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The Pandemic Economy: What are Shoppers Buying Online During COVID-19?

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Ecommerce category growth during covid-19 pandemic

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The Fastest Growing and Declining E-Commerce Categories

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on every aspect of life, including how people shop for their necessities, and their not-so-necessities.

With online retail sales estimated to reach an eye-watering $6.5 trillion by 2023, the ecommerce sector was already booming. But since the outbreak, online shopping has been catapulted into complete overdrive. Even the largest retailers on the planet are struggling to keep up with the unprecedented consumer demand—but what exactly are people buying?

To answer this question, retail intelligence firm Stackline analyzed ecommerce sales across the U.S. and compiled a list of the fastest growing and declining ecommerce categories (March 2020 vs. March 2019) with surprising results.

The Frenzy of Buyer Behavior

As people come to terms with their new living situations, their buying behavior has adapted to suit their needs. While panic buying may have slowed in some countries, consumers continue to stock up on supplies, or “pandemic pantry products”.

Many consumers are also using their newfound time to focus on their health, with 85% of consumers taking up some kind of exercise while in social isolation, and 40% of them saying they intend to keep it up when restrictions are lifted.

These changing behaviors have resulted in a number of product categories experiencing a surge in demand — and although a lot of them are practical, others are wonderfully weird.

The Fastest Growing Categories

While the below list features several shelf-stable items, it seems as though consumers are taking matters into their own hands, with bread making machines sitting in second place and retailers selling out of their top models.

It’s clear from the list that consumers are considering positive changes to their lifestyle while in isolation, as fitness, smoking cessation, and respiratory categories are all experiencing growth.

Explore the 100 fastest growing product categories below:

RankCategory% Change in March (2020 vs. 2019)
#1Disposable Gloves670%
#2Bread Machines652%
#3Cough & Cold535%
#4Soups397%
#5Dried Grains & Rice386%
#6Packaged Foods377%
#7Fruit Cups326%
#8Weight Training307%
#9Milk & Cream279%
#10Dishwashing Supplies275%
#11Paper Towels264%
#12Hand Soap & Sanitizer262%
#13Pasta249%
#14Vegetables238%
#15Flour238%
#16Facial Tissues235%
#17Allergy Medicine232%
#18Women’s Health215%
#19Cereals214%
#20Power Generators210%
#21Laundry Supplies200%
#22Household Cleaners195%
#23Soap & Body Wash194%
#24Toilet Paper190%
#25Jerky & Dried Meats187%
#26Chips & Pretzels186%
#27Crackers184%
#28Health Monitors182%
#29Popcorn179%
#30Computer Monitors172%
#31Fitness Equipment170%
#32Single Vitamins166%
#33Nut & Seed Butters163%
#34Cat Food162%
#35Fruit Snacks162%
#36Baby Care Products162%
#37Refrigerators160%
#38Baking Mixes160%
#39Toilet Accessories160%
#40Dog Food159%
#41Diapers154%
#42Yoga Equipment154%
#43Bottled Beverages153%
#44Baby Meals153%
#45Cookies147%
#46Digestion & Nausea144%
#47Snack Foods141%
#48Herbal Supplements136%
#49Cooking Oils135%
#50Water130%
#51Incontinence & Tummy129%
#52Mutivitamin126%
#53Cat Litter125%
#54Training Pads and Trays125%
#55Juices125%
#56Smoking Cessation122%
#57Dried Fruit & Raisins120%
#58Salt & Pepper Seasoning118%
#59Craft Kits & Projects117%
#60Batteries116%
#61Trash Bags116%
#62Nuts & Seeds116%
#63Hair Coloring115%
#64Sauce & Gravy115%
#65Deli Foods114%
#66Syrups114%
#67Breads & Bakery114%
#68Minerals113%
#69Condiments111%
#70First Aid108%
#71Nail Care108%
#72Humidifiers105%
#73Art Paint104%
#74Office Chairs104%
#75Deodorant103%
#76Jams, Jellies & Spreads102%
#77Coffee101%
#78Spices & Seasoning100%
#79Skin Care99%
#80Pain Relievers99%
#81Cooking Vinegars98%
#82Air Purifiers97%
#83Granola & Nutrition Bars97%
#84Pudding & Gelatin97%
#85Toy Clay & Dough95%
#86Single Spices95%
#87Bird Food & Treats91%
#88Lab & Science Products90%
#89Eczema & Psoriasis90%
#90Ping Pong89%
#91Chocolate86%
#92Baking Ingredients84%
#93Energy Supplements84%
#94Respiratory82%
#95Office Desks82%
#96Potty Training Supplies82%
#97Herbs, Spices & Seasonings82%
#98Keyboard & Mice80%
#99Body Lotion79%
#100Safes69%

