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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Consumer Purchases

Introduction

By now, it is not too soon to claim that the COVID-19 global pandemic has caused defining events for the consumer purchase industry that will have implications that last for decades. The situation is rapidly changing. The number of people considered safe to gathering one location has reduced from thousands to just a handful (Hasanat et al, 2020). Shops, restaurants, movie theatres, sports stadia, libraries and gyms in many cities are currently shut down. The few open retail shops are forced to have most of their workers work from home as they resort to serve clients online.

One of the significant responses of people to this period of isolation and social distancing is the rapid change in shopping behaviour – where people buy items in bulk and shop online (Elrhim & Elsayed, 2020). According to Gao et al (2020), people are changing what they are buying, how and where. As more cities and shopping centres are going under lockdowns, customers are generally avoiding crowded places and non-essential businesses are closing (Pantelimon et al, 2020). In this regard, Shazad et al (2020), noted that people have limited their shopping to only the essential – and this is becoming the new normal. Consequently, retail brands have had to be flexible enough to meet their changing needs.

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Recent data by Mintel (2020) indicate that there has been a growth in online fashion sales by 26% in 2020. The reports further clarify that this jump in sales is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also caused a shift towards online shopping of fashion clothing and an increased online demand for the same. Further report by Mintel show that 42% of generation Z demographics and 38% of the millennial demographics have purchased their fashion items directly from social media, compared to 23% of the average population.

According to Mintel (2020), the lockdown restrictions have increased the rate of social media usage and this has triggered more online following of fashion brands from younger generation. As the pandemic persists, the roll out of Instagram and Facebook shops and a focus on independent sellers have given more opportunity for the fashion niche to increase their presence in the competitive fashion market (Mintel, 2020).

But Tran (2021) claim that much of the purchase behavioural changes are attributable to the panic buying occasioned by COVID-19. As the virus was officially declared a pandemic by WHO (Brem et al, 2021), people resorted to restocking. Essential products like toiletries, hand sanitisers and bread were so much in high demand that both online and brick and mortar stores were running out of them (Han et al, 2020). The main aim of the proposed study is to provide insights into consumer behaviour changes and how these changes shave impacted online shopping in the fashion industry.

1.1 Research Aim

To investigate the impact of COVID-19 on online fashion shopping

1.2 Research question

What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on online fashion shopping?

1.3 Research objectives

1. To identify the impact of COVID-19 on the growth of online fashion shopping

2. To investigate changes in people’s preferences for brick and mortar stores

3. To compare online retails with brick and mortar fashion retails during the COVID-19 pandemic

The proposed study will contribute to the existing literature in several ways. First, it will investigate the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on fashion e-commerce. Second, it will explore whether the impact of COVID-19 influenced an increase in e-commerce adoption in the UK. Specifically, it examines whether people will continue buying fashion clothing through the internet and physical stores or whether they will completely abandon physical shopping. More importantly, the findings of this study will inform policies aimed at helping those affected by COVID-19 in the UK.

In a practical perspective, the findings of this study will of great importance to fashion e-commerce market players by helping them to identify trends and put the big picture into perspective. The study will put a spotlight on e-commerce and highlight important issues to be considered when running or launching a new fashion e-commerce business during this time of the pandemic. It will analyse the trends and their meanings, evaluating whether launching or running an e-commerce business at this time is a fad or a good idea.

The study will also help potential fashion e-commerce entrepreneurs to take a deep dive into the e-commerce market and understand how COVID-19 influences consumer purchase behaviour. Buy exposing a vivid picture of the relationship between the current COVID-19 pandemic and e-commerce, the study will help entrepreneurs’ trash or justify their proposed e-commerce businesses.

1.4 Literature review

The retail industry is experiencing monumental changes during the pandemic, and the future is challenging. In research by Mintel (2020) on the impact of COVID-19 on retail and e-commerce, the researchers identified a divided impact of the pandemic on the retailers: those offering essential products such as groceries and toiletries experienced high demand while the non-essential retailers such as those selling clothes experienced a steep sales decline – some forced to close shop.

Furthermore, reports by Mintel (2020) indicate that in the medium term, consumers will have a cautious return in in-store shopping by some consumers who like to see and interact with the products before they buy – considering that some retailers shall have established enough hygiene protocols. Therefore, the focus will shift to clean shopping – hygiene measures and increased use of technology becoming the norm. meanwhile, it is expected that in the medium term, consumers might give up on buying some products (e.g. technological products) as the economic impact of the pandemic become more apparent (Han et al, 2020). Moreover, as Mintl (2020) adds, the depressed economy will force consumers to be more cautious about buying expensive products.

