a wide range of categories and products, and their confidence in e-commerce indicates how prolific buying from home has become.

  • Nearly 60% of respondents say they spent $75 a month in the previous six months shopping for beauty and personal care products online
  • 54% used e-commerce for fashion and apparel purchases, spending an average of just under $500 a month
  • 79% of those shopping for goods in the beauty, fashion, and wellness categories say shopping online is the best way to check things off their to-do list
  • 50% of the shoppers polled spent an average of just over $1,400 online on furniture, bedding, and products for the home. They cite comparison shopping, convenience, and breadth of choice as their principal reasons for buying online

The majority of respondents buying groceries and household goods say they still prefer brick-and-mortar stores: 41% make these purchases online. This may suggest that post-pandemic, US shoppers are reverting to in-store shopping to ensure they have access to more varied, readily available, and fresher goods.

2. Consumers are seeking out variety and stocking up on items they love

The survey also identifies two distinct profiles of e-commerce consumers – seekers and stockers.

In this context, seeking consumers – largely urban millennials with household incomes of $150,000 or more – are those who engage in brand experimentation and trial. They turn to e-commerce because they thrive on newness, the community experience, and the latest trends.

By contrast, stocking consumers find comfort in the status quo. Mainly from Gen X and baby boomer cohorts, most are brand loyalists who prefer consistency. They tend to live in the suburbs or rural areas and have combined household incomes of under $100,000.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents engaged in some seeking or stocking activities over the six-month period explored by the survey.

3. Consumers crave variety and novelty

Rightpoint created an experimentation index to get a sense of consumers' appetite for trying new things. It isolated four characteristics in the survey responses to measure this behavior:

  • Willingness to discover new products
  • Spending habits
  • Variety of products purchased
  • Motivation to try new, novelty items

Discovery, spending, and novelty show the greatest variability by age. The index indicates that millennials are the most adventurous generation, particularly in home shopping and fashion. Not surprisingly, seeking behavior is most common in fashion for every cohort. By contrast, in the beauty and wellness categories, every generation prefers to stock up on familiar brands. And every cohort seeks variety.

The takeaways

The survey findings point to several ways retailers can take advantage of the strong upsurge in e-commerce:

  • Encourage and support consumer trust by making online channels efficient and easy to use
  • Engage customers by making convenience of paramount importance
  • Offer as wide an array of products as possible online
  • Innovate supply chains for more transparency around inventory and product availability
  • Create personas for both stockers and seekers
  • Suggest relevant products to customers based on these personas
  • Make other recommendations based on generational attributes, spending power, and category affinity
  • Differentiate your company's brand through pricing, merchandising, and storytelling

According to the Rightpoint survey, the online shopping surge shows no signs of abating. To capitalize on this movement, use these insights and takeaways to delight customers by consistently bringing them the online experiences they've come to expect.

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