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Early March saw the quiet before the coronavirus storm


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While the devastating effects of the coronavirus in China had been widely reported by early March, the reality of the coming pandemic was just beginning to take hold in the United States and Europe, where clusters of cases were being seen.

Ecommerce sales the week of March 3 reflected the relative normalcy of the times with moderate fluctuations in sales that could be seen for any number of reasons during any number of periods during the year. Only two retail verticals showed sales variances in the double digits compared to the week before.

Notably, the sales of business supplies spiked — sales were up 79%, according to data from Signifyd’s Commerce Network. Numbers don’t explain themselves, but such an increase makes sense with the prospect of major business disruption on the horizon.

It’s likely that America’s C-suites were focused more intensely on the world news of the spread of COVID-19. Executives and managers no doubt watched as regions and countries were locked down and employees were told to work from home, unless they were in essential roles with organizations that were doing essential work.

It would not be unreasonable to speculate that some executives were beginning to execute on their business continuity strategies. Beyond forecasting and pivoting, they were making purchases that remote workers would need for the mid-to-long term and stocking up on those supplies they’d need to keep their operations running.

In a way, the first week of March provides a baseline — the time before COVID-19, even though technically the coronavirus was upon us. The data shows a relative calm compared to what was to come. Coronavirus had not yet created the sort of change in shopping habits that it no doubt would.

Consider, for example, the data around what often becomes the most popular items in times of natural disaster or disruption. Consumer packaged goods sales — the category that includes toilet paper and paper towel — were flat for the week ending March 10. Baby products sales actually fell from the week before.

That storyline would change abruptly.

Mike Cassidy

Mike is lead storyteller at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at mike.cassidy@signifyd.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.