However, estimates that in the long-term, competition among retailers will be leaner as many retailers will be forced to either close shop or reduce operations to survive during the recession. On the other hand, Shazad et al (2020) remarked that as the economy rebounds, consumers are expected to value cautious and it might take many years before they return to their pre-COVID spending levels.

Studies by Gu & Wang (2020) also indicate a sector-based fluctuation in e-commerce sales. As consumers were forced into lockdown, they spent more time online to avoid queues at grocery stores and supermarkets – as well as to avoid the risk of contracting the virus through physical contact. According to Salem & Nor (2020), companies selling essential products saw an upsurge in online sales, but this was enough to mitigate the decline in sales because consumers limited their priorities and spending. However, Salem & Nor (2020) predicts growth of online sales in the medium term with the growth of total spending – but much of the focus will be on essential products.

As more consumers continue to acknowledge the importance of cutting off the chances of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, it is unsurprising that more people are resorting to online purchase of groceries and other essential products (Brem et al, 2021). However, the online purchase of groceries and other food items is also characterised by some uncertainties since several high-profile food safety scandals e.g. the Horsemeat scandal that has since challenged the public’s confidence in UK’s domestic food industry (Han et al, 2020). for instance, Salem & Nor (2020) pointed out that food sold online have a potential hazard related to inappropriate endpoint storage temperatures that affect specific types of food such as meat.

Furthermore, there are new challenges to online shopping associated with COVID-19. For instance, the buyer does not know who has handled the food or grocery or whether the person delivering the product had contracted COVID-19. According to Shazad et al (2020), this perceived risk of purchasing online products may affect consumer choice to shop online. On the other hand, based on the UK’s developed e-commerce industry, the logistics and delivery systems in the UK have matured up, even though the distribution of fresh groceries in some small cities might still be experiencing some challenges (Han et al, 2020). Therefore, the choice of online shopping may be heterogeneous among different locations and cities.

2.0 Research methodology

The proposed study will use the narrative literature review methodology to identify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on e-commerce. According to Esser & Vliegenthart (2017), a narrative literature review entails the identification, analysis and synthesis of secondary data to identify research evidence that are relevant to the research question at hand. It entails a systematic identification and selection of the most relevant literature materials and reviewing them to establish their position on the issue at hand (Drawson et al, 2017).

In business research, e-commerce has remained an interesting topic of focus to many researchers – not only in terms of the emerging trends and practices in retail commerce but also effective tools of managing and executing various managerial functions such as marketing (Queiros et al, 2017). Furthermore, many researchers have gained interest in understanding how the COVID-19 has impacted the general landscape of the retail industry, triggering a series of empirical research on this area of study. As such, it is particularly important to explore what researchers have found about the impact of COVID-19, comparing the findings and coming up with a more comprehensive conclusion of what that impact looks like.

To identify and select the most appropriate secondary data for the proposed study, the researcher will rely on a systematic search strategy. Here, the researcher will systematically search and select journal articles, industry reports and statistics and analyse their findings to develop a comprehensive evidence-based report. These pieces of literature material (and indeed those used in the proposal to conduct the literature review) will be retrieved from various online databases such as ProQuest, EBSCO and online search engines such as Google Scholar. According to Cassell et al (2017), online databases have become popular among researchers due to their ability to facilitate an easier and more efficient search of literature material on virtually any topic of study. That said, the three online sources are specifically chosen due to their abundance of business literature material.

Apart from the secondary sources of data (i.e. journal articles and industry reports), the proposed study might also rely on primary data for further expansion on this topic. Here, the study might conduct interview surveys with stakeholders in the e-commerce industry to understand their take on how COVID-19 has impacted their business. For this purpose, the study will use a convenient sampling technique to select a few e-commerce entrepreneurs to give their opinions on how COVID-19 has impacted on online retail. Ideally, convenient sampling is a method of selecting research participants based on their availability (Allen, 2017). Considering the current lockdown situation, it would be difficult to access and convince potential participants to participate in such a s study. Therefore, convenient sampling presents the best avenue for accessing the participants.

According to Allen (2017), surveys as a form of qualitative research is especially useful when the researcher wants to collect subjective data on a research topic – allowing them to gather first-hand information from the participants. It is a naturalistic enquiry that seeks to understand the situation as it is, from the perspective of the people experiencing it.

