It’s impossible to overstate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every single aspect of society, from work to education to entertainment, has been forced to adapt to the virus.
Of course, this has had a particularly profound effect on the economy. The stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the virus have been disastrous for many industries, including luggage (why buy a suitcase when you can’t travel anywhere?) and cameras (there are only so many things to take photos of inside your home).
But not every industry has been affected that badly. In fact, through ecommerce, the conditions created by COVID-19 have actually led to some industries growing during this time.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at these industries that have seen a significant rise in ecommerce sales due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that only people who were infected with COVID-19 should be wearing face masks in public. But at the end of April they reversed that decision — it’s now recommended that everyone wear face masks.
At this point, we’ve even seen some states require residents to wear face masks when visiting a business or using public transportation, and many stores are posting security guards at their entrances to stop customers from coming in if they don’t have a mask.
Even before these most recent developments, the COVID-19 outbreak had led to hundreds of thousands of face masks being sold per day on Etsy. And that demand is only going to grow now that wearing a mask has become more of a requirement than a recommendation in many areas.
Another CDC recommendation is that you should frequently disinfect high-touch areas in the house such as doorknobs and light switches, and you should be wearing disposable gloves while doing so. So, it only makes sense that sales for disposable gloves grew by 670% from March 2019 to March 2020, which was a bigger year-over-year change than any other ecommerce product over this period.
Everyone knows that toilet paper has been flying off the shelves since the stay-at-home orders started going into effect. But unless you’ve recently welcomed a new addition to your family, you may not be aware that stores have been selling out of baby products such as formula and diapers as well.
According to a New York Times report, people stocking up on both toilet paper and baby products has been caused by simple panic buying. Consumers aren’t sure how long these lockdowns are going to continue, so they’ve been buying enough to last them for weeks or even months.
Again, the CDC has made it clear that cleaning and disinfecting their households will help people protect themselves against COVID-19. This has led to skyrocketing sales figures for cleaning products such as aerosol disinfectants (385.3% year-over-year sales growth in March 2020), bath/shower wipes (180%), multipurpose cleaners (148.2%) and paper towels (40.8%).
Even though grocery stores are one of the few businesses that have been allowed to remain open during lockdowns, consumers are frequently ordering groceries online instead of going to the store in order to maintain social distancing.
Indeed, data from eMarketer shows that 11% of U.S. adults reported ordering groceries online more often than usual as of the week of March 1 — this figure grew to 16% of U.S. adults for the week of March 8 before jumping to 30% of U.S. adults for the week of March 15. By the week of March 22, 37% of U.S. adults were ordering groceries more often than they were before COVID-19.
This trend certainly continued into the next month, as April 2020 saw a record $5.3 billion in online grocery sales.
Demand for online grocery delivery has been so high that Amazon had to put new users for its Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods services on a waitlist, and Walmart Grocery became the most popular shopping app in the United States.
Consumers have been buying equipment for making their own food as well — of the top 100 fastest growing ecommerce categories from March 2019 to March 2020, bread machines took the No. 2 spot (652% growth).
According to a CNBC survey, just 9% of Americans worked from home before the pandemic. Now, it’s 42%.
With millions of workers suddenly needing to set up their own home offices, sales for products such as paper, pens, telecommuting equipment and office furniture have risen dramatically.
You can see this trend reflected heavily in the stock market. In the S&P 500 index, the wireless telecommunication services sector has grown 22.17% since the start of the year (as of May 2020), compared to -8.52% for the index as a whole.
People were so eager to invest in the popular teleconferencing app Zoom (ticker symbol: ZM) that many investors ended up accidentally putting their money into Zoom Technologies (ticker symbol: ZOOM), a completely unrelated company that has not released any information on its finances or operations for the past few years. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had to step in and halt trading for Zoom Technologies to put an end to the confusion.
On the furniture side of work-from-home equipment, Wayfair started out the year seeing its usual gross revenue growth rate of around 20% for the months of January and February. But for March and April, that growth rate more than doubled.
These sales figures have been helped by the fact that workers don’t always need to make these purchases on their own. Many businesses are giving their employees stipends that they can use to buy this equipment, as well.
Retail stores and office complexes aren’t the only businesses that have been forced to close their doors due to COVID-19. Gyms have closed as well, which has led to consumers setting up home gyms in addition to their home offices.
It’s not uncommon for fitness equipment sales to spike at the beginning of the year, as many people are still trying to live up to their workout-related New Year’s resolutions during that time. Last year, online sales for fitness equipment rose by 70% from February to March. But this year, the growth rate of online fitness equipment sales from February to March was much higher than that — it was 535%, to be exact. It’s difficult to explain this sudden change as anything other than a reaction to COVID-19.
One concern for retailers, though, is that these sales usually took the form of low-cost, low-margin products such as dumbbells and yoga mats rather than high-cost, high-margin products such as treadmills and rowing machines.
With unemployment reaching levels that haven’t been seen since the Great Depression, it’s no surprise that consumers are holding back on big purchases for now. In this way, even the industries that benefit from stay-at-home orders have been dragged down by COVID-19’s overall effect on the economy.
Adam Ritchie is a writer based in Silver Spring, Maryland. He writes about ecommerce trends and best practices for Shogun. His previous clients include Groupon, Clutch and New Theory.