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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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Technology

How Big Tech Makes Their Billions

The big five tech companies generate almost $900 billion in revenues combined, more than the GDP of four of the G20 nations. Here’s how they earn it all.

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How Big Tech Makes Their Billions

The world’s largest companies are all in technology, and four out of five of those “Big Tech” companies have grown to trillion-dollar market capitalizations.

Despite their similarities, each of the five technology companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet) have very different cashflow breakdowns and growth trajectories. Some have a diversified mix of applications and cloud services, products, and data accumulation, while others have a more singular focus.

But through growth in almost all segments, Big Tech has eclipsed Big Oil and other major industry groups to comprise the most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world. By continuing to grow, these companies have strengthened the financial position of their billionaire founders and led the tech-heavy NASDAQ to new record highs.

Unfortunately, with growth comes difficulty. Data-use, diversity, and treatment of workers have all become hot-button issues on a global scale, putting Big Tech on the defensive with advertisers and governments alike.

Still, even this hasn’t stopped the tech giants from (almost) all posting massive revenue growth.

Revenues for Big Tech Keep Increasing

Across the board, greater technological adoption is the biggest driver of increased revenues.

Amazon earned the most in total revenue compared with last year’s figures, with leaps in almost all of the company’s operations. Revenue from online sales and third-party seller services increased by almost $30 billion, while Amazon Web Services and Amazon Prime saw increased revenues of $15 billion combined.

The only chunk of the Amazon pie that didn’t increase were physical store sales, which have stagnated after previously being the fastest growing segment.

Big Tech Revenues (2019 vs. 2018)

CompanyRevenue (2018)Revenue (2019)Growth (YoY)
Apple$265.6 billion$260.2 billion-2.03%
Amazon$232.9 billion$280.5 billion20.44%
Alphabet$136.8 billion$161.9 billion18.35%
Microsoft$110.4 billion$125.8 billion13.95%
Facebook$55.8 billion$70.8 billion26.88%
Combined$801.5 billion$899.2 billion12.19%

Services and ads drove increased revenues for the rest of Big Tech as well. Alphabet’s ad revenue from Google properties and networks increased by $20 billion. Meanwhile, Google Cloud has seen continued adoption and grown into its own $8.9 billion segment.

For Microsoft, growth in cloud computing and services led to stronger revenue in almost all segments. Most interestingly, growth for Azure services outpaced that of Office and Windows to become the company’s largest share of revenue.

And greater adoption of services and ad integration were a big boost for ad-driven Facebook. Largely due to continued increases in average revenue per user, Facebook generated an additional $20 billion in revenue.

Comparing the Tech Giants

The one company that didn’t post massive revenue increases was Apple, though it did see gains in some revenue segments.

iPhone revenue, still the cornerstone of the business, dropped by almost $25 billion. That offset an almost $10 billion increase in revenue from services and about $3 billion from iPad sales.

However, with net income of $55.2 billion, Apple leads Big Tech in both net income and market capitalization.

Big Tech: The Full Picture

CompanyRevenue (2019)Net Income (2019)Market Cap (July 2020)
Apple$260.2 billion$55.2 billion$1.58 trillion
Amazon$280.5 billion$11.6 billion$1.44 trillion
Alphabet$161.9 billion$34.3 billion$1.02 trillion
Microsoft$125.8 billion$39.2 billion$1.56 trillion
Facebook$70.8 billion$18.5 billion$665.04 billion
Combined$899.2 billion$158.8 billion$6.24 trillion

Bigger Than Countries

They might have different revenue streams and margins, but together the tech giants have grown from Silicon Valley upstarts to global forces.

The tech giants combined for almost $900 billion in revenues in 2019, greater than the GDP of four of the G20 nations. By comparison, Big Tech’s earnings would make it the #18 largest country by GDP, ahead of Saudi Arabia and just behind the Netherlands.

Big Tech earns billions by capitalizing on their platforms and growing user databases. Through increased growth and adoption of software, cloud computing, and ad proliferation, those billions should continue to increase.

As technology use has increased in 2020, and is only forecast to continue growing, how much more will Big Tech be able to earn in the future?

