While every conceivable area of business has seen significant changes and shifts over the past year because of COVID-19, one of the most rapidly changing fields is that of e-commerce. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, with e-commerce seeing an absolute explosion in the decade preceding COVID-19 as the convenience of online shopping grew, and large brick-and-mortar enterprises struggled to compete. Still, COVID-19 represented a whole new era of growth. For many customers, having goods mailed directly to their homes was not only the easiest way to buy things during the pandemic, but it was also the safest.

Last week, Digital Commerce 360 hosted a virtual conference—Leading the 2021 E-commerce Charge. Featuring research and thought leaders working in this space, the event gave attendees a glimpse at how COVID-19 has changed the world of e-commerce and how companies went about responding to this black swan event. Here are some highlights from the event.

The Lay of the E-Commerce Land

The event kicked off with a trend report from Fareeha Ali, research and editorial director at Digital Commerce 360. She discussed some of the growth the Digital Commerce 360 research team is reporting in the e-commerce space. Right off the bat, 2020 represented a huge amount of growth for e-commerce, with 32% more use than years past.

“In other words, it was a big year in e-commerce,” Ali said. A few areas of web e-commerce growth highlighted included a 100% increase in food and beverage orders, along with increases in the toys and hobbies and consumer electronics spaces.

The growth seen in 2020 didn’t slow down this year. Ali discussed some data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which showed that online sales were up 39% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 14% increase last year—this represents the highest first quarter growth rate since 2001. Certain parts of e-commerce are seeing a lot of growth, including curbside pick-up. This year, 52% of top 500 retail chains are now offering omnichannel services, up from 8% in 2020.

How COVID-19 Affected Fulfillment

Another session lead by James Melton, research analyst at Digital Commerce 360, featured a roundtable with Lev Peker, CEO and director of CarParts.com; Bob Goodliffe, CEO of Cyberweld.com; and Adam Greenberg, president and founder of NorthShore.com, discussing how fulfillment radically shifted during COVID-19 and how each organization responded.

Greenberg spoke about the volume fluctuations his and other companies have seen over the past year. NorthShore.com sells medical supplies and immediately began seeing sales increases in February 2020, culminating in the panic buying surge the U.S. saw in March and April, with ups and downs correlating with the news of the day. Ultimately, supplies depleted, with NorthShore.com having to turn off the advertising on certain products.

Martin asked the group about the fulfillment changes that helped each organization get through the pandemic. Greenberg mentioned how the organization’s move to a new distribution center, with automation capabilities, in March 2020 eventually helped alleviate some of the complexities associated with COVID-19. He also discussed how NorthShore.com tried to incentivize customers to order earlier—reducing wait times—and in larger amounts—to reduce the number of packages in the fulfillment system.

Similarly, Peker discussed the importance of communicating with the customer.

“[The] number one things we’ve done is let the customer know up front when parts are coming … and telling them about delays in the system,” he said, while touching on his organization’s practice of providing email and text updates on the location of an order in the fulfillment system.

Similarly, Goodliffe also covered the importance of informing customers where their order is, noting that sometimes estimations of deliveries—especially in the current supply chain ecosystem—can sometimes change. He emphasized the importance of finding out lead-time delays and communicating effectively with customers.

ASUG will be tackling a few of these topics and more at ASUGFORWARD. Join us on June 21‒24 for sessions with SAP customers and experts. ASUG members also register for our executive programming on June 15‒17, featuring SAP leaders. Register now for these virtual experiences.

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