Coronavirus: April was hotter than the holidays for online shopping

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, every day was Black Friday in April, according to new data from PriceSpider, a retail insights firm. 

E-commerce sales in April were consistently above 2019’s record day — Black Friday, which itself was a 115% increase over 2019's average daily traffic. Every day since April 4, traffic also surpassed Black Friday 2019’s numbers with the record day occurring on May 3, which saw a 233% increase over the average daily traffic before the pandemic.

Riskified, an e-commerce analysis tool, also said April and May's online order volume nearly matched the volume seen in December during the holiday season, noting that several individual days in April and May exceeded some in the first two weeks of December.

Since COVID-19 regulations were introduced, online sales have surged since non-essential retailers have been forced to shutter in-person operations. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“In the past few weeks, we’ve seen historic shifts across e-commerce,” said Anthony Ferry, co-founder and CEO of PriceSpider, “whether it be how much Americans are buying, what they're buying or where they’re buying it.”

One obvious advantage contributing to the boom: E-commerce is always open for business, whereas non-essential brick-and-mortar retailers have been shuttered under state government restrictions.

What are people spending money on?

At the beginning of lockdown, panic buying set in for many Americans who rushed to stock up on hygienic staples like toilet paper and hand sanitizer and ample groceries to quell their nerves, Ferry said. 

Over the last two months, shoppers’ purchasing behavior has branched out beyond those health basics and into electronics and hardware. 

Since the shift brought on by lockdown, shoppers are viewing consumer electronics 388% more than last year. Americans are searching for items like monitors and displays to outfit home offices or create makeshift schools to enable distance learning.

(Graph from PriceSpider)

They’re also buying to beat the boredom. The data showed people crave premium entertainment experiences like quality home streaming devices, TVs, and game consoles.

Idle hands across the country are also using the time to undertake home improvement projects. Searches for tools and hardware surged nearly 590% in the last week of April, compared with the same time last year.

“I think that people are sheltered in place at home and they're staring at that crack in the wall or that stain on the carpet and are inspired to get them done since they're going to be home,” Ferry said. 

The future of e-commerce

While consumers have been slower to adopt online shopping for certain items like groceries, the fear of potential exposure to COVID-19 in crowded public spaces like supermarkets has forced late-adopters to overcome their reluctance. 

“For every individual who maybe adopted more online purchasing, they're not going to go back 100%. But it'll certainly retract to some degree,” Ferry said. “More specifically, I think that the shift is in what I would consider more of a hybrid online shopper, which is to buy online pick-up in store.”

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Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) is a trend that predates COVID-19, according to Adobe Analytics, when revenue was up 35% on average for the 2019 holiday season. Ferry said the option can be a play to convert the last of the skeptics and online shopping holdouts.

“They can do a curbside delivery, have those products delivered right into their trunk without coming in contact with anybody,” Ferry said. “That's a very attractive proposition right now, which is becoming very, very popular.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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