Interestingly, toilet paper has seen more growth than baby care products, and cured meats have seen more growth than water. But while some categories are experiencing a drastic increase in demand, others are slumping in the pandemic economy.

The Fastest Declining Categories

An unprecedented wave of event and vacation cancellations is having a huge impact on the products people consume. For instance, luggage and suitcases, cameras, and men’s swimwear have all seen a dip in sales.

See the full list of 100 fastest declining categories below:

RankCategory% Change in March (2020 vs. 2019)
#1Luggage & Suitcases-77%
#2Briefcases-77%
#3Cameras-64%
#4Men’s Swimwear-64%
#5Bridal Clothing-63%
#6Men's Formal Wear-62%
#7Women’s Swimwear-59%
#8Rash Guards-59%
#9Boy’s Athletic Shoes-59%
#10Gym Bags-57%
#11Backpacks-56%
#12Snorkelling Equipment-56%
#13Girl’s Swimwear-55%
#14Baseball Equipment-55%
#15Event & Party Supplies-55%
#16Motorcycle Protective Gear-55%
#17Camera Bags & Cases-54%
#18Women’s Suits & Dresses-53%
#19Women’s Boots-51%
#20Cargo Racks-51%
#21Women’s Sandals-50%
#22Drones-50%
#23Boy's Active Clothing-50%
#24Lunch Boxes-50%
#25Store Fixtures & Displays-50%
#26Automotive Mats-50%
#27Men’s Outerwear-49%
#28Watches & Accessories-49%
#29Cargo Bed Covers-48%
#30Track & Field Equipment-48%
#31Ceiling Lighting-47%
#32Camera Lenses-47%
#33Girl’s Coats and Jackets-47%
#34Women’s Hats & Caps-47%
#35Women's Outerwear-47%
#36Video Cameras-46%
#37Wheels & Tires-46%
#38Motorcycle Parts-45%
#39Women’s Wallets-45%
#40Shocks & Struts-44%
#41Transmission & Parts-44%
#42Girl’s Athletic Shoes-44%
#43Women’s Shoes-44%
#44Telescopes-44%
#45Sunglasses & Eyeglasses-43%
#46Men’s Tops-41%
#47Video Projectors-40%
#48Men’s Athletic Shoes-40%
#49Marine Electronics-40%
#50Hand Tools-40%
#51Wine Racks-40%
#52Men's Shoes-40%
#53Clocks-39%
#54Baby Girl’s Shoes-39%
#55Bracelets-39%
#56Men’s Boots-39%
#57Tapestries-39%
#58Camping Equipment-39%
#59Men’s Bottoms-38%
#60Cell Phones-38%
#61Tool Storage & Organizers-38%
#62Necklaces-38%
#63Swimming Equipment-37%
#64Men’s Hats & Caps-37%
#65Girl’s Shoes-37%
#66Industrial Tools-36%
#67Juicers-36%
#68Desktops-35%
#69Classroom Furniture-35%
#70Bar & Wine Tools-35%
#71Glassware & Drinkware-35%
#72Musical Instruments-34%
#73Power Winches-34%
#74Home Bar Furniture-34%
#75Office Storage Supplies-34%
#76Girl's Active Clothing-34%
#77Women’s Tops-34%
#78Braces, Splints & Supports-34%
#79Car Anti-theft-34%
#80Rings-34%
#81Blankets & Quilts-33%
#82Women's Athletic Shoes-33%
#83Kitchen Sinks-33%
#84Golf Clubs-33%
#85Equestrian Equipment-33%
#86GPS & Navigation-32%
#87Recording Supplies-32%
#88Home Audio-32%
#89Boy's Accessories-32%
#90Earrings-32%
#91Dining Sets-31%
#92Calculators-31%
#93Boy's Shoes-31%
#94Volleyball Equipment-31%
#95Strollers-31%
#96Coolers-30%
#97Sanders & Grinders-30%
#98Men's Activewear-29%
#99Living Room Furniture-29%
#100Climbing & Hiking Bags-28%