Meanwhile, the collected data will be analysed through content analysis. According to Allen (2017), content analysis is a research tool used to identify various words, concepts or themes from any form of textual data useful in answering a specific research question. It entails analysing the presence, relationships and meanings of textual content to develop a coherent conclusion about the phenomenon under investigation (Queiros et al, 2017). a significant advantage of the content analysis method is that it is an unobtrusive means of analysing data because it relies on the textual data derived from the data source. Therefore, by conducting a content analysis on selected journal articles, the researcher will be able to unobtrusively gather pieces of evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce. To effectively conduct a content analysis on the interview responses, the researcher will transcribe the interview responses verbatim before continuing with the analysis.

Meanwhile, there are several ethical considerations that the researcher will make to promote the quality validity of the study. For instance, all the reviewed literature materials will be referenced to acknowledge the source. Furthermore, the researcher will seek permission from any sources that require author permission before use.

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References

Allen, M. ed., 2017. The SAGE encyclopedia of communication research methods. Sage Publications.

Brem, A., Viardot, E. and Nylund, P.A., 2021. Implications of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak for innovation: Which technologies will improve our lives?. Technological forecasting and social change, 163, p.120451.

Cassell, C., Cunliffe, A.L. and Grandy, G. eds., 2017. The SAGE handbook of qualitative business and management research methods. Sage.

Chu, H. and Ke, Q., 2017. Research methods: What's in the name?. Library & Information Science Research, 39(4), pp.284-294.

Drawson, A.S., Toombs, E. and Mushquash, C.J., 2017. Indigenous research methods: A systematic review. International Indigenous Policy Journal, 8(2).

Elrhim, M.A. and Elsayed, A., 2020. The Effect of COVID-19 Spread on the e-commerce market: The case of the 5 largest e-commerce companies in the world. Available at SSRN 3621166.

Elrhim, M.A. and Elsayed, A., 2020. The Effect of COVID-19 Spread on the e-commerce market: The case of the 5 largest e-commerce companies in the world. Available at SSRN 3621166.

Esser, F. and Vliegenthart, R., 2017. Comparative research methods. The international encyclopedia of communication research methods, pp.1-22.

Gao, X., Shi, X., Guo, H. and Liu, Y., 2020. To buy or not buy food online: The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the adoption of e-commerce in China. PloS one, 15(8), p.e0237900.

GU, H.Y. and WANG, C.W., 2020. Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on vegetable production and countermeasures from an agricultural insurance perspective. Journal of Integrative Agriculture, 19(12), pp.2866-2876.

Guo, H., Liu, Y., Shi, X. and Chen, K.Z., 2020. The role of e-commerce in the urban food system under COVID-19: lessons from China. China Agricultural Economic Review.

Guo, H., Liu, Y., Shi, X. and Chen, K.Z., 2020. The role of e-commerce in the urban food system under COVID-19: lessons from China. China Agricultural Economic Review.

Han, B.R., Sun, T., Chu, L.Y. and Wu, L., 2020. COVID-19 and E-commerce Operations: Evidence From Alibaba. Available at SSRN 3654859.

Hasanat, M.W., Hoque, A., Shikha, F.A., Anwar, M., Hamid, A.B.A. and Tat, H.H., 2020. The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on e-business in Malaysia. Asian Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, 3(1), pp.85-90.

IMRG Capgemini 2021. UK January online retail sales grow 74% year-on-year. Accessed from: https://econsultancy.com/stats-roundup-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-ecommerce/ (Accessed on 4/13/21)

Mintel Group Limited 2020. The Impact of Covid on Retail and e-commerce. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUMLGGBDTSE&t=143s (Accessed on 3/21/2021).

Pantelimon, F.V., Georgescu, T.M. and Posedaru, B.Ş., 2020. The Impact of Mobile e-Commerce on GDP: A Comparative Analysis between Romania and Germany and how Covid-19 Influences the e-Commerce Activity Worldwide. Informatica Economica, 24(2), pp.27-41.

Queirós, A., Faria, D. and Almeida, F., 2017. Strengths and limitations of qualitative and quantitative research methods. European Journal of Education Studies.

Salem, M.A. and Nor, K.M., 2020. The Effect Of COVID-19 On Consumer Behaviour In Saudi Arabia: Switching From Brick And Mortar Stores To E-Commerce. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research, 9(07), pp.15-28.

Shahzad, A., Hassan, R., Abdullah, N.I., Hussain, A. and Fareed, M., 2020. COVID-19 impact on e-commerce usage: An empirical evidence from Malaysian healthcare industry. Humanities & Social Sciences Reviews, 8(3), pp.599-609.

Tran, L.T.T., 2021. Managing the effectiveness of e-commerce platforms in a pandemic. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 58, p.102287.


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