Retail and coronavirus: Data reveals shifting buying behavior

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Throughout history, pandemics have changed how people everywhere live, work, and play. But last year, the coronavirus pandemic upended our lives in ways that are still hard to believe, especially when it comes to consumer behavior and business.

The pandemic put businesses through the wringer month after month, forcing them to rapidly adapt. The data related to retail and coronavirus is dramatic.

We conducted a small-scale study that revealed some of the pandemic’s tremendous impact on retail. We looked at two external factors: stay-at-home orders and income support worldwide as well as in specific regions such as the Americas and Europe between the first week of 2020 and sixth week of 2021.

Online retail and coronavirus trends

We collected data daily and tried to find a correlation between the sales volume of businesses using SAP Commerce Cloud and the external factors mentioned above. Here are some of the trends we spotted.

  1. Income support had a positive impact on consumer buying behavior.
  2. There’s a weak negative correlation between mobility and sales volume in general.
  3. Businesses using SAP Commerce Cloud were resilient, likely because the solution helped businesses secure stronger weeks starting week 32 of our study period.
  4. Despite some level of income support in the Americas, customer spending appeared relatively lower than Europe. This may have been caused by one or more or these factors: supply chain challenges; confidence in government programs in general; delays in accessing government funds.

Income support and stay-at-home orders

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, resilience was tested and supply chains disrupted. Consumers reprioritized and small businesses were among those that suffered the most. The surge in curbside pickups greatly challenged the retail efficiency of click-and-collect setups.

Governments around the world played a vital role in both the well-being of people and business. In conjunction with strict-to-moderate stay-at-home orders, varying levels of income support impacted online sales.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, the market saw an impressive uptick in digital commerce across the industries in general, including retail. While the holidays played a big role in the online retail surge, governmental support and quarantine orders factored into retail e-commerce sales during the past year.

Retail and coronavirus: By the numbers 

We compiled weekly data on income support by region and tracked three levels of support to gauge the impact of the coronavirus on  online retail sales.

  1. No income support
  2. Limited government support covering less than 50% of lost salary
  3. Moderate government support covering more than 50% of lost salary.

Similar to income support, we also compiled weekly data on stay-at-home orders, using four classifications worldwide:

  1. No measures
  2. Recommendation to not leave house
  3. Mandatory stay-at-home with exceptions
  4. Mandatory stay-at-home with minimal exceptions.
Figure 1 (click to enlarge): Influence of income support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in the SAP Commerce Cloud Solution (Global) – All industries vs. retail

As shown in Figure 1, starting week 11, countries worldwide gradually imposed some sort of stay-at-home orders and income support. It’s possible that this contributed to a temporary uptick in SAP Commerce Cloud solution and sales volume between weeks 12 and 16. However, retail saw a gradual decline after week 16 and retailers operating on our commerce solution had their lowest sales volume between weeks 21 and 31.

B2B order volumes were up between week 32 and 46, when some countries were in the process of reopening their economies at a limited scale.

Figure 2: Influence of income support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in SAP Commerce Cloud (Global) – B2B vs. B2C

A similar trend was seen in the Americas region as shown in Figures 3 and 4:

Figure 3: Influence of income Support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in SAP Commerce Cloud (Americas) – All industries vs. retail

 

Figure 4: Influence of income support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in SAP Commerce Cloud (Americas) – B2B vs. B2C

However, Europe showed a different trend. There was an initial uptick in sales starting week 12 with a second wave starting week 32. Interestingly, stay-at-home orders started to be lifted or relaxed during week 22 to week 23, which had a slight negative impact on retail and overall sales volume.

As soon as the restrictions went back into place during week 32, there was an uptick in sales volume and the momentum continued until week 52, as seen here:

Figure 5: Influence of income support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in SAP Commerce Cloud (Europe) – All industries vs. retail

B2B sales saw its highs during the weeks 23 to 46 when stay-at-home orders were relatively relaxed. Figure 6 illustrates this trend.

Figure 6: Influence of income support and stay-at-home orders by different governments on order volume in SAP Commerce Cloud (Europe) – B2B vs. B2C

Companies that went digital early had an edge during the pandemic. For some companies, digital transformation actually accelerated despite the challenges of the pandemic.

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Riaz Faride

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