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March 2020 – Impact of Coronavirus

March coronavirus update

Despite its unpredictability and difficulty, we made it through March. April will certainly have its own set of challenges we must overcome, but we will get through it together by relying on real data, not making assumptions. News about the coronavirus changes drastically, day by day, but so do the data trends NetElixir is capturing daily. March saw spikes in the number of coronavirus cases in the United States, as well as the global rate of infections. March impacted how we work, learn, and live. Since February 2nd, NetElixir has been compiling data on how the coronavirus outbreak has been affecting ecommerce sales, economic growth, online shopping behavior, and online retailers in order to provide retail marketers with the latest data so that they can adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.

What could April bring? Social distancing measures have been extended amid coronavirus concerns through to the end of the month. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic as a black swan event, it is challenging to make concrete plans and projections. Although some view this event as a ‘difficult’ time nevertheless NetElixir is shining light for retail marketers that it is just a ‘different’ time in retail ecommerce that needs to be monitored closely with daily, realtime data.

At NetElixir, we track the real-time data from real-time customers. We understand that data can be confusing and misleading and we are motivated to help the retail and business community by sharing our daily insights through our webinars series on the Impact of Covid-19 and weekly blogs. Our data seeks to show how, when, and where people are shopping online. “Across the board, online sales are more or less trending up,” NetElixir Founder and CEO Udayan Bose shares in a recent interview on the state of retail amid the coronavirus outbreak.

March Summary for Food Ecommerce During Coronavirus

Our Retail Superhero from our March 26th webinar, Parag Shah of Wakefern Food Corporation for Shoprite, outlined people’s shopping behavior in ShopRite’s stores shifted from fear-fueled panic buying to comfort-food related purchasing. The food industry’s ecommerce sales have skyrocketed throughout March due to the coronavirus pandemic and NetElixir continues measuring the direct correlation between the increasing number of coronavirus cases and website traffic.

People are searching for more delivery options, particularly meat delivery as options and availability in stores varies. Food ecommerce sales have surged during the coronavirus. For the food retail category, new online customers have swelled. Our data has shown that those aged 18-24, followed by the 55-64 age group have had the most dramatic increase in turning to online shopping during the pandemic.

food eccomerce sales during coronavirus for March
Food ecommerce sales  and delivery have skyrocketed amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Jacoby Clarke from Pexels

NetElixir is proud to report that March has seen a 50% increase year-over-year (YOY) in the number of new users, compared to March 2019. To get more granular, below is NetElixir’s week to week breakdown the coronavirus has had on retail ecommerce:

  • A 10% increase in new users from the first week of March (March 2-8, 2020) to the second week of March (March 9-15, 2020).
  • Then, over a 100% increase in new users from the second week of March (March 9-15, 2020) to the third week of March (March 16-22, 2020).

For reference, the data above is comparable to trends we saw during the Holiday Cyber 5 season.

How are people spending their time online during the outbreak? Below are the ecommerce effects the coronavirus outbreak has had in March 2020:

  • Bounce rates on food ecommerce sites have decreased.
  • People are visiting 16% more pages within food ecommerce websites.
  • Customers are spending almost 20% more time in each session.

In March, What Did Online Shoppers Search and Purchase the Most?

The search landscape changed over the month of March. For nearly all the retail categories within our dataset, the percentage of mobile orders decreased slightly from our 2019 data. There has been a surge of desktop search in March during the coronavirus outbreak

Other than paper and health products, there has been an increase in home decor, office equipment, religious products, and community outreach gifts throughout the March.

The gifting retail category included religious and community items, gift baskets, greeting cards, and flowers. “People are trying to brighten each other’s lives as much as possible, which I think is a great thing to happen,” Bose says in an interview. Specifically, for gifting, on the last day of March, we saw:

  • A 105% increase in conversion rate for March 31, 2020 compared to the same day in 2019.
  • Nearly a 125% increase for transactions on the same day in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • A decrease in the average order value (AOV) of 19% for 2020 compared to 2019.

While more people are buying gifts (either for themselves or to bring happiness to others), amid growing concerns of income during the outbreak, people are buying more conservatively. Little gifts here and there go a long way in comforting one another, livening up work spaces, and letting others know you are thinking of them. 

For the month of March, the gifting retail industry saw an increase in ecommerce sales.
Sending loved ones a small gift, like a greeting card, reminds everyone that we are in this together. Photo from Pexels

“It makes us think that in such times of a lot of uncertainty, people tend to take a lot of comfort even in very simple things. What makes us very happy is that we’re seeing a lot more flow of compassion and love. People are sending out greetings to one another,” Bose says in an interview.

April Coronavirus Forecast 

NetElixir has come up with the following April forecast based off our March research: 

April forecast for ecommerce sales during coronavirus
April Forecast for year-over-year growth across seven retail categories.

Our analysts predict a continued increase in online orders for Home Furnishing, Home Decor, and Hardware and Tools throughout April. Apparel could see minimal, but substantial year over year growth in sales. Food, Gifting, and Pet Supplies will continue to scale and see growth, but not as dramatically as in March when the outbreak started.

This April forecast is an estimate. Presumptions are based on the outbreak continuing into April, leaving more people homebound. We assume people will continue adapting to new routines and habits.

As Bose says, “It’s a question of habit forming.”

We could see a permanent shift away from brick-and-mortar retail to online shopping even after the coronavirus outbreak subsides. Agility and adaptability are important traits for marketers, leaders, and business owners to have in order to navigate through this black swan event. With the influx of new online shoppers, the question marketers should be asking themselves is, “how will I keep and nurture new customers after the pandemic?”

NetElixir encourages marketers to stay nimble and agile, as the situation evolves and changes by the hour. We have already seen drastic changes week to week over the course of March from the coronavirus. We can certainly expect more changes for April.

Additional Insights

While we have covered an extensive dataset, it is by no means exhaustive. If you are interested in discussing specific insights for your category, please email us at shareinsights@netelixir.com

Register for our live webinar that shares the real data on ecommerce sales during the coronavirus. Our webinar will air Thursday, April 9 at 2 PM ET. We will feature another Retail Superhero who has delivered excellence service among the community. 

You can watch our March 11 webinar here, which was the first of the series on tracking the impact of the coronavirus on ecommerce sales and online shopping behavior.

Our March 26 update webinar featured our first Retail Superhero and detailed over a month’s worth of research.

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