Last updated: Online retail COVID-19 impact: e-commerce skyrockets

Online retail COVID-19 impact: e-commerce skyrockets


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E-commerce was already growing at a steady clip, but with billions of people holed up in their homes in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s soaring worldwide.

With shelter-in-place orders instituted across the globe, consumers are shopping online like never before. They’re going to Amazon and other web retailers for groceries, cleaning products, fitness equipment, and other items while many brick-and-mortar stores remain shuttered.

An online tracker produced by Emarsys and GoodData illustrates how fast e-commerce has grown during the pandemic. Between March 29 and April 12, pure-play online retailers saw their orders in the US and Canada increase from about 55% to 76% compared to the same period last year.

Retailers that are primarily brick-and-mortar saw online orders in the US and Canada shoot up 42% to almost 90% year over year between March 29 and April 12.

Outside of North America, the tracker shows similar e-commerce trends. For example, in the West and Central Europe between March 29 and April 12, retailers with physical stores saw orders increase from 52% to 76% compared to the same period last year.

Online retail COVID-19 impact: Groceries surge

Not surprisingly, online grocery sales have shot up during the pandemic as consumers avoid potential exposure at the physical grocery store.

In March, online grocery sales in the US jumped a whopping 233% compared to August of last year, according to Brick Meets Click, a grocery retail consulting firm. Thirty-one percent of US households used an online grocery delivery or pickup service in March compared to just 13% in August, the firm reported.

Amazon has reaped most of the benefit from this off-the-charts demand for online groceries. One research firm found that Amazon was the top choice for those buying groceries online at least once a week, which it estimated will help push the online giant’s grocery business to grow three-fold from 2019 to 2023, according to a GeekWire report.

Walmart also is benefitting from the online grocery surge. On April 5, the Walmart Grocery app reached the top ranking for shopping apps in the US, and surpassed Amazon by 20%, according to App Annie, an app intelligence firm.

Staying fit and keeping busy under quarantine

Besides groceries, a few other online products are proving popular as people adhere to the stay-at-home orders.

According to the COVID-19 Commerce Insight tracker from Emarsys and GoodData, consumers are buying sporting goods, fitness equipment, and hobby supplies at a rapid clip in an attempt to stay in shape and occupy themselves at home.

ACI Worldwide, a payment solution provider, reported that consumers are snapping up electronics and furniture to support work, communication, school, and entertainment. Home goods and DIY products also are popular.

The company said the transaction volume for home products and furnishings in March was 97% higher than March of last year. The volume of DIY products  sold online in March jumped 136% compared to last March, and the volume of garden “essentials” leaped 163% in the same time period.

A dose of reality

While the increase in online shopping over the past few weeks is eye-popping, it’s important to recognize the fact that many people have lost their jobs during the pandemic and don’t have disposable cash to spend on anything but essentials.

This may prove disastrous for pureplay e-commerce brands, according to a CNBC report. With sales shifting to essentials and disruptions in the supply chain, digitally native, direct-to-consumer brands such as eyeglass company Warby Parker and eco-conscious shoemaker Allbirds will face tough times, analysts told CNBC.

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