Regardless of which list a product falls under, it is clear that the pandemic has impacted retailers of every kind in both positive and negative ways.

The New Normal?

Officially the world’s largest retailer, Amazon has announced it can no longer keep up with consumer demand. As a result, it will be delaying the delivery of non-essential items, or in some cases not taking orders for non-essentials at all.

This presents a double-edged sword, as the new dynamic that is bringing some retailers unprecedented demand could also bring about an untimely end for others.

Meanwhile, the question remains: will this drastic change in consumer behavior stabilize once we flatten the curve, or is this our new normal?

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Markets

Mapped: GDP per Capita Worldwide

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s standard of living. This map showcases the GDP per capita in every country globally.

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gdp per capita

Mapped: Visualizing GDP per Capita Worldwide

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

GDP per capita has steadily risen globally over time, and in tandem, the standard of living worldwide has increased immensely.

This map using data from the IMF shows the GDP per capita (nominal) of nearly every country and territory in the world.

GDP per capita is one of the best measures of a country’s wealth as it provides an understanding of how each country’s citizens live on average, showing a representation of the quantity of goods and services created per person.

The Standard of Living Over Time

Looking at history, our standard of living has increased drastically. According to Our World in Data, from 1820 to 2018, the average global GDP per capita increased by almost 15x.

Literacy rates, access to vaccines, and basic education have also improved our quality of life, while things like child mortality rates and poverty have all decreased.

For example, in 1990, 1.9 billion people lived in extreme poverty, which was 36% of the world’s population at the time. Over the last 30 years, the number has been steadily decreasing — by 2030, an estimated 479 million people will be living in extreme poverty, which according to UN population estimates, will represent only 6% of the population.

That said, economic inequality between different regions is still prevalent. In fact, the richest country today (in terms of nominal GDP per capita), Luxembourg, is over 471x more wealthy than the poorest, Burundi.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2021:

gdp per capita top 10 countries

However, not all citizens in Luxembourg are extremely wealthy. In fact:

  • 29% of people spend over 40% of their income on housing costs
  • 31% would be at risk of falling into poverty if they had to forgo 3 months of income

The cost of living is expensive in Luxembourg — but the standard of living in terms of goods and services produced is the highest in the world. Additionally, only 4% of the population reports low life satisfaction.

Emerging Economies and Developing Countries

Although we have never lived in a more prosperous period, and poverty rates have been declining overall, this year global extreme poverty rose for the first time in over two decades.

About 120 million additional people are living in poverty as a result of the pandemic, with the total expected to rise to about 150 million by the end of 2021.

Many of the poorest countries in the world are also considered Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the UN. In these countries, more than 75% of the population live below the poverty line.

Here’s a look at the 10 countries with the lowest GDP per capita:

gdp per capita bottom 10 countries

Life in these countries offers a stark contrast compared to the top 10. Here’s a glance at the quality of life in the poorest country, Burundi:

  • 80% of the population works in agriculture
  • 1 in 3 Burundians are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance
  • Average households spend up to two-thirds of their income on food

However, many of the world’s poorest countries can also be classified as emerging markets with immense economic potential in the future.

