By Gaia Stanzani
I was always skeptic of Online shopping, convinced that physical purchase trumped virtual purchase. However, during the lock down, spurred by a mixture of boredom and curiosity, I began to explore the world of e-commerce, purchasing bathing suits in anticipation of what felt like a much too distant and uncertain summer. My first order was swiftly followed by countless other clickbait purchases as I discovered the practicality and comfort of online shopping. Much like me, many consumers converted to online shopping during the lockdown, leading to the explosion of a global e-commerce phenomenon.
This shift in consumer habits, induced by the lockdown, was the catalyst of what some view as an irreversible digital re-adaptation of the retail market as more consumers discover the efficiency and comfort of online shopping and shop owners begin to consider the benefit of online sales: lower fixed costs and broadened consumer outreach. As stated by Chris Nutall’s Financial Times article, during the reopening of shops in the UK, many shop owners were reluctant to re-open due to the success of their online sales.
Furthermore, BBC news states that Ocado recently confirmed its permanent switch to online shopping as its chief executive Tim Steiner announced that in the past few months Ocado’s online grocery market experienced “years of growth condensed into a matter of months”. Similarly, as stated by Shira Ovide’s New York Times article, L’Oreal’s chief digital officer Lubomira Rochè also expressed his appreciation for online sales, stating that they have allowed L’Oreal to “achieved in eight weeks what would’ve otherwise taken three years to achieve”.
As in many other sectors, the lock down encouraged efficient innovation. An example being L’Oreal’s newly launched virtual make up Try-ons that caused a 53% sale increase and were adopted by many other companies such as Amazon and Boots. This shift to e-commerce comes with its challenges for emerging and small businesses, accelerating the dying out of retail that began years ago. It indicates a sociological change where the automation of sales replaces the social interaction inherent to physical shopping, leading to a loss of jobs and a re-structuring of the employment market.
The issue of e-commerce employment protection and occupational safety and health has been addressed long before the lock down and is being discussed now more than ever as online orders, thus workload, rises dramatically. As one of the leading figures of e-commerce, Amazon has been repeatedly criticized for its treatment of workers in the past few years. As stated by Isobel Asher Hamilton and Aine Caine’s Business Insider article, back in 2018 there were numerous Amazon warehouse strikes along with complaints about underpayment and mandatory overtime in hectic periods such as Black Friday. As Amazon stocks soared in the past few months, with an almost 25% rise in stocks, the company is once again being criticized for its treatment of workers as the safety of warehouse workers and distribution operators is put at risk in order to satisfy the exponential rise in consumer demand caused by the lock down.
This issue of worker safety caused many to question the morality of online shopping during the pandemic. As stated by Dow Wood’s The Guardian article, Next, River Island and Net-a-porter closed their online websites to avoid an overload of orders thus workers. Furthermore, as the nature of employment shifts with e-commerce, the position of consumers changes accordingly as consumer privacy is reduced by traceable consumer habits and preferences that are gathered by companies to identify trends and maximize demand. Profitero, for example, a very popular e-commerce performance and analytics company that analyzes consumer searches, identifying trends, was founded in 2010 to meet the needs of growing e-commerce businesses.