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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

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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China

Charting the Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

This infographic charts the rise and fall of the $308 billion global personal luxury market, and explores what the coming year holds for its growth

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The Rise and Fall of the Global Luxury Goods Market

Global demand for personal luxury goods has been steadily increasing for decades, resulting in an industry worth $308 billion in 2019.

However, the insatiable desire for consumers to own nice things was suddenly interrupted by the coming of COVID-19, and experts are predicting a brutal contraction of up to one-third of the current luxury good market size this year.

Will the industry bounce back? Or will it return as something noticeably different?

A Once Promising Trajectory

The global luxury goods market—which includes beauty, apparel, and accessories—has compounded at a 6% pace since the 1990s.

Recent years of growth in the personal luxury goods market can be mostly attributed to Chinese consumers. This geographic market accounted for 90% of total sales growth in 2019, followed by the Europe and the Americas.

Analysts suggest that China’s younger luxury goods consumers in particular have significant spending power, with an average spend of $6,000 (¥41,000) per person in pre-COVID times.

An Industry Now in Distress

The lethal combination of reduced foot traffic and decreased consumer spending in the first quarter of 2020 has brought the retail industry to its knees.

In fact, more than 80% of fashion and luxury players will experience financial distress as a result of extended store closures.

luxury market McKinsey supplemental

With iconic luxury retailers such as Neiman Marcus filing for bankruptcy, the pressure on the luxury industry is clear. It should be noted however, that companies who were experiencing distress before the COVID-19 outbreak will be the hardest hit.

Predicting the Collapse

In a recent report, Bain & Company estimated a 25% to 30% global luxury market contraction for the first quarter of 2020 based on several economic variables. They have also modeled three scenarios to predict the performance for the remainder of 2020.

  • Optimistic scenario: A limited market contraction of 15% to 18%, assuming increased consumer demand for the second and third quarter of the year, roughly equating to a sales decline of $46 billion to $56 billion.
  • Intermediate scenario: A moderate market contraction of between 22% and 25%, or $68 to $77 billion.
  • Worst-case scenario: A steep contraction of between 30% and 35%, equating to $92 billion to $108 billion. This assumes a longer period of sales decline.

Although there are signs of recovery in China, the industry is not expected to fully return to 2019 levels until 2022 at the earliest. By that stage, the industry could have transformed entirely.

Changing Consumer Mindsets

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one-quarter of of consumers have delayed purchasing luxury items. In fact, a portion of those who have delayed purchasing luxury goods are now considering entirely new avenues, such as seeking out cheaper alternatives.

However, most people surveyed claim that they will postpone buying luxury items until they can get a better deal on price.

luxury market supplemental

This frugal mindset could spark an interesting behavioral shift, and set the stage for a new category to emerge from the ashes—the second-hand luxury market.

Numerous sources claim that pre-owned luxury could in fact overtake the traditional luxury market, and the pandemic economy could very well be a tipping point.

The Future of Luxury

Medium-term market growth could be driven by a number of factors, from a global growing middle class and their demand for luxury products, as well as retailers’ sudden shift to e-commerce.

While analysts can only rely on predictions to determine the future of personal luxury, it is clear that the industry is at a crossroads.

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COVID-19

How U.S. Consumers are Spending Differently During COVID-19

How has COVID-19 transformed consumer spending trends so far? We look at credit and debit card spending of 5 million U.S. consumers across 18 categories.

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In 2019, nearly 70% of U.S. GDP was driven by personal consumption.

However, in the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has initiated a transformation of consumer spending trends as we know them.

Consumer Spending in Charts

By leveraging new data from analytics platform 1010Data, today’s infographic dives into the credit and debit card spending of five million U.S. consumers over the past few months.

Let’s see how their spending habits have evolved over that short timeframe:

How U.S. Consumers are Spending Differently During COVID-19

The above data on consumer spending, which comes from 1010Data and powered by AI platform Exabel, is broken into 18 different categories:

  • General Merchandise & Grocery: Big Box, Pharmacy, Wholesale Club, Grocery
  • Retail: Apparel, Office Supplies, Pet Supplies
  • Restaurant: Casual dining, Fast casual, Fast food, Fine dining
  • Food Delivery: Food delivery, Grocery Delivery, Meal/Snack kit
  • Travel: Airline, Car rental, Cruise, Hotel

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has consumers cutting back on most of their purchases, but that doesn’t mean that specific categories don’t benefit from changes in consumer habits.

