Is “second wave shopping”here?

Ever since the coronavirus crisis began, the retail industry has spent considerable effort trying to predict what the next few months will bring. Now an article by Modern Retail suggests new consumer behaviors are emerging — the article has dubbed them the “second wave” — that point toward a sort of post-panic shopping that will be good news for much of e-commerce.

The first wave was when people “were freaking out, and they were trying to buy everything they could online,” according to the article. The second wave is beginning now as consumers adapt to the coronavirus era. Fear is giving way to reason. Consumers are learning again that shopping doesn’t have to involve hoarding essentials and shunning everything else.

“People have switched into a second mode of shopping,” Kevin Packler, director and vp of Amazon services at the Tombras Group, told Modern Retail. People “feel like they’ve stocked up initially” and “are starting to return to more apparel and accessory categories.”

Certainly this is good news for segments like DTC fashion that have seen sales plummet.

Yet it would be premature to say the worst is over.

“Second wave shopping” isn’t the return of normal. At best it is just the first tentative step in the direction of normal. E-commerce is now 25 percent of U.S. shopping, up from 17 percent before the crisis.  Yet what lies ahead is unclear. Will e-commerce’s share grow higher? Hold steady? No one believes the old normal will return. But no one knows for sure that the new normal will be. “What brands and retailers are trying to do, now that the dust has somewhat settled, is figure out what new behaviors stick,” Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis, told Modern Retail.

In the meantime, our advice to e-commerce retailers is simple. Your goal is to survive long enough to be around to take advantage of whatever the new normal looks like. And that’s going to be harder than you know. Because after the plague, comes a purge.