In fact, China has seen the opportunity in emerging economies. Their confidence in these regions is best exemplified in the Belt and Road initiative which has funneled massive investments into infrastructure projects across multiple African countries.

Continually Raising the Bar

Prosperity is a very recent reality only characterizing the last couple hundred years. In pre-modern societies, the average person was living in conditions that would be considered extreme poverty by today’s standards.

Overall, the standard of living for everyone today is immensely improved compared to even recent history, and some countries will be experiencing rapid economic growth in the future.

GDP per Capita in 2021: Full Dataset

CountryGDP per Capita (Nominal, 2021, USD)
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$125,923
🇮🇪 Ireland$90,478
🇨🇭 Switzerland$90,358
🇳🇴 Norway$76,408
🇺🇸 United States$66,144
🇩🇰 Denmark$63,645
🇸🇬 Singapore$62,113
🇮🇸 Iceland$58,371
🇳🇱 Netherlands$58,029
🇸🇪 Sweden$57,660
Australia$57,211
Qatar$55,417
Austria$54,820
Finland$54,817
Germany$51,967
Belgium$50,051
Macao SAR$48,207
Hong Kong SAR$47,990
Canada$45,871
France$44,770
San Marino$44,676
Israel$43,439
United Kingdom$42,236
New Zealand$41,793
Japan$40,733
Italy$35,062
United Arab Emirates$32,686
South Korea$32,305
Malta$32,099
The Bahamas$31,532
Puerto Rico$31,207
Spain$31,178
Europe$31,022
Cyprus$29,686
Taiwan Province of China$28,890
Slovenia$28,734
Estonia$26,378
Brunei Darussalam$26,274
Czech Republic$25,991
Portugal$25,097
Bahrain$23,710
Kuwait$23,138
Lithuania$22,752
Aruba$22,710
Slovakia$21,606
Saudi Arabia$20,742
Greece$20,521
Latvia$19,934
Hungary$17,645
Barbados$17,472
Poland$16,740
Trinidad and Tobago$16,622
Saint Kitts and Nevis$16,491
Croatia$16,402
Uruguay$16,297
Romania$14,916
Antigua and Barbuda$14,748
Oman$14,675
Panama$14,390
Chile$14,209
Maldives$14,194
Palau$13,180
Seychelles$12,648
Costa Rica$11,805
China$11,713
Malaysia$11,378
Bulgaria$11,349
Russia$10,793
Saint Lucia$10,636
Grenada$10,211
Guyana$9,913
Nauru$9,865
Mauritius$9,630
Kazakhstan$9,454
Montenegro$9,152
Argentina$9,095
Turkmenistan$8,874
Serbia$8,444
Mexico$8,403
Dominica$8,111
Equatorial Guinea$8,000
Gabon$7,785
Dominican Republic$7,740
Thailand$7,675
Iran$7,668
Turkey$7,659
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines$7,401
Botswana$7,036
North Macedonia $6,933
Brazil$6,728
Bosnia and Herzegovina$6,536
Belarus$6,513
Peru$6,229
Jamaica$5,643
Ecuador$5,589
Colombia$5,457
South Africa$5,236
Paraguay$5,207
Albania$5,161
Tonga$4,949
Suriname$4,921
Fiji$4,822
Iraq$4,767
Kosovo$4,753
Libya$4,733
Georgia$4,714
Moldova$4,527
Armenia$4,427
Namibia$4,412
Azerbaijan$4,404
Guatemala$4,385
Jordan$4,347
Tuvalu$4,296
Indonesia$4,287
Mongolia$4,139
Marshall Islands$4,092
Samoa$4,053
El Salvador$4,023
Micronesia$3,995
Belize$3,968
Sri Lanka$3,928
Vietnam$3,759
Eswatini$3,697
Cabo Verde$3,675
Bolivia$3,618
Ukraine$3,615
Egypt$3,606
Philippines$3,602
North Africa$3,560
Algeria$3,449
Bhutan$3,447
Morocco$3,409
Tunisia$3,380
Djibouti$3,275
West Bank and Gaza$3,060
Vanuatu$2,967
Lao P.D.R.$2,614
Papua New Guinea$2,596
Honduras$2,593
Côte d'Ivoire$2,571
Solomon Islands$2,501
Ghana$2,300
Congo, Republic of $2,271
Nigeria$2,209
São Tomé and Príncipe$2,133
Angola$2,130
Kenya$2,122
India$2,031
Bangladesh$1,990
Uzbekistan$1,836
Nicaragua$1,828
Kiribati$1,817
Mauritania$1,782
Cambodia$1,680
Cameroon$1,657
Senegal$1,629
Venezuela$1,586
Myanmar$1,441
Comoros$1,431
Benin$1,400
Timor-Leste$1,273
Kyrgyz Republic$1,270
Nepal$1,166
Tanzania$1,132
Guinea$1,067
Lesotho$1,018
Zambia$1,006
Mali$992
Uganda$971
Ethiopia$918
Tajikistan$851
Burkina Faso$851
Guinea-Bissau$844
Rwanda$820
Gambia, The$809
Togo$759
Sudan$714
Chad$710
Haiti$698
Liberia$646
Eritrea$632
Yemen$573
Niger$567
Madagascar$554
Central African Republic$522
Zimbabwe$516
Afghanistan$506
Congo, Dem. Rep. of the$478
Sierra Leone$471
Mozambique$431
Malawi$397
South Sudan, Republic of$323
Burundi$267

