COVID-19 creates spikes in digital commerce

Since global leaders implemented social distancing as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and international travel has slowed or halted, businesses have migrated entire workforces to operate remotely, and economic instability is making grim headline news. When social distancing is combined with these changing economic dynamics, the result is major shifts in consumer behavior.

TransUnion saw a 23% increase in e-commerce transactions the week after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. However, retailers shouldn’t hastily lower their fraud controls despite concerns about rising consumer demand and cart abandonment concerns. A burst of online transactions is often correlated with an increase in fraudulent activity, and in a recent survey of 1,068 Americans aged 18 and above, TransUnion found that over 1 in 5 surveyed consumers said they have been targeted by digital fraud related to COVID-19.

As rates of digital commerce and related fraud continue to increase in response to the impact of COVID-19, it’s never been more important for organizations and consumers to trust one another – meaning that businesses must be prepared to combat bad actors while continuing to deliver excellent experiences on their web and mobile platforms.

Optimizing consumer transactions with a friction-right approach

A key component to making trust possible is differentiating between experiences that are frictionless versus friction-right. Businesses that focus on routine consumer transactions (such as ordering food or sharing photos) should aim to offer frictionless user experiences, in order to stay competitive and encourage repeat business. On the other hand, businesses that rely on verifying consumer identities and authenticating information should deliver a friction-right approach, in which the user experience is fast and smooth while including enough due diligence to give consumers peace of mind.

For organizations that fall into the friction-right category, securing online interactions is especially important in the wake of COVID-19. Even before consumers were impacted by increased fraud as the result of a global pandemic, they had a strong awareness of fraud and anti-fraud techniques, and were growing more concerned with securing their personal and digital data. In a 2019 survey we conducted of over 1,600 participants from the U.S. and the U.K., 98% of consumers cited having a high familiarity with credit card fraud and identity theft, and more than 90% cited familiarity with fraudulent methods such as account takeover, card-not-present fraud, and synthetic identity fraud. And in a climate now accustomed to data breaches and increasingly sophisticated methods of fraud, consumers are empowered to give preference to companies that will prioritize the security of their data identities and transactions.

Giving your consumers the (minimal) hassle they want

Security and trust are top priorities, but your consumers also expect minimal hassle. Friction is often a necessity and expectation, but it should be relevant and tailored to specific consumer needs and preferences. It’s important to note that consumers expect their online interactions to contain just enough friction to make them feel secure.

Say you’re a consumer applying for a credit card online. Not surprisingly, you are required to enter personal information such as your home address and social security number. Given the sensitive nature of the data you’re inputting, it would probably seem strange to you if the bank or credit card company didn’t request to verify your identity or authenticate your information before issuing you the credit card. It might even make you nervous to see lines of credit being handed out without the right amount of due diligence.

On the flip side, an application or transaction that requires too many steps or waiting periods could frustrate you to the point of abandoning it altogether. A friction-right approach would ensure that just enough friction exists for you to consider the process safe and timely.

Fraudsters are mimicking mobile consumer behavior

In 2019, we saw a 32% increase in mobile commerce transactions.1 Given the recent aforementioned spikes in digital commerce as a result of social distancing, the need to ensure a positive, friction-right mobile experience has never been more paramount.

There is a competitive opportunity in the market for these friction-right mobile experiences. In the same 2019 survey of US and UK participants, 60% said they had refrained from opening an account via a mobile device because of the hassle and slowness of filling in the application forms.2

Unfortunately, consumers aren’t the only ones going mobile. We saw a 118% increase in risky transactions from mobile devices in 2019, which of course doesn’t account for COVID-19-related fraud.1 In order to stay competitive, businesses need to create the same kind of friction-right experiences for their customers and prospects on mobile devices, making sure they are as user-friendly as they are secure.


COVID-19 has impacted lives all around the world, and businesses from every industry are developing strategies to mitigate risk amidst these new uncertainties. At TransUnion, we believe in the use of Information for Good® to help businesses and consumers understand how they can protect themselves in this unprecedented situation. Visit our dedicated COVID-19 hub to explore our expert insights into the implications of changing consumer behavior, along with advice and strategies for making trust possible between you and your consumers.

And to find out more about how TransUnion’s solutions can help you curate a customized, friction-right approach that is relevant to changing consumer needs and patterns, request a demo with us today.

  • 1

    TransUnion, Global E-Commerce in 2020: Redefining the Retail Experience as Shopping Patterns Change

  • 2

    TransUnion, Financial Services Fraud and Consumer Trust Report, 2019