What 4.4B Sessions Tell Us About the Impact of Coronavirus on Online Behavior (Update 3)


Jean-Marc Bellaiche

March 19, 2020 | 3 min read

Last Updated: May 28, 2020

We continue our close monitoring of the impact of Coronavirus on consumer behaviors online — most notably on traffic, conversion and time spent patterns across industries.

We have broadened our approach to include more than 4.4 billion sessions and 21 billion pages views over the last 10 weeks of 2020, from January 6th 2020 to March 15th 2020. To understand the shift in digital consumer trends, we have compared behaviors week by week since the outbreak of the Coronavirus was first reported globally in the news (the week starting Feb 17th) compared to the period immediately before (first 6 weeks of the year: the reference period).

We tracked 20+ industries in our analysis and will present data for 14 of them in this article (please contact us directly for information about your industry). Overall and across industries, we recorded a -3.6% decrease in online traffic last week vs the reference week. Consumers have even further reduced the time they spend online (-11.5%) but appear to be quite determined and to know what they want, as indicated by the +3.3% increase to the conversion rate.

Drilling down into specific industries, we observe major differences and shifts in online behavior.


Traffic analysis shows the dramatic impact by sector

Not all the sectors are equal in the face of this crisis. Some industries are experiencing a significant increase in traffic, while others are seeing a major drop in digital visits. The chart below compares last week’s traffic (March 8-15) with the average of the first six weeks of the year (pre-Covid-19 acceleration in western countries).

Four sectors recorded a major surge in traffic: Media (+46%), Supermarket (+42%), Retail Healthcare (comprising online pharmacies, vitamin, supplement: +24%) and Telecom (+24%).

This shows two major patterns: people are interested in stocking up on basic items and key necessities to face the crisis (food, health, staying connected during quarantine or WFH), and at the same time people want to be informed and have more time to consume media.

The week by week view of traffic trends shows the Media and Supermarket sectors, which were already up in late February, experienced a strong acceleration last week (respectively +46% and +42% in one week). Conversely, Healthcare experienced a relative drop in traffic last week  (-10%) after 2 weeks of increases.

Some sectors are particularly hurt, experiencing significantly fewer visits: Jewelry (-25%), Tourism (-22%), Luxury (-19%), Fashion (-14%) and Events/Theater and Sport equipment brands (both at -13%).

The week-by-week view shows a very strong decline in Tourism and Events in particular.


Transactions follow Maslow’s hierarchy

The change in the number of transactions is directly but not perfectly correlated to the shifts in traffic:

At the top of the chart, Supermarket is experiencing a boom in transactions (+57%) with a rise of the conversion rate amplifying the super-strong traffic. Retail healthcare businesses are also seeing more transactions.

Two sectors recorded a slight drop of traffic but had higher conversion rates, leading to an increase in the number of transactions: Bank and Insurance (+45% transactions last week vs reference period) and Marketplace/Tech retail (+15%).

At the bottom of the chart, Tourism is hurt the most (-47% transactions last week vs the reference period). Jewelry & Watch, Luxury, Fashion Events and Sport brands are also severely hurt (-15 to -25%) and for the last four the drop in transactions is even stronger than the traffic decline, leading to a significant decrease in the conversion rate.

It is interesting to note that while traffic on Media websites is surging, this does not translate into new subscriptions or purchases. Consumers are consuming more media (news, movies, videos) but within their existing subscriptions.

These purchases clearly correspond to the logic of the Maslow pyramid: in order to satisfy needs at the base of the pyramid, consumers are stocking up mostly on food and health necessities, ensuring they have the basic equipment to stay at home (TV, PCs, headsets, fridges…) and taking care of their finances. At the same time, any purchase that falls into the top tier of the Maslow pyramid of needs, such as non-necessary items and of course, any outdoor activities, are dropping significantly.

Considering very recent trends and looking only at the weeks ending March 15 and 8, we see that the main variations in the volume of transactions are recorded in the Supermarket sector (+33% increase in the number of transactions in one week, in strong acceleration), the Banking/Insurance sector (+26%) and, on the negative side, Tourism (-39% in strong negative inflection).

We estimate the online grocery market to be worth $50B in the Western World, and the increase we measured following the recent acceleration of the Coronavirus is worth $2.5B per month. Conversely, we estimate the tourism market in the West is worth $4T, of which 75% is made from online bookings, so the drop of transactions observed can be quantified as a loss of revenues of $120B per month.

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 verticalized insights on how today’s consumer likes to browse.