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Ecommerce Sales and Online Shopper Behavior Trends on the Road to Recovery

We are moving carefully along the road to recovery from the coronavirus. States are continuing their reopening phases. Small businesses have shown consistent signs of improvement, reports UPS, as companies lean more towards bettering customer service and adapting to customer’s needs. Facebook unveils Facebook Shops, aimed at helping small businesses get online. We are still seeing strong ecommerce sales growth.

NetElixir’s Intelligence Lab continues to aggregate and analyze the daily data of ecommerce sales and online shopper behavior to see what trends emerge throughout the coronavirus outbreak. We look at the daily online sales metrics for seven retail categories across periods as follows:

  1. The Beginning, from February 9 to 22
  2. The First Spike, from February 23 to March 7
  3. The Outbreak Spreads, from March 8 to 21
  4. The Second Spike Starts, from March 22 to April 4
  5. The Outbreak Continues to Spread, from April 5 to 18
  6. The Curve Starts to Show Signs of Flattening, from April 19 to May 2
  7. States Start to Reopen in Phases, from May 3 to May 16

Our coronavirus update webinar from yesterday, which is recapped below, covered the daily data of periods 6 and 7 compared with the data from 2019. NetElixir’s Founder and CEO Udayan Bose shared the real-time ecommerce sales metrics and Micro-Mark’s CEO Chas Fox joined us for a live Q&A for Lessons from the CEO.

Ecommerce Sales Continue to Grow Tremendously

While the coronavirus has caused a decline in total retail sales in the United States, ecommerce sales have picked up across most categories. Online sales have grown over the course of the coronavirus and contributed to a higher percentage of overall retail sales when compared to 2019.

“There’s an incredible growth that really has been happening online,” Udayan Bose says. “We see an incredible amount of money flowing through the online channel.”

Week to week, online demand is increasing.  While Food and Grocery dominated in the early stages of the outbreak, consumers are branching out into other industries. The Apparel industry has seen some growth at the end of April and into May. Gifting and Home Furnishings have maintained overall growth week to week. Tools and Hardware and Home Decor have seen high growth throughout the month of April. A breakdown of the week over week increase in sales is shown below:

ecommerce sales during coronavirus
Year over year ecommerce sales changes compared to same period in 2019.

Bose sees continued growth over the next six to twelve months, resulting in a bigger holiday season for ecommerce. Certainly, this holiday season will be unlike any other we have seen before, as this year has been unlike any other. Bose does not see new online shoppers leaving ecommerce soon. Between pent-up demand, online shopping becoming more of a habit during these months at home, and the restrictions that will be in place for some time in the brick-and-mortar stores, people will continue to turn to ecommerce channels. 

Forecast of May’s Ecommerce Sales

When NetElixir previously forecasted ecommerce growth in April, we proved to be too conservative. In May, we forecast continued growth across categories:

May ecommerce sales forecast during the coronavirus
Our forecast comes from the metrics within our dataset. This does not wholly represent all retail sales, but can be used as a measure of online ecommerce.

 

Explosive increases in ecommerce sales could not have happened this quickly organically, Bose says. The coronavirus has accelerated the digital and ecommerce trend and will continue to have an influence. Overall, NetElixir predicts a strong and positive estimate for ecommerce metrics. 

Key Drivers in Ecommerce Growth

High website conversion rates indicate searchers are quickly turning into customers. The Pet Supplies retail category has also seen strong overall growth throughout the course of the pandemic. Within our dataset, Pet Supplies has had substantial increase in new shopper sessions, with new online orders settling at about 37% higher than the pre-pandemic level.

Overall latency (the time between first website visit and first order) for Pet Supplies has decreased significantly: 

How are people shopping for their pets
The left side of the chart tells how many hours it takes a customer to go from first website visit to first purchase. As the coronavirus outbreak progresses, people are taking less time to complete their first purchase journey.

To continue successfully acquiring new customers, business leaders and marketers need to engage these new shoppers as guests. As new shoppers are increasing, returning users are also buying more. By studying the patterns of your customers to determine any differences between new and returning, marketers will be able to capture and engage all their customers. 

Have State Reopenings Hurt Ecommerce Sales?

Each state across America is moving through its own reopening phases. NetElixir’s Intelligence Lab studied how the reopening of some stores impacted online sales. 

reopening phases

The number of new and returning users and length of website sessions have increased regardless of status, as people are still searching online for the Food and Grocery retail section. However, there is not as dire a need to buy immediately for those states that have total or regional reopening. Consumers have moved away from the panic buying stages and are taking their time browsing online before completing a purchase.

The online trend still has momentum, but because brick-and-mortar stores are once again an option, there is no longer as critical a sense of immediacy or fear of a long wait for essentials. Transactions are decreasing presumably because people are waiting longer to buy and shopping around more.

Lessons from the CEO of Micro-Mark 

Tools and hardware retail categoryNetElixir was excited to welcome back Chas Fox, CEO of Micro-Mark to discuss firsthand how the coronavirus is affecting the Tools and Hardware industry. Micro-Mark sells precision power tools and supplies to high-end hobbyists and makers.

Fox says that Micro-Mark’s business has more than doubled. “The numbers are amazing, but the pipeline is not fully open,” notes Fox.

Because Micro-Mark sells unique tools and self-manufactures a lot of their products, they’ve only seen about a 15-20% disruption in the supply chain. Demand, however, is soaring to holiday numbers and the overall supply chain is not operating at holiday capacity.

The supply chain disruptions have hindered additional growth opportunities. Fox says that he does not want to injure customer relationships and so has limited his selling on Amazon because a quick delivery on their end could not be guaranteed. As new customers have flocked to Micro-Mark, Fox was worried about alienating these customers with slow delivery times. Majority of people, however, seem to be forgiving and understanding of the circumstances and are becoming repeat customers.

Fox says Micro-Mark has seen an increase of about 35-45% of new customers and a spike in existing customers. Some of these existing customers order as frequently as once a week. 

How do the new customers compare to the core customers? There’s some subtle differences, Fox notes, mainly in that new customers are buying more paint than returning customers. Return rates are very low, between both new and returning customers, which is a promising sign of customer loyalty even for post-pandemic.

As Micro-Mark caters to the cosplay community, Fox says he still sees people creating despite the cancellation of large events where people could show off their skills. 

“Adaptability is key during these times,” Fox says in summary of navigating the coronavirus crisis. “Adaptability and being able to make changes on the fly is key. We’re still learning.”

Additional Insights

Our Covid-19 Updates Webinar series can be viewed in its entirety. Our sixth installment, Road to Recovery: Future of Online Grocery, will air live Thursday, June 18 at 2 PM ET.  

The next expert in our Reimagine Tomorrow series is Professor Jerry Wind of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. On Thursday, June 4 at 2 PM ET, Wind will present Opportunities in Times of Crisis. Join the conversation on social media by using #KnowledgeInspires.

Looking for additional insights and information for your specific category? Email us at shareinsights@netelixir.com.

Learn More about Ecommerce Sales During Coronavirus

You can join the conversation on social media using #NxInsights.

For further reading, you can see our prior retail analytics updates on retail ecommerce and online shopping behavior: