A recent survey by Angus Reid, commissioned by EMERGE Commerce, has found that COVID-19 pandemic habits developed when it comes to online shopping will persist even when the current health crisis is long over.
Consumers are increasingly getting used to the convenience and ease of shopping from home and avoiding other people in stores. That will become the new normal, post-pandemic for many of them.
In fact, the recent release of Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker indicated that about 50 percent of consumers said they will be doing more shopping online compared to 2019.
The Angus Reid survey found that only 51 percent of people in Ontario plan to return to in-person shopping post-pandemic, with just eight percent of them shopping primarily in-person during the pandemic, compared to a massive 82 percent of Ontarians that shopped primarily in-person pre-pandemic.
Ghassan Halazon, CEO of EMERGE, a diversified, rapidly-growing acquirer and operator of e-commerce assets, said the results of the survey doesn’t surprise him.
“It just solidifies what we’ve been seeing across our ecosystem of EMERGE Commerce properties,” said Halazon. “There was a pause. But when this pandemic struck, there was this macro acceleration of online shopping behaviour. I suppose the million-dollar question was, what’s next? How will this curve look like a year or two out? And I think we’re starting to now get early glimpses of the new world which is online first. There’s no such thing as offline commerce or ecommerce. It’s really now just commerce and where consumers are at it happens to be online — increasingly.
“With the numbers, if I had to guess, I would have probably guessed around there. So nothing shocking to me. But I’m a practitioner here with our ecommerce portfolio. We get to see how consumers are voting with their wallets online.”
EMERGE was named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada by the Startup 50, and the Globe and Mail’s 2020 Canada’s Top Growing Companies.
Halazon said the trend to online will continue to grow the longer the pandemic sticks around and lockdowns are in place.
“Every additional quarter or year that this drags on I think just more and more people build these habits of doing shopping the easier, more convenient, cheaper way,” he said.
“I think user experience and optimizing the site, whether that’s desktop or mobile first, has a lot to do with how consumers ultimately convert online. So conversion rates are that much higher for optimized sites and simplified user-friendly sites. People are looking for an authentic voice these days. So transparency and authenticity are themes that consumers increasingly reward online shopping portals for when they see it.
“Of course, front and centre is ultimately the pricing, the shipping cost, and the logistics, effectively what is perceived as cost-effective shopping is also definitely at the top of consumer preferences or focus.”
Halazon offered some examples of EMERGE’s key portfolio companies to illustrate the growth in online shopping.
The company acquired truLOCAL on December 31, 2020 and Halazon described it as the market leader in premium meat subscriptions. It connects local farmers and grass-fed meat with a health-conscious, digitally-savvy audience online. That was a $20 million revenue business last year. The prior year it was only a $8.9 million revenue business.
“That’s an example of how the pandemic supercharged shopping for groceries,” said Halazon. “Grocery has been a huge category that was propelled by the pandemic and truLOCAL is Exhibit A.
“The other segment we can speak to and share some phenomenal results is golf, golf products. We have a website that’s powered by Shopify called JustGolfStuff.ca. It grew tremendously during the pandemic. You’re talking about a couple of thousand percentage points of growth that it has seen. We saw golf equipment, apparel, and golf balls grow. Obviously the pandemic made golf the envy of all other experiences. At a time when everything was locked down one of the only things that were allowed was to play golf. It brought together all these new demographics into the sport which resulted in people not only buying vouchers to play golf but also golf equipment.”
The golf website in February of this year grew by 4,000 percent from a year ago. The truLOCAL site grew 116 percent year over year.
“Golf and grocery are our two biggest categories. Both saw huge growth. And we believe they’re here to stay. People shopping for meat online has changed forever. If you tried it and it works, you’re very likely to stick around,” said Halazon.
He said truLOCAL is the company’s fifth overall acquisition and the largest revenue business, doubling every year. It’s also EMERGE’s first foray into subscriptions.
“We’re looking to build out our food tech platform through truLOCAL and through other acquisitions in grocery and food tech. We think that’s a big vertical for us and of course we continue to focus on the golf business,” added Halazon.