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Ecommerce sales are strong, if unpredictable, as the pandemic rages on


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Consumers continued to embrace online shopping as they created new routines in a world marked by a virulent virus and the need to stay home as much as possible. Weekly data from Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse showed that ecommerce sales were up 17% week-over-week, contributing to a nearly 14% rise overall since the end of February.

In fact, the increase during the week ending April 6, marks the biggest increase to date.

But, as we’ve mentioned before, the rising tide of ecommerce does not translate into higher sales for every retail vertical. Driven by unusual circumstances and practical needs dictated by the coronavirus, consumers have concentrated their spending in certain verticals at certain times while pulling back from others.

For the seven-day period just ended, consumers continued to focus on items that make life at home more comfortable, while also spending in some verticals they have largely neglected since the national conversation turned to COVID-19, pandemics and lockdowns.

Spending in the Leisure & Outdoor category, which includes games and hobbies, was up 34% for the week and 106% for the period since the week of Feb. 25. Yes, jigsaw puzzles are a thing. And so are video games — boy are they.

Also up in the 30% range was the Alcohol, Tobacco & Cannabis category, which has seen its percentage increase in sales rise every week since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.

Somewhat more surprising among the categories that experienced double-digit sales increases were Luxury Goods, up 10%, and Beauty and Cosmetics, up 29%, both of which have seen lackluster or worse sales before and during the coronavirus quarantine.

Still, the fluctuations fit the pattern of the COVID-19 era, which is: There is no pattern. Last week, we noted that groceries and the category containing toilet paper and paper towels were down significantly after earlier weeks in which they showed huge gains. Baby product sales were also down (37%) last week, after more than doubling in sales earlier in the month.

Oh, and this week? Sales of baby products were up nearly 50%.

It’s possible, when it comes to categories such as luxury and beauty, that as consumers settle in to the reality of sheltering at home, they begin to consider purchases that were typical back when things were normal.

Beauty was a prime suspect for pent up demand, notching significant sales declines in three of the first four weeks tracked by the Ecommerce Pulse. In fact by the end of last week, sales had dropped 30% since the end of February. Now, the strength of sales last week has the category approaching break even.

Electronics has not seen the same effect, but got a glimmer of good news last week. The category has been battered since the end of February, with sales falling 38% between then and now. Last week, however, sales were up 2%, which is something in these discouraging times for the category.

Other changes worth noting for the week ending April 6: Auto Parts and Tires notched it’s second consecutive week of 15% increases, ending an ongoing sales skid. Grocery was up 13% following two down weeks after a monster increase the week a number of shelter at home orders were announced.

Obviously, online sales fluctuate overall and by category every week. But a stress-inducing event like the current pandemic causes more dramatic swings. There is panic buying and buying by those seeking to take advantage of strong demand by selling goods on secondary markets. Think surgical masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and disinfectant.

The wild swings make life difficult for merchants who are expending a great deal of energy just maintaining business continuity. Online retailers’ employees are working from home and their supply chains are complicated by disrupted manufacturing and the need to keep warehouse and delivery workers safe.

But weeks into the coronavirus era, it is evident by the numbers that retailers and retail workers are continuing to deliver.

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.