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The Changing State of Ecommerce: COVID-19

March 2020 will go down in history as the month that shook the world. Following the announcement of a global pandemic, countries across the world went into lockdown, closing borders and forcing ‘non-essential’ companies to close their doors in support of social distancing. 

Whilst it looked like an opportunity for ecommerce businesses, supply chain restrictions and infrastructure issues have meant that many have struggled to meet the unprecedented demand that has come with an entire nation shopping online. 

How has coronavirus impacted ecommerce sales?

The ecommerce landscape has dramatically shifted in recent months as a direct result of the ongoing pandemic. Whilst initial panic buying hit the UK high street, the subsequent lockdown caused ecommerce sales to soar. With shops closed and rules in places to keep us indoors, everyone was forced to shop online for products they would otherwise have bought in-store generated unprecedented demand for home delivery. 

Whilst the surge in sales seemed unpredictable at the start, recent studies into trends over the past 4 weeks have identified clear patterns in demand driven by circumstance. Channel Advisor’s research into The Impact of COVID-19 on Ecommerce GMV found that throughout March consumers shifted from necessary items such as hand sanitiser and toilet paper to items needed to make home life more comfortable such as office equipment, exercise equipment and slippers. 

Top growth categories

It will come as no surprise that according to marketplace data heath and beauty and, computers/tablets and networking are two of the top growth categories in the UK. In a report from the US by Stackline, we can get a more detailed view of ecommerce growth by category. Comparing March 2020 vs. March 2019 the following 10 categories have achieved top levels of growth:

  1. Disposable gloves +670%
  2. Bread machines +652%
  3. Cold & cough +535%
  4. Soups +397%
  5. Dried grains & rice +386%
  6. Packages foods +377%
  7. Fruit cups +326%
  8. Weight training +307%
  9. Milk & cream +279%
  10. Dishwashing supplies +275%

Other recreational and home accessories categories have seen growth including computer monitors (+172%), dog food (+159%), craft kits and projects (+117%), hair colouring (+115%), ping pong (+89%) and office desks (+89%). 

In the UK, grocery sales soared as shoppers turned online to find the goods they needed, seeing sites such as Ocado temporarily suspending their website due to order volumes. Data from Rakuten Intelligence also shows a huge spike in grocery-related ecommerce sales. 

Changing consumer behaviours

With more consumers buying online, we have seen important behavioural metrics such as cart abandonment and conversion rates fluctuate dramatically. According to SaleCycle data, many sectors have seen an increase in orders and revenue have also seen an increase in cart abandonment rates. It’s likely this behaviour is down to the availability of products and delivery times where demand is higher than usual.

To further complicate the situation, data has also shown changes in generational purchasing reponses to COVID-19 are rapidly evolving with the situation. Gen Z and Millenials, the youngest generation, have been seen to be cutting back on spending, stocking up on items and spending less on experiences. One survey of U.S. and U.K. consumers found that 96% of Millenials and Gen Zs are concerned about the pandemic and its effects on the economy. It is this concern that is leading them to change their behaviour more dramatically. Only 24% of Boomers and 34% of Gen X have said that they were letting current events impact their purchase behaviour compared with nearly half of Millennials.

What can retailers do?

The constant state of flux makes it difficult for anyone to predict how things will change. What’s clear is that businesses now need to look for ways to support their customers during this challenging period. With no clear cut off date and many retailers remaining closed, the shift online will continue. Whilst your core customer base may change, it’s important to make the most of the traffic that is coming in and adapt to survive. Look at ways you can deliver the best possible experience, manage demand and ensure stock levels are up to date. For help with making the move online and how you can improve your proposition, talk to our expert ecommerce team today.  

Catherine Durham

Catherine Durham

Marketing Director (Dip DigM)

Catherine Durham has a masters in Digital Marketing and a wealth of experience in optimisation and strategy development for ecommerce retailers. Her specialisms include SEO, paid search, email marketing and conversion rate optimisation.

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