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We all know online shopping is on the rise, but what exactly is everybody spending their money on?

Covid-19 has seen a major shift in our shopping habits, with many of us turning to e-commerce as an alternative to traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping. In fact, the shift to e-commerce accelerated at its fastest ever rate in 2020 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down in 2021.

By May, it was up 70% year-on-year and had reached $82.5 billion in the US alone. In the last few months in hard-hit pandemic regions, even people who have never shopped online had no choice but to do so. And this encompassed all facts of commerce – from groceries to wellbeing.

People who were already used to shopping online either expanded the categories they purchased across or the frequency at which they were transacting.

According to economic statistics portal Statista, e-sales will have risen to $4.5 trillion by close of financial year 2021. And that’s a lot of stuff.

There are roughly 7.77 billion people on Earth, and as of July 2020 4.54 billion of them were active internet users. That number is only growing. In Australia alone, the number of internet users increased by 265 thousand between 2019 and 2020 and has consistently been on the rise throughout 2021.

Currently, over 70% of Australian shoppers say they are shopping online, with the recent pandemic seeing more people turning to online shopping. It’s no surprise e-commerce sales were up by 55% last year.

But what exactly are we buying more of during Covid times?

Afterpay set out to conduct a study which is up-to-the-moment and focuses on the spending of Millennials and Generation Z – two of their main categories of customer.

The brand aggregated recent purchases made by its global customer base of over 13 million, across a catalogue of 74,000 brands and retailers to identify key trends and shopping patterns.

What they found is not only are customers still shopping a lot, what we are purchasing has changed. Current purchasing behaviour certainly reflects the shift in our external environments. Categories such as beauty, fitness, and home decor have grown in demand, while people are also showing more support for small and local businesses.

Three in 5 global customers are more likely to buy items to support local businesses, while Afterpay customers are 12% more likely to support black- and minority-owned businesses.

Nearly 50% of global shoppers are more likely to buy high quality items. And it’s not all reckless spending. Almost 90% of Afterpay’s global customers are paying with a debit card, that is one with actual funds in it unlike credit cards. Using their own money is important to them. 

Since last season, keeping track of finances, budgeting, and purchasing items on sale have become more important to shoppers. While they are spending more, they are making an investment in local businesses and higher quality items.

According to Afterpay “futurist” Geraldine Wharry, people are looking to purchase pieces that make them feel hopeful and happy.

“Pieces that make people feel special are going to underpin the purchasing trends of the next several months, and these pieces might not be the same for everyone. It’s going to be all about what contributes to your wellbeing and makes you feel like the best version of you.”

From Melbourne to Manchester – both cities which make Afterpay’s top 10 global spending list (see list below) – it seems folks are getting a lot of retail therapy out of a tragic pandemic.

Wharry also sees a trend toward simplifying products, especially in the fashion arena. “We’re starting to see a shift towards more unisex clothing, with muted colours and shapes that flatter every figure. These clothing items may help shoppers simplify their wardrobe after a year of constant overstimulation online. As we enter a new age of fashion with Gen Z at the helm, fashion is sure to become less about following trends and more about your personal method of self-expression.”

Afterpay “Futurist”, Geraldine Wharry.

It’s the smaller things, such as jewellery and other accessories – that mobile phone case; a quirky keyring or handbag scarf – that will make you stand out in the realm of self-expression.

Also, since a lot of us are spending more time indoors and working from home, our aesthetics have changed along with our routines.

Many people have swapped bold lipsticks and fake lashes for more natural looks. Toners, eye drops, CC creams and facial serums are dominating a market once ruled by a spectrum of eyeshadows and lip liners.

In the food department, while we aren’t going out to restaurants so much, we’re certainly having them deliver food to us by the truckload. Or at least on the back of an Uber Eats cyclist.

Over the past five years, an army of companies across the globe have zeroed in on online food delivery services, allowing customers to access thousands of restaurants and millions of dishes.

Online food delivery is having a massive impact on the dine-in restaurant business. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver even cited food delivery services as one of the main reasons his restaurant chain failed and folded.

Uber Eats itself is currently worth around $20 billion and registers revenues of over $1.4 billion annually. It has a presence in more than 670 cities on six continents, and delivers almost a billion meals every year.

And with other businesses entering the fold – including Deliveroo, Dinnerly, Hello Fresh and Menulog in Australia – it should come as no surprise that the online food industry is set to supersize to a hefty $200 billion by 2025.

Whether we’re on the hunt for a two-course meal or a three-piece wardrobe, the statistics say that eight out of ten Australians now shop online, even if that just means ‘window’ shopping.

Australia Post projects that ecommerce’s total share of retail will reach 15 percent by year-end. That’s already close to the 16 percent total the market was previously expected to reach by 2025. And the online shopping frenzy doesn’t look like slowing down soon.

Antonino Tati

Afterpay’s Top Global Cities for Online Shopping and Spending:









Los Angeles

Birmingham (UK)

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