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Six-week run of big ecommerce sales plateaus

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For those who wondered how long ecommerce sales could keep up their torrid growth rate in the time of COVID-19, their answer came this week. For the first time since the first week of March, total ecommerce sales fell week over week, according to Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse data.

The drop, 3% for the week ending April 27, would hardly be notable except for the previous six straight weeks of increases — often dramatic, double-digit-percentage increases. The run started with the declaration of the global pandemic and a spate of stay-at-home policies and regulations. The weeks of upward trajectory left sales up 42% for the period beginning at the end of February.

The week-long cooling of consumer spending could simply be a sign that shoppers are set for the time being in terms of necessities and satisfied with their purchases of items aimed at making life at home — like always at home — more comfortable and enjoyable. It could be that those who are still working are waiting for end-of-the-month paychecks.

Or it could be an early sign of a subtle recalibration. With some states opening more businesses and others discussing plans on how they will do so, consumers might have hit pause while they wait to see how some of these rumblings shake out.

All theories for now.

If we’ve learned anything in two months of tracking swings in ecommerce data, it’s that one week does not a trend make — and so we will see.

As the overall spending number might suggest, sales were down in more categories than they were up in. Do you like bright spots? (Because we do.) The business supply category saw its second consecutive weekly increase, up 5% this week after a 3% increase last week. With most businesses and offices closed, the category had been battered and remains down 22% since late February.

It is not as if online sales fell off a cliff in the week just ended. While nine of the 13 major categories we track every week saw sales declines, all but three were single-digit declines.

Fashion, Apparel and Luggage and Beauty & Cosmetics, which both have struggled and bounced back, were struggling again. Fashion sales declined 11%. Beauty was off 17%, knocking it back into negative territory (down 3%) for the entire Ecommerce Pulse period.

The other big loser for the week was Alcohol, Tobacco & Cannabis, which experienced a 19% drop in sales, its first decline since the week before the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11.

In fact, the week just past, looks very much like the week of March 3 to March 9, a time when the novel coronavirus was in a significant way entering the consciousness of consumers in the United States and Europe. Overall ecommerce sales were down 2% that week. That week also saw nine of 13 categories register sales declines, mostly single-digit-percentage declines.

One important distinction: Nearly all the major categories started the most recent week at a much higher base before experiencing modest sales declines.

For instance, Leisure & Outdoor, down 5% for the week, is up 130% since late February. Commodities & Collectibles, down 6% for the week, is up 104% for the entire period. Luxury Goods, which were flat for the week, are still up 13% for the period, thanks to strong demand in recent weeks.

And so it is for Electronics; Auto, Parts & Tires; and Alcohol, Tobacco & Cannabis, all down slightly for the week but up for the period by 70%, 72% and 84% respectively.

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].