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E-commerce sales growth slows down. What’s next?

January 6, 2022


Almost two years have passed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that reshaped life as we know it and disrupted numerous industries. Although vaccines and treatments are now widely available in most countries, new variants of the virus continue to emerge and, with them, new concerns. As many people were preparing for what could have been the first holiday season with some degree of normalcy since the start of the crisis, the new Omicron variant appeared in South Africa only to alter those plans and disrupt most sectors of the economy.

To make matters worse, a key US inflation measure rose to the highest level in almost forty years, as US consumer prices increased 5.7% in 2021. This proved to be the fastest increase since July 1982 and left many Americans struggling with higher prices right at the beginning of the holiday shopping season. With inflation surging, and the Omicron variant now estimated to be 58.6% of the total coronavirus cases in the US, it comes as no surprise that e-commerce sales growth also slowed down in December. However, online retailers have already proved that new technologies and marketing efforts can be powerful weapons when fighting a global crisis. It remains to be seen if they will be enough in 2022 and beyond.

Online sales growth slowed down

According to the new Mastercard SpendingPulse report, US e-commerce sales rose at a much slower pace in the holiday season of 2021 when compared with previous years. Online sales made up 20.9% of total retail sales, barely up three points from 20.6% in 2020. While e-commerce continues to experience high growth as some consumers prefer the ease of shopping from home, this growth is smaller than expected. However, it might be worth noting that US shoppers have made more online purchases this holiday season than last year.

In recent years, e-commerce experienced a boom that appeared as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdowns that followed it, and the need to impose social distancing measures. However, as people are adapting to the ‘new normal’ and new vaccines and treatments continue to appear, many customers are also returning to brick-and-mortar stores.

New technologies proved essential for e-commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic not only influenced the way people shop, but also the way they live, work and have fun. While lockdowns and social distancing measures became a part of day-to-day life, technology also became an important ally in fighting the pandemic and its consequences. E-commerce is no stranger to new technologies, as most online retailers in the US and abroad used them to boost their sales, deliver their products in due time and provide better services to their customers. However, many are wondering which technologies will be here to stay well after the end of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already proved that our global systems and supply chains are fragile, which means that smart supply chain optimization may become a game-changer for many online retailers. Social commerce is another influential trend that will probably help global retailers boost sales for many years to come—as they rely on social media platforms as vehicles to sell products and services.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a global crisis

While many people had hoped life will return to normal in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a global crisis that disrupted most sectors of our global economy. Even with vaccines and treatments widely available, a rise in inflation, the emergence of new variants of COVID-19, and a supply chain crisis like no other quickly became important issues for global online retailers. New solutions to these problems also appeared, as companies and governments all around the globe struggled to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

Maybe one of the most significant lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that perseverance and flexibility are essential in any crisis, and especially so during a global pandemic. These two qualities are essential for global online retailers because they are bound to experience new concerns and new challenges in 2022. Making adaptable plans, choosing the right technologies and adapting the old strategies to fit a new paradigm may prove not only prudent, but also vital for most businesses.