Two brothers from Ireland are now sitting on the most valuable startup in Silicon Valley. It’s called Stripe and - deep intake of breath - it’s now worth $95bn.
The company has tripled in value, fuelled by a significant change in our shopping habits as we’ve migrated from high street to online websites.
If you haven’t heard of Stripe, don’t worry, there’s little reason why that should be the case. The company facilitates secure online purchases and then charges a percentage of the sale to the seller. I came across Stripe when I needed a secure transactional function on one of my websites. But I suspect the likes of Stripe customers such as Deliveroo et al have been rather more important than my contribution to that valuation!
But what that stratospheric round of funding does indicate is the public’s general willingness to start transacting online, not only in the UK but on a global basis. And the fact that this will only increase now that we have become more acclimatised to the online purchase - a factor reflected in that Stipe valuation.
And it’s not just computer purchased clothes and food (check out those sales figures from online grocer Ocado now it’s partnering with Marks and Spencer), it’s the big-ticket stuff, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated the move to online purchasing so that we’re happy to buy cars and even houses online.
Website purchases accounted for 62% of all shopping during lockdown compared with 43% before the pandemic, says Wunderman Thomson, a global marcomms agency. Retailers quickly understood that complete inventories required shifting online, along with competitive pricing and a seamless customer buying experience.
Naji El-Arifi, head of innovation at Wundermans, reckons that the lockdown experience has totally changed shopping behaviour with a further survey that found 66% said their purchasing behaviours had changed for good, and 38% saying they were comfortable using technology, placing online retail in a strong position.
“The fact grandparents and grandchildren are now comfortable talking to each other via Zoom shows how far we have come so quickly,” he adds.
This wholehearted acceptance of technology is across the board. By mid-June 2020, 40% of estate agents were offering online viewings to replace physical house visits following property portal Rightmove’s launch of its Automated Online Viewing feature. By the end of 2020 traffic to the Rightmove website had gone up by over 30% compared with 2019’s figures.
Over in the States, 63% of buyers made an offer on a house they had not even visited in person. This was partly due to concerns about catching coronavirus and partly because the housing market became so fast paced that houses were moving on within hours of being placed on sale, and partly because it was driven by digitally native millennial buyers.
So if there’s confidence in buying items such as houses online, what of the retailing of used cars? Has the online model moved to the used car market in the same way?
With dealerships closed for four months during 2020, retailers braced themselves for a fairly catastrophic time, projecting a sales drop of around 33%.
But it didn’t happen.
Instead used car sales declined by some 15% only. To give that some perspective, new car sales dropped by more than double that figure. What’s clear is that online purchases certainly helped buoy the used car market, and there are two underlying reasons for such market resilience.
A report by analysts McKinsey - Five COVID-19 aftershocks reshaping mobility’s future - pointed out that there had been a major growth in people preferring personal space over public transport, with 32% saying they would travel more frequently by private car; only 13% said they would use a car to travel less. It helped fuel the demand for used cars.
And the second reason is that growing consumer confidence in the digital online buying process has become increasingly important and, according to McKinsey, more than two thirds of younger buyers preferring a contactless service rather than a bit of old fashioned ‘tyre kicking’ at a physical dealership. (Dry your eyes Arthur Daley….)
Certainly the used car marketplace has been energised by new entrants Cazoo and Cinch, both of which have advertised strongly, offering consumers a digital purchase with home delivery.
The latter cited research pointing out that 64% of British drivers would now consider buying a car online, with 71% confirming that COVID-19 had changed the way they went shopping.
Like Cazoo and Cinch, Creditplus is an online marketplace for used car buyers, but unlike Cazoo and Cinch it has been around rather longer with a more established consumer offering. Launched in 2004, Creditplus helps customers find the right car with the right finance package via an in-house finance journey. There’s even a dedicated consultant to smooth the process.
In 2020 Creditplus saw its home delivery offering grow 40% - and as customers become ever more comfortable with buying online, Digital Manager Blake Hawksworth says the company expects an even greater increase in 2021, as they further improve their e-commerce journey.
The pandemic has certainly acted as an accelerant for online purchasing; post pandemic, we can expect the afterburners to really light up.