Mastercard report reveals massive pandemic-driven shift to ecommerce

Mastercard’s Recovery Insights report highlighted the scale of the pandemic-driven digital shift in 2020—as well as what to expect going forward.

Here are the big takeaways:

  • Global consumers increased online spending by $900 billion in 2020. This translates to ecommerce making up $1 for every $5 spent on retail in 2020, compared with $1 for every $7 in 2019. The surge in ecommerce spending was driven by pandemic-induced lockdown measures and brick-and-mortar store closures. Mastercard expects that 20%–30% of global ecommerce growth experienced during the pandemic will be permanent.
  • The online grocery sector experienced one of the biggest growth spurts. Currently, 9% of grocery shopping takes place online—up from 7% before the pandemic. Moving forward, Mastercard estimates that more consumers will shift to online grocery shopping, with 10% of grocery sales taking place online post-pandemic. Mastercard also expects that between 70% and 80% of the pandemic’s online grocery spike will be permanent.
  • Digital payments grew rapidly and will probably continue their ascent. Before the pandemic, the share of cash use as a portion of all sales declined roughly 2.5% per year. After pandemic restrictions took effect, noncash payments jumped an additional 2.5 percentage points beyond the trend—accelerating the shift from cash to digital payments by a full year.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the face of retail, with brick-and-mortar seeing the biggest declines. Many consumers shifted to online shopping as a result of the pandemic, which hit brick-and-mortar retail hard: In 2020, approximately 15,542 US stores closed for good—well above the 9,879 and 5,700 stores that closed in 2019 and 2018, respectively. To make up for in-store losses and maintain overall sales volume, many retailers put significant effort toward ramping up their digital presence—increasing online product assortments, making digital returns easier, adding faster and expanded delivery capabilities like curbside pickup, and investing in digital partnerships.

Going forward, ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retail might hold equal weight in creating a shopping experience that consumers desire. The shift to online shopping might be permanent for some consumers: 81% of consumers who have used a new digital shopping method during the pandemic intend to continue using it. But the online shift doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar retail should go away anytime soon: Retail foot traffic is already climbing back up and will likely continue to recover—62% of consumers say they plan to shop in-store at least once per week this spring. This means that retailers might want to focus on both in-store and online retail in order to maximize overall sales as the pandemic phases out.