Even though much of the economy and businesses reopened in June, when most of the coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted, a surge in e-commerce traffic in Turkey has kept up its strong upward momentum as consumers continue to prefer to do more shopping online. Along with the pandemic also came permanent changes in consumer behaviors.
"There has been a terrific jump in e-commerce. The growth rate jumped from 59% all the way up to 159%. We have observed that 100% growth in e-commerce has continued since June 1," Didem Şekerel Erdoğan, general manager of leading market research firm Nielsen Turkey, told the Turkish language daily, Sabah, in an interview.
Building on a noteworthy rise over recent years, the shift toward online shopping in Turkey gained significant pace since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in mid-March, after which the country shut businesses, closed borders and adopted weekend stay-home orders.
Compared with many other countries Nielsen studies as part of its research, Turkey has managed its pandemic response well about government measures, health care and the performance of the retail sector, Erdoğan said.
"We were prepared in every way. Our health care system worked well; our infrastructure was adequate. Our health workers have put in all of their efforts. Our retail firms immediately responded to the demand. Brands highlighted the concept of hygiene in their messages," she noted.
"No product was missing on the shelves; there was no mood of panic in the grocery stores. Retailers have responded to people's needs by increasing the number of employees and keeping their stores open at all times," she said. "In a sense, all segments joined hands and managed this difficult process very well."
On what makes the outbreak different from other crises, Erdoğan pointed out the uncertainty about when it will end.
"It is a challenge that has not been experienced in history, and it is unclear when it will end. In previous crises, we saw markets rebound in four to five months, but this crisis is a little different. First, you can't even predict when the pandemic will end. That's a big difference; the uncertainty remains," she said.
Along with the pandemic, which somewhat affected market dynamics, came permanent changes in consumption habits, she said. "The needs of the consumers suddenly changed; their priorities became different."
"Health became the top priority. That is why goods strengthening hygiene and the immune system came forward. Consumption at home, the habit of cooking at home, suddenly increased," Erdoğan noted. "We even made our own bread. We cleaned our homes more. Since they spent more time at home, women noticed more of the shortcomings. We tried to protect our health and the health of our families and boost immunity."
As the outbreak spread, hygiene- and cleaning-related products became a common sight and sales increased heavily.
"Of course, there has been a significant increase in the sales of cleaning and hygiene products. Bleach, personal care products, cologne and disinfectants are leading the way in this area," Erdoğan noted, also stressing the noteworthy rise in sales of goods to boost the immune system.
"We also observed a serious increase in products that strengthen the immune system such as vitamins, ginger, fruits with vitamin C. In food, there has been a remarkable rise in flour and yeast. The increase in small household appliances, home decoration materials is also noteworthy. The mobility in sales of the home slipper is also remarkable."
Openness to innovation
Erdoğan, who is also a Nielsen Global Retail Board executive member and vice president of Nielsen's Retailer Group Eastern Europe, Middle East Africa (EEMEA) and Russia, noted the openness of Turkish consumers to innovation and readiness to gain new experiences in shopping with digital applications. "We found that the Turkish consumer uses e-commerce and traditional stores together. So they prefer to use multiple channels. Research shows that the Turkish consumer is open to innovation and is ready to gain new experiences in shopping with digital applications," she said.
The fact that Turkish consumers are open to using new applications, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, in shopping places is closer to the Asian consumer, which is ahead of the European consumer in this aspect and leading in the use of digital channels, Erdoğan explained.
"But when we look at what is bought, what product is preferred, we also found that the Turkish consumer looked more like the European consumer. The Turkish consumer also makes similar preferences in food, health and hygiene products with the European consumer, and the quality factor stands out in this," she noted. "But 76% of Turkish consumers say, 'I am ready to try virtual reality, augmented reality applications in shopping.' Two out of every three say, 'I'm open to trying contactless apps' in payment."
On goods that performed well during the pandemic, Erdoğan said oral care products particularly attracted her attention.
"Of course, in this process, the increase in sales of many products has been remarkable. For instance, flour, yeast sales, vitamin consumption. But another product group that caught my attention was oral health products," she said. "Interestingly, oral health products have grown above expectations during the pandemic. We have had a period where we used toothpaste more when we brushed our teeth more so that viruses and bacteria don't live in our mouth. This trend of the consumer still continues."
Erdoğan said she thinks people will continue to live hygiene-oriented lives even when the pandemic ends and that both personal and family hygiene and home cleaning will always be at the forefront.
"A health-oriented lifestyle also becomes permanent. Henceforward, everyone will take better care of themselves to keep their immune system strong," she noted.
Another permanent change has occurred in e-commerce, Erdoğan stressed. "From now onward, we will continue to use the online shopping channel just like traditional channels. In our research on fast-moving consumer goods, half of the participants say they will continue to shop online."