September 20th 2021

How COVID changed online retail

Study by MCI and ZHAW reveals massive behavioral changes in online retail since COVID-19 began

MCI-Professor Brauer: COVID-19 causes massive behavioral changes in online retailing.(c) MCI_Kasper
MCI-Professor Brauer: COVID-19 causes massive behavioral changes in online retailing.(c) MCI_Kasper

A recent research study among Austrian and Swiss online retailers conducted by MCI | The Entrepreneurial School® (Prof. Dr. Claudia Brauer) and ZHAW School of Management and Law (Dr. Darius Zumstein) showed that nine out of ten online stores grew in terms of sales during the COVID-19 pandemic and more than half gained a large number of new customers. In addition, customers buy more frequently from around 40% of online retailers, and from one in two of them also buy larger quantities. In this context, 92% of the online retailers surveyed also expect sustainable sales growth in the coming period.

Increase in online retail orders

In 2020, the online stores surveyed recorded an increase in orders in all product groups compared to 2019. Online retailers saw particularly strong growth in gardening and do-it-yourself items, toys, furniture and sports equipment, as well as food. By contrast, demand for computer, multimedia and electrical appliances, which has been very strong for years, flattened out slightly in 2020. A large proportion of online retailers also sell on digital marketplaces, such as Amazon.

Future forecasts and challenges

In response to this sales growth, the majority of online retailers have hired additional staff, especially in the e-commerce departments, as well as expanding warehouse capacities and investing in IT systems. The current challenges faced by online retailers also include problems with ordering: around three out of four providers state that suppliers are delayed or unable to deliver. Among omnichannel providers, more than half expect there to be fewer brick-and-mortar stores in the coming years. However, new shopping formats such as showrooms and click collect are being used as possible replacements for brick-and-mortar stores. The current study also shows that social media channels (especially Facebook and Instagram) and various messenger services are popular with customers as part of the sales process. However, many online retailers consider trade show appearances and retargeting as marketing tools to be less important for addressing customers. 
The most common payment methods among retailers in Austria and Switzerland include credit card and invoice, as has been the case for many years.

Online retail in MCI's curriculums

Claudia Brauer, MCI-professor, was instrumental in the study, which was published in September 2021. She is the academic director of the Executive Education Master Digital Marketing & Analytics, which deals with technical, strategic and legal application know-how in the field of strategy development and online marketing. Furthermore, she teaches at the Department of Business & Management at MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®.

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Mag. Susanne Crawford | Press & Project Management Marketing & Communications
Mag. Susanne Crawford Press & Project Management +43 512 2070 - 1527
Prof. Dr. Claudia Brauer | Professor Bachelor's program Business & Management
Prof. Dr. Claudia Brauer Professor +43 512 2070 - 3139