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Sales continue to grow amid dramatic swings


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The venerable market forces of supply and demand appeared to be driving online shopping behavior during the week of March 24 to 30, as residents in much of the world sheltered at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Overall, ecommerce sales are up 4% since late February. For the week ending March 30, sales increased 9%, as categories like apparel, auto parts and even luxury goods rebounded after falling through most of March.

Still it was a week of ups and downs — depending on the vertical — that reflected two trends: Demand has waned as shoppers realize they have what they need and that they’ll be able to buy more as needed. And supply remains tight on some items, paper products for instance, that still have been hard to come by.

Products that flew off the digital shelves early in the pandemic have slowed considerably. Groceries, which saw a 110% sales increase in mid-March, were down 25% the week of March 24 to 30. The story was similar for consumer packaged goods, which includes toilet paper and paper towels. And even commodities and collectibles, which includes gold bars and other precious metals, slid 28% week-over-week after two weeks of strong growth.

Slowing sales were also evident in baby products and pet supplies, both of which saw strong sales in mid-March as consumers first braced themselves for a long stretch of staying at home. The pattern could be an indication that in some categories, the pandemic has prompted consumers to buy more, faster than they normally would. That could mean that retailers in particular verticals, like baby products and pet supplies, are simply getting an advance on sales that typically would be spread out over a longer period.

The dramatic fluctuations have been well documented with stories of spikes in face masks, hand sanitizers and protective gloves. But each day seems to bring new stories of rapidly rising demand. Demand for digital thermometers, for instance, have surged to the point where innovators like Kinsa, a maker of internet-connected thermometers, have a real-time view of fever spikes around the country, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the trend toward buying items to make home more entertaining and comfortable continued from previous weeks during a week that saw government stay-at-home guidance and policies extended through April. Home goods, and leisure and outdoor products — think games, video games, exercise equipment — continued to notch increases last week, though not as robust as the week before. The category including alcohol and cannabis saw its biggest gain of the month, up 17%, though the category has reported sales increases in each of the weeks since the pandemic was declared.

Fashion, apparel and luggage also bounced back, a trend that the news of the week reflected with Nike, for instance, reporting that digital sales increased 35% in its quarter ending in February, a period during which much of China was under shelter-at-home orders due to the coronavirus.

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.