Consumer Spending Changes By Category

The onset of changing consumer behavior can be observed from February 25, 2020, when compared year-over-year (YoY).

As of May 12, 2020, combined spending in all categories dropped by almost 30% YoY. Here’s how that shakes out across the different categories, across two months.

General Merchandise & Grocery

This segment saw a sharp spike in initial spending, as Americans scrambled to stockpile on non-perishable food, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper from Big Box stores like Walmart, or Wholesale Clubs like Costco.

In particular, spending on groceries reached a YoY increase of 97.1% on March 18, 2020. However, these sudden panic-buying urges leveled out by the start of April.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Big Box+14.2%-1.5%-15.7%
Grocery+1.0%+9.4%+8.4%
Pharmacy-3.6%-23.8%-20.2%
Wholesale Club+13.0%+2.6%-10.4%

Pharmaceutical purchases dropped the most in this segment, possibly as individuals cut back on their healthcare expenditures during this time. In fact, in an April 2020 McKinsey survey of physicians, 80% reported a decline in patient volumes.

Retail

With less foot traffic in malls and entire stores forced to close, sales of apparel plummeted both in physical locations and over e-commerce platforms.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Apparel-5.6%-51.9%-46.3%
Office Supplies-8.9%-2.8%+6.1%
Pet Supplies+2.7%-18.5%-21.2%

Interestingly, sales of office supplies rose as many pivoted to working from home. Many parents also likely required more of these resources to home-school their children.

Restaurant

The food and beverage industry has been hard-hit by COVID-19. While many businesses turned to delivery services to stay afloat, those in fine dining were less able to rely on such a shift, and spiraled by 88.2% by May 5, 2020, year-over-year.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY ChangeOverall Change
Casual Dining-2.7%-64.9%-62.2%
Fast Casual4.2%-29.6%-33.8%
Fast Food2.0%-20.9%-22.9%
Fine Dining-18.6%-88.2%-69.6%

Applebees or Olive Garden exemplify casual dining, while Panera or Chipotle characterize fast casual.

Food Delivery

Meanwhile, many consumers also shifted from eating out to home cooking. As a result, grocery delivery services jumped by over five-fold—with consumers spending a whopping 558.4% more at its April 19, 2020 peak compared to last year.

 Feb. 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Food Delivery+18.8%+67.1%+48.3%
Grocery Delivery+23.0%+419.7%+396.7%
Meal/ Snack Kit+7.0%-5.9%-12.9%

Food delivery services are also in high demand, with Doordash seeing the highest growth in U.S. users than any other food delivery app in April.

Travel

While all travel categories experienced an immense decline, cruises suffered the worst blow by far, down by 87.0% in YoY spending since near the start of the pandemic.

 Feb 25, 2020 YoY SpendingMay 5, 2020 YoY SpendingOverall Change
Airline-7.7%-99.1%-91.4%
Car Rental-6.3%-86.0%-79.7%
Cruise-18.7%-105.7%-87.0%
Hotel-7.0%-85.9%-78.9%

Airlines have also come to a halt, nosediving by 91.4% in a 10-week span. In fact, governments worldwide have pooled together nearly $85 billion in an attempt to bail the industry out.

Hope on the Horizon?

Consumer spending offers a pulse of the economy’s health. These sharp drops in consumer spending fall in line with the steep decline in consumer confidence.

In fact, consumer confidence has eroded even more intensely than the stock market’s performance this quarter, as observed when the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) is compared to the S&P 500 Index.

Consumer Sentiment Index

Many investors dumped their stocks as the coronavirus hit, but consumers tightened their purse strings even more. Yet, as the chart also shows, both the stock market and consumer sentiment are slowly but surely on the mend since April.

As the stay-at-home curtain cautiously begins to lift in the U.S., there may yet be hope for economic recovery on the horizon.

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