Between January and May 2020, the number of new online consumers in the country tripled from 700,000 to two million. “Proximity commerce” and Click&Collect systems have proven to be the most successful models so far
While sectors such as clothing and lifestyle have been struggling to cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, in one area at least, Italian business has been booming in recent months: e-commerce.
The national lockdown which closed non-essential businesses and obliged Italians to remain at home has given the e-commerce sector a huge boost in a country whose consolidated cash culture has historically made it diffident towards adopting innovative retail systems. Between January and May 2020, the number of new online consumers in the country tripled from 700,000 to two million as Italian consumption patterns and methods of shipping and delivery all adapted in record time to the changed circumstances.
For many business owners, digital commerce offered a vital and unique lifeline which allowed them to maintain a relationship with their customers while at the same time guaranteeing those customers continuity of service.
One e-commerce model that gained a solid foothold in the country during the lockdown is what has become known as ‘proximity commerce’, which permits small businesses to make use of the logistics and delivery platforms of major e-commerce players in order to allow them to reach local customers. Over the same period, Click & Collect systems – which give customers the opportunity to order products online and then pick them up in the shop – have seen growth of 349%. Figures presented at Netcomm Forum Live show that the sectors which have seen the most growth online are personal care products (up 93%), home care products (up 126%) and fresh and packaged foods (up 130%), pet care topping the list with growth of 154%. Despite this, though, interest in developing omnichannel approaches to retail and implementing smart store apps remains low in the country.
Until a few months ago, the rapid scaling up of e-commerce services across Italy to the point of their being practically ubiquitous would have appeared inconceivable, but thanks to the convenience and flexibility they offer, as well as their facilitation of physical distancing, they are now well on their way to becoming consolidated habits, and it is unlikely that customers will be willing to give them up once circumstances normalise.
Whatever the future holds, it seems probable that once we have emerged from the crisis, e-commerce will continue play an indispensable role in the recovery of trade and consumption in Italy and worldwide as we go forward.
As the success of proximity commerce and click & collect demonstrate, the new normal will be increasingly digital, and the challenge that retailers, companies and small and medium enterprises now face is to use the situation triggered by Covid-19 as an incentive to transform their approach and turn e-commerce from an accessory into a fundamental service for businesses and consumers alike.