Impact of Coronavirus on eCommerce: Online Supermarkets Adapt to Surge and Fashion Makes a Comeback


Jean-Marc Bellaiche

March 31, 2020 | 4 min read

Last Updated: May 28, 2020

To provide understanding during this uncertain time, we are closely monitoring the impact of coronavirus on digital consumer behaviors. Find all the latest insights on our Covid-19 eCommerce Impact data hub.

As one third of the planet navigates a new reality on lockdown, people everywhere are leaning on digital to fulfill basic needs and obligations such as buying food, educating their children or getting their jobs done. Convenience has been superseded by necessity, and as a society, our reliance on digital has perhaps never been greater.

Our analysts have tracked billions of user sessions since the start of the Coronavirus crisis to bring you week-by-week updates on how consumers across the world and across industries are browsing today. Our study includes more than 5.2 billion sessions and 25 billion page views, captured over the last 13 weeks of 2020, from January 6th 2020 to March 29th 2020. To understand the impact of Covid-19 on global eCommerce, we’ve compared recent weeks to the period immediately preceding the global reporting of the outbreak (or, the first 6 weeks of the year, which we call the reference period).

In last week’s update we highlighted the challenges of the online grocery sector, as traffic surged but supply chain issues prevented some stores from meeting consumer demand for products and delivery slots. We also recorded a significant increase in transactions on sporting goods sites (after an earlier drop in both traffic and sales), reflecting a desire by consumers to stay fit at home. The cosmetics sector was also in recovery, after brands refocused their promotions around hand soap and personal hygiene products. And as people settled into quarantine, streaming and news sites recorded a significant boost in traffic, while retail tech sites saw more transactions on laptop, televisions and gaming consoles.

These are the trends we recorded this week:

Global digital traffic was up +7% last week compared to the reference week — an +8% increase from the previous week. Transactions were also up, with a +12% increase from the start of the outbreak (or +9% increase from the previous week).

In fact, all the metrics we have been analyzing week on week recorded a positive difference last week, with a higher number of page views, longer browsing sessions and a higher conversion rate than during the week ending 3/22. This acceleration confirms the pattern of higher engagement observed over the past two weeks, as consumers settle into quarantine and expand their reliance on digital.


Traffic and Transactions Surge in Online Grocery Sector

Traffic to online grocery stores is up +219% since the beginning of the outbreak, shifting the industry from one of convenience to one of necessity. Transactions are also up (+50% compared to the reference week), but the gap between traffic and purchases highlights the challenges faced by the industry, as stores struggle to meet demand and securing a delivery slot becomes a daily challenge for many households.

The big change this week is that in many countries, online supermarkets have improved their supply chain, while at the same time many consumers have lowered their expectations, accepting substitute products and later delivery slots. As a result, transactions which were down the week ending 3/22, were up the week ending 3/29.

In the UK, where many stores have now ironed out some of the issues caused by the previous week’s traffic surge, there was a +220% increase in transactions last week compared to the previous week. Chains like Iceland, for example, are now able to deliver again this week, while last week online delivery slots were reserved to the elderly and most vulnerable.

In France, online grocery stores have come up with innovative ways to cope with the surge in demand, including supermarket chain Carrefour, which is now making consumer queue a few minutes before accessing their e-stores and is also offering “baskets of essentials” — a selection of basic items in categories such as produce, pets, cleaning etc.

Grocery stores have also been focusing on their homepage messaging, and on communicating to their customers how they are responding to their needs. Sainsbury’s, for example, has promised a “price lockdown” for the upcoming weeks and are being transparent about their efforts to prioritize home delivery for those who need it most.


Fashion Makes a Comeback

After weeks of dwindling traffic, the fashion sector recorded a sharp increase in visits last week from the previous week (+31%). Transactions also went up +32% from the previous week, confirming a renewed interest in browsing for apparel among global consumers. This is good news for fashion retailers, and goes some way to compensating for the lag observed over the last few weeks. As we speak, after a significant drop in traffic and sales at the beginning of the crisis — a traditionally slow time of year for apparel brands — the fashion sector is seeing the same level of transactions as before the start of the outbreak.

A deep-dive into the traffic data from individual countries shows that the greatest uptick in interest is in the US, where many fashion players have been pushing strong promotions and heavy discounts. This is good news as it shows some reactivity from consumers and also some optimism as for potential upcoming use of their new Fashion purchases.

Finally, it is worth noting that the retail tech, home/furniture, beauty and retail healthcare sectors continue to do quite well in terms of the volume of transactions, with increases of between +30% to +60% between the week ending 3/29 and our pre-outbreak reference period. This reflects a clear shift in consumer behaviors, with people actively equipping their homes for quarantine (laptops, gaming consoles, TVs, home office, soap, vitamins).

Online banking transactions were also up last week, as consumers moved from branch banking to managing their money online (applying for credit, opening savings accounts, trading, etc).

We will keep monitoring the data over the coming weeks to bring you timely updates on how events are impacting various sectors. In the meantime, our 2020 Digital Experience Benchmark report is available to download and contains key vertical insights for improving the full customer journey.

Photo credit: icarmen13