Can The Coronavirus Boost E-Commerce Traffic In 2020?

It’s no exaggeration to say that most of us are currently feeling the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic in one form or another. Some of us quite profoundly. Fears are at an all time high, and justifiably so. But with global health officials encouraging social distancing and self-quarantining it may be fair to ask: what sort of effect will the coronavirus have on the retail sector over the next few months?

We’ve already seen a fundamental shift towards the digital marketplace over the past fifteen years, with consumers being driven as much out of convenience as a growing technological dependence. As early as 2019, a report issued jointly from Nielsen and FMI indicated that 74.7 million American households are expected to be omnichannel shopping from the same retailer by 2025. But what does it mean for consumer behavior when that shift is driven by need, not choice?

ECommerce sales in the U.S. were estimated to be over $187 billion for the fourth quarter alone; an increase of 28 percent from the previous quarter and representing an increase of almost 15 percent from 2018. And it’s fair to say that’s a result of the holiday season. But eCommerce sales as a whole have also gradually spiked over the past ten years—well in excess of 400 percent

Consumer behavior is largely a question of routine, and the coronavirus is anything but routine. As early as last year, eCommerce was predicted to increase by almost 13 percent to a total of $666.8 billion. But 2019 didn’t anticipate a global health crisis. And while it’s too early to tell how the U.S. retail segment will fare in the coming months, there are positive indicators of global growth in eCommerce as a whole.

  • A survey from IPSOS released earlier this month indicates that China and Italy—the two countries most affected by COVID-19—are reporting increases of consumers using eCommerce to purchase items normally bought in-store by 50 and 31 percent respectively. The same survey among American consumers indicates a growth of approximately 23 percent.

  • Survey findings from Digital 360 reveal that some 38 percent of 304 retailers polled expect upward growth in their eCommerce sales as a result of the Coronavirus.

  • A record number of daily downloads of grocery and food delivery apps between February and March in the U.S. was recently reported by analytic firm Apptopia, with some sites claiming an increase of 218 percent.

  • Preliminary data released earlier in the month from Quantum Metric indicates that eCommerce platforms associated with traditional brick and mortar retailers are seeing an average weekly growth rate increase of 52 percent and an 8.8 percent increase in conversions compared to 2019.

We’re not suggesting that short term spikes are indicative of long term growth. First quarter reports for 2020 haven’t even been released yet. But retailers have also never faced a global crisis of this magnitude in well over 100 years. There’s a very good chance that some of them simply won’t survive in spite of their best efforts to embrace digital shopping. But there’s an equally good chance that the retail industry will thrive in the most unexpected segments as our familiarity and comfort with technology becomes more pronounced. The future remains unwritten and no one can predict just how drastically the coronavirus will affect consumer behavior.

But it’s up to all of us to adapt to the future. Let’s just hope it’s a healthier one.


Color More Lines provides white glove, global account management of your eCommerce platforms so mission-driven companies can focus on new product development, branding and growth strategies. Find out more at Color More Lines.

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