Increase in online sales and decrease in in-store sales as a consequence of the lockdown. This is how we could summarise the impact of the pandemic on purchases in Italy, but we know that there is much more to it and that a more careful analysis of the data can provide everyone with a broader perspective of what has occurred and, above all, of the potential framework of a retail context with the opportunity to seize a unique moment to innovate and make a quantum leap towards an increasingly omnichannel customer.
A large part of the Italian population - fourth-to-last in Europe in 2019 according to DESI¹, an index that tracks the digitisation progress of the Union's member countries - suddenly found itself forced to resort to digital services to meet needs that, until then, they had preferred to satisfy in person.
Purchasing habits have changed and the lockdown has favoured Ecommerce, but the transformation has also affected other aspects. GroupM, the largest advertising media company in the world, observed consumer behaviour in four digital areas during the pandemic emergency: media consumption, health and well-being, improvement of the living environment and social relationships.
The consumption of video content - through OTT and smart TV - increased by 51% and the per capita average of network TV increased by 77 minutes. More time to devote to oneself and the family, together with the impossibility of going out, also resulted in an increase in visits to sites dedicated to cooking, in some cases even by 60%.
Demonstrating Italians' desire to take care of their homes while in "quarantine" is a 56% increase in video views dedicated to home decor and in visits to sites selling household products, +57% from desktop and +44% from mobile.
The most striking data of all, however, is that of calls and video calls, which increased to 900% peaks in order to allow the maintenance of social relationships, even if at a distance.
Axerve Ecommerce Solutions, a leader in the Ecommerce payments sector which indeed serves around 50% of the online stores active in Italy, has a privileged view which allows it to monitor the sales trends in Italy. These trends marked significant growth during the Italian lockdown period: in April, credit cards recorded YoY growth of +184%, while in May, despite the partial reopening of shops, there was +176% YoY growth. Alternative payments - such as digital wallets and local platforms - recorded YoY growth of +164% in April and +158% in May.
With the increase in the consumption of digital services, customers' expectations of companies have also changed. Until recently, the ability to satisfy a need through the use of digital services, compared to the more traditional ways, was unknown or considered irrelevant by many.
The gradual return to normal, starting from "Phase 2", does not necessarily correspond to a return to old habits in a very short period of time, because the expectations of customers have changed along with these habits, and they are increasingly more difficult to identify within clearly distinct categories: the separation of analogue and digital customers are categorisations that have less and less meaning.
This does not mean that experiences in companies' offline channels are destined to disappear, but instead that they need to be transformed and quickly respond to a new consumer. And the in-store purchasing experience is destined to change, introducing digital elements that are able to enrich a more complex customer journey.
Along this path of change, the moment of payments plays a strategic role. The period we are experiencing is a great opportunity to accelerate the retail renewal process that was already underway.
"Our point of view of the payment systems in use in the physical world today has prompted us to critically evaluate both contactless cards and alternative payments, as we cannot fully guarantee the social distancing that the consumer expects." Alessandro Bocca, CEO of Axerve.
Integrating tools that digitise cash within the purchase process, advanced POSs that allow integrating proprietary applications thanks to Android operating systems, or even adopting digital payment solutions that reduce payment times by sending a link via email or a photograph of a QR Code can make the difference and respond to a customer whose expectations are ever-higher and are aligned with the offer of the big online players.
Martino Boselli - Elena Mirò Brand Director of the Miroglio Group - said about Axerve Pay by Link: “Thanks to this solution, we have developed the 'shopping at home' service for all the Miroglio Group stores' loyal customers: Elena Mirò, Motivi, Oltre, Fiorella Rubino and Caractère. With dedicated video calls, our personal stylists illustrate the collections and offer advice on outfits. Customers receive the desired items at home and use their credit card to pay for only those they wish to keep. It is a particularly interesting solution for those customers who do not want to give up a personalised shopping experience, but prefer to enjoy it in the full tranquillity of their home".
In short, reducing friction thanks to flexible solutions that can be integrated into the sales path without generating entrance barriers, to meet the needs of a customer in constant transformation: this is the challenge physical retail is facing today and which, with the right tools, it will be able to brilliantly overcome.
¹The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI)
Online shopping and coronavirus: how consumers are changing.
In recent years, among the most common digital payment methods, new alternative payment solutions have been proliferating.