Editor’s note: Readers have rightly pointed out that Monaco is one of the world’s richest countries in GDP per capita (nominal) terms. This is true, but the IMF dataset excludes Monaco and lists it as “No data” each year. As a result, it is excluded from the visualization(s) above.

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Technology

Ranked: The Most Innovative Companies in 2021

In today’s fast-paced market, companies have to be innovative constantly. Here’s a look at the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.

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Most Innovative Companies 2021

Ranked: the Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2021

This year has been rife with pandemic-induced changes that have shifted corporate priorities—and yet, innovation has remained a top concern among corporations worldwide.

Using data from the annual ranking done by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) using a poll of 1,600 global innovation professionals, this graphic ranks the top 50 most innovative companies in 2021.

We’ll dig into a few of the leading companies, along with their innovative practices, below.

Most Innovative Companies: A Breakdown of the Leaderboard

To create the top 50 innovative company ranking, BCG uses four variables:

  • Global “Mindshare”: The number of votes from all innovation executives.
  • Industry Peer Review: The number of votes from executives in a company’s industry.
  • Industry Disruption: A diversity index to measure votes across industries.
  • Value Creation: Total share return.

For the second year in a row, Apple claims the top spot on this list. Here’s a look at the full ranking for 2021:

 CompanyIndustryHQChange from 2020
1AppleTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
2AlphabetTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
3AmazonConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.--
4MicrosoftTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.--
5TeslaTransport & Energy🇺🇸 U.S.+6
6SamsungTechnology🇰🇷 South Korea-1
7IBMTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+1
8HuaweiTechnology🇨🇳 China-2
9SonyConsumer Goods🇯🇵 Japan--
10PfizerHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.Return
11SiemensTechnology🇩🇪 Germany+10
12LG ElectronicsConsumer Goods🇰🇷 South Korea+6
13FacebookTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.-3
14AlibabaConsumer Goods🇨🇳 China-7
15OracleTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+10
16DellTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+4
17Cisco SystemsTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.-5
18TargetConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+4
19HP Inc.Technology🇺🇸 U.S.-4
20Johnson & JohnsonHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.+6
21ToyotaTransport & Energy🇯🇵 Japan+20
22SalesforceTechnology🇺🇸 U.S.+13
23WalmartConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.-10
24NikeConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.-8
25LenovoTechnology🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARReturn
26TencentConsumer Goods🇨🇳 China-12
27Procter & GambleConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+12
28Coca-ColaConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.+20
29Abbott LabsHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.New
30BoschTransport & Energy🇩🇪 Germany+3
31XiaomiTechnology🇨🇳 China-7
32IkeaConsumer Goods🇳🇱 NetherlandsReturn
33Fast RetailingConsumer Goods🇯🇵 JapanReturn
34AdidasConsumer Goods🇩🇪 GermanyReturn
35Merck & Co.Healthcare🇺🇸 U.S.Return
