Online shopping has dominated the retail industry during the pandemic. From tools to food, even the most loyal window shoppers have opted to buy through their computers or phones. In a web call on Sept. 9, Google highlighted five new trends that poignantly reminded retailers of the need to refine their online portals.

1. Canadians are shopping more online now than ever before

A Deloitte report succinctly relayed the devastation COVID-19 had on brick-and-mortar shops: between 450 to 700 stores across Canada have closed. Worries over transmission had forced Canadians to dial back on mall visits, wholesale clubs, and grocery runs.

Whereas physical retail tumbled, online retail has thrived. Historically, Canadian e-commerce grew at about 20 per cent per year. But due to store closures, online shopping has boomed 200 per cent on average compared to last year. After the spike in March, it slowly tapered off to a 70 per cent increase in June. Online orders for groceries, comfy items and furniture saw the fastest growth.

The upward trend suggests a massive online shopping spree come holiday season. Google found that 61 per cent of Canadians prefer shopping online this year. With the pandemic ongoing, a third of Canadians who normally shopped in-store for Black Friday say they’ll be shifting to purchasing online.

Increased online shopping demands the shopping experience to be even more seamless. Because of the unexpectedly increased orders, retailers experienced difficulties meeting this demand. Google found that 42 per cent of Canadians reported hiccups when shopping online during the pandemic. These issues included shipping delays, pricing confusion, stock availability, and pickup/delivery arrangements.

Hopefully, retailers will be better equipped this holiday season.

2. Holiday shopping will start earlier

Both shoppers and retailers are preparing for an early holiday season this year. It’s only October, and retailers are already displaying ads for Boxing Day and Christmas shopping. It’s not just retailers who are eager, 65 per cent of consumers are also shopping earlier to avoid large crowds. The shopping trend affects both online and in-person sales.

An example is the observations seen during Mother’s day period. Worried over shipping delays, consumers started searching for gifts weeks ahead of Mother’s Day. The looming Black Friday saw similar search patterns. Searches for Black Friday deals increased by 16 per cent year over year, and 64 per cent compared to 2018.

3. In-person shopping now abetted by digital touchpoints

Although business restrictions will extend into the late holiday seasons (and likely beyond), physical retail won’t be completely decoupled from the shopping experience.

Nevertheless, Canadians shopping in-stores want to make fewer trips and avoid large crowds. Thirty per cent of Canadians say they’re nervous to shop in-store. To make sure they don’t have to visit multiple locations, shoppers are relying on online stock checks before heading out.

Social distancing rules caused curbside pickup orders to increase by 3000 per cent globally. In Canada, the largest spike came in March when Canada first applied its lockdown procedures. Although social distancing rules relaxed, curbside pick up order demands in Canada stayed elevated compared to previous years.

Canadian Tire was one of the first major retailers to deploy a curbside pickup system when the pandemic hit. According to its financial report, online sales increased by 400 per cent to 600 million in Q2 alone, more than all of its online sales in the entire 2019.

4. Canadians are trying new things

Google said that a third of Canadians are trying new brands for the first time. Online shopping has made it easy for customers to expand their brand knowledge. Moreover, when customers don’t find something they’re looking for, they shift to an alternative.

But Canadians are shopping more locally as well. Searches for local shops in Canada are up 190 per cent. This is motivated by factors like faster shipping times and a shorter commute. Skincare and jewelry are among the favorite search terms in relation to local shops.

5. Luxury spending redirected to home improvement

Travel and tourism were ravaged by border restrictions and wide-spread closures. People are also less willing to travel as the pandemic is still not under control in many countries.

With nowhere to go, people are investing their vacation spending towards their homes. Searches for items like air purifiers are up 400 per cent this year. Travel restrictions expected to continue throughout winter and retailers should expect a similar trend to follow.

In-person gift exchange will become a rarity this holiday. While relaxed social distancing rules and general complacency have goated some to socialize, many are still worried about safety. One interesting trend is that gift card purchases have risen dramatically. Google said that a third of Canadian shoppers plan on buying gift cards, and about the same number plan on shipping their gifts directly to the recipient.

Following this trend, Google advises retailers to prominently feature gift cards on their website and to promptly notify shipping delays to its customers. Additionally, retailers should consider complimenting gift purchases with personalization options such as gift wrapping or handwritten notes.

Conversely, buyers are looking to reward themselves as well. Social distancing’s negative impact on mental health has been well documented. Many people are looking forward to alleviating their stress this holiday with little rewards like skincare products and other simple indulgences. Google recommends that retailers adjust their sales pitch to remind consumers that this holiday season is also a celebration of self, not just others.

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