It’s been said that the e-commerce growth we’ve seen since March 2020 would’ve taken years to achieve if COVID-19, the global pandemic forcing people around the world to stay home, had not accelerated trends. Indeed the events of the second quarter of the year have changed e-commerce dramatically.

Throughout the 2010s, there was experimentation with digital tools aimed at helping establish apparel fit before buying (“fit tech”), providing augmented reality (AR) try-ons, offering social shopping experiences and more. While getting fit right on the first try was an important endeavor toward lowering online return rates and increasing profitability, in-store returns were always easy enough for many customers. AR felt like a nice-to-have but not-completely-trusted proxy for real life. And social shopping never really took off in the United States.

But as consumers have had more time at home to spend on social media and e-commerce penetration as a percent of retail spend has grown from 11% in 2019 to 15% this year as stores have been closed, the stakes feel higher for new or underutilized e-commerce tools that previously may have been managed on the periphery of the core as “innovation projects.” Now, they’re becoming just another cost of doing business for retailers and brands that need to sell more and connect more without the benefit of their primary brick-and-mortar channel. And they’re solidifying themselves as basic expectations among shoppers whose needs can no longer be met in stores.

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