36NovartisHealthcare🇨🇭 Switzerland+11
37EbayConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.Return
38PepsiCoConsumer Goods🇺🇸 U.S.Return
39HyundaiTransport & Energy🇰🇷 South KoreaReturn
40SAPTechnology🇩🇪 Germany-13
41InditexConsumer Goods🇪🇸 SpainReturn
42ModernaHealthcare🇺🇸 U.S.New
43PhilipsHealthcare🇳🇱 Netherlands-20
44DisneyMedia & Telecomms🇺🇸 U.S.Return
45MitsubishiTransport & Energy🇯🇵 JapanNew
46ComcastMedia & Telecomms🇺🇸 U.S.New
47GETransport & Energy🇺🇸 U.S.Return
48RocheHealthcare🇨🇭 SwitzerlandReturn
49AstraZenecaHealthcare🇬🇧 UKNew
50BayerHealthcare🇩🇪 Germany-12

One company worth touching on is Pfizer, a returnee from previous years that ranked 10th in this year’s ranking. It’s no surprise that Pfizer made the list, considering its instrumental role in the fight against COVID-19. In partnership with BioNTech, Pfizer produced a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. This is impressive considering that, historically, vaccine development could take up to a decade to complete.

Pfizer is just one of four COVID-19 vaccine producers to appear on the list this year—Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca also made the cut.

Meanwhile, in a completely different industry, Toyota snagged the 21st spot on this year’s list, up 20 places compared to the rankings in the previous year. This massive jump can be signified by the company’s recent $400 million investment into a company set to build flying electric cars.

While we often think of R&D and innovation as being synonymous, the former is just one innovation technique that’s helped companies earn a spot on the list. Other companies have innovated in different ways, like streamlining processes to increase efficiency.

For instance, in 2021, Coca-Cola performed an analysis of their beverage portfolio and ended up cutting their brand list in half, from 400 to 200 global brands. This ability to pare down and pivot could be a reason behind its 20 rank increase from 2020.

Innovation Creates Value

As this year’s ranking indicates, innovation comes in many forms. But, while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there is one fairly consistent innovation trend—the link between innovation and value.

In fact, according to historical data from BCG, the correlation between value and innovation has grown even stronger over the last two decades.

Most Innovative Companies 2021

For example, in 2020, a portfolio that was theoretically invested in BCG’s most innovative companies would have performed 17% better than the MSCI World Index—which wasn’t the case back in 2005.

And yet, despite innovation’s value, many companies can’t reap the benefits that innovation offers because they aren’t ready to scale their innovative practices.

The Innovation Readiness Gap

BCG uses several metrics to gauge a company’s “innovation readiness,” such as the strength of its talent and culture, its organization ecosystems, and its ability to track performance.

According to BCG’s analysis, only 20% of companies surveyed were ready to scale on innovation.

Scaling Innovation

What’s holding companies back from reaching their innovation potential? The most significant gap seems to be in what BCG calls innovation practices—things like project management or the ability to execute an idea that’s both efficient and consistent with an overarching strategy.

To overcome this obstacle, BCG says companies need to foster a “one-team mentality” to increase interdepartmental collaboration and align team incentives, so everyone is working towards the same goal.

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