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Technology

Visualizing the Size of Amazon, the World’s Most Valuable Retailer

Amazon’s valuation has grown by 2,830% over the last decade, and the tech giant is now worth more than the other 9 largest U.S. retailers, combined.

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Visualizing the Size of the World’s Most Valuable Retailer

As brick-and-mortar chains teeter in the face of the pandemic, Amazon continues to gain ground.

The retail juggernaut is valued at no less than $1.4 trillion—roughly four times what it was in late 2016 when its market cap hovered around $350 billion. Last year, the Jeff Bezos-led company shipped 2 billion packages around the world.

Today’s infographic shows how Amazon’s market cap alone is bigger than the nine biggest U.S. retailers put together, highlighting the palpable presence of the once modest online bookstore.

The New Normal

COVID-19’s sudden shift has rendered many retail outfits obsolete.

Neiman Marcus, JCPenney, and J.Crew have all filed for bankruptcy as consumer spending has migrated online. This, coupled with heavy debt loads across many retail chains, is only compounding the demise of brick-and-mortar. In fact, one estimate projects that at least 25,000 U.S. stores will fold over the next year.

Still, as safety and supply chain challenges mount—with COVID-19 related costs in the billions—Amazon remains at the top. It surpasses its next closest competitor, Walmart, by $1 trillion in market valuation.

How does Amazon compare to the largest retailers in the U.S.?

10 Largest Public US Retailers*Market Value July 1, 2020Market Value July 1, 2010 Normalized % Change 2010-2020Retail Revenue
Walmart$339B$179B90%$514B
Costco$134B$24B458%$142B
Amazon$1,400B$50B2,830%$140B
The Kroger Co.$26B$13B107%$118Be
Walgreens Boots Alliance$36B$26B38%$111B
The Home Depot$267B$47B466%$108B
CVS$84B$40B112%$84B
Target$60B$37B64%$74B
Lowe's$102B$29B251%$71B
Best Buy$23B$14B59%$43B
Combined value of retailers (without Amazon)$1,071B

Source: Deloitte, YCharts
*Largest public US retailers based on their retail revenue as of fiscal years ending through June 30, 2019, e=estimated

With nearly a 39% share of U.S. e-commerce retail sales, Amazon’s market cap has grown 2,830% over the last decade. Its business model, which aggressively pursues market dominance instead of focusing on short-term profits, is one factor behinds the rise.

By the same token, one recent estimate by The Economist pegged Amazon’s retail operating margins at -1% last year. Another analyst has suggested that the company purposefully sells retail goods at a loss.

How Amazon makes up for this operating shortfall is through its cash-generating cloud service, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and through a collection of diversified enterprise-focused services. AWS, with estimated operating margins of 26%, brought in $9.2 billion in profits in 2019—more than half of Amazon’s total.

Amazon’s Basket of Eggs

Unlike many of its retail competitors, Amazon has rapidly diversified its acquisitions since it originated in 1994.

Take the $1.2 billion acquisition of Zoox. Amazon plans to operate self-driving taxi fleets, all of which are designed without steering wheels. It is the company’s third largest since the $13.7 billion acquisition of organic grocer Whole Foods, followed by Zappos.

Accounting for the lion’s share of Amazon-owned physical stores, Whole Foods has 508 stores across the U.S., UK, and Canada. While Amazon doesn’t outline revenues across its physical retail segments—which include Amazon Books stores, Amazon Go stores, and others—physical store sales tipped over $17 billion in 2019.

Meanwhile, Amazon also owns gaming streaming platform Twitch, which it acquired for $970 million in 2017. Currently, Twitch makes up 73% of the streaming market and brought in an estimated $300 million in ad revenues in 2019.

Carrying On

Despite the flood of online orders due to quarantines and social distancing requirements, Amazon’s bottom line has suffered. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, it is expected to rack up $4 billion in pandemic-related costs.

Yet, at the same time, its customer-obsessed business model appears to thrive under current market conditions. As of July 1, its stock price has spiked over 51% year-to-date. On an annualized basis, that’s roughly 100% in returns.

As margins get squeezed and expenses grow, is Amazon’s growth sustainable in the long-term? Or, are the company’s strategic acquisitions and revenue streams providing the catalysts (and cash) for only more short-term success?

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