When asked about the changes in their general lifestyle due to COVID-19 in May 2020, around 62 percent of surveyed U.S. adults reported going to the shops less, while another 52 percent reported shopping more online. This shift from physical to digital shopping carts is one of several precautions citizens have started to take since infections began to multiply across the country in early 2020. In order to avoid contracting the virus in a crowded store, over 20 percent of Americans stated that their frequency of purchasing goods online increased in March, and even those who had never used e-commerce services in the past felt motivated to do so in the wake of the crisis.
Looking at the categories and products with the highest spikes in consumer demand, household necessities and hygiene products stand out as the top sellers among U.S. buyers. This trend is also reflected online, as disposable gloves have become the fastest-growing e-commerce category in March 2020, followed by bread machines and cold medicine. In contrast, spending on items like travel gear and sports equipment has significantly decreased as a result of the travel ban and other government-imposed containment measures. So, where do quarantined U.S. consumers purchase the plethora of products they deem necessary to navigate the corona crisis? Just as in many other parts of the world, the most popular destination is Amazon. The e-retail giant recorded over 5.2 billion visitors worldwide in June 2020 and even had to temporarily limit its deliveries to essential items in some regions following the unprecedented flood of orders. Other e-commerce sites that have seen substantial growth in global include health and medicine e-retailers as well as furniture and home decor platforms. Overall, COVID-19 contributed to a six percent traffic increase on retail platforms worldwide between January and March 2020, leading many e-commerce retailers in the United States to expect production delays and inventory shortages in the future.
One of the most visible shifts in U.S. consumer demand and behavior, however, can be seen in regard to grocery shopping. According to a global survey conducted in April 2020, roughly 30 percent of U.S. consumers spent more than usual on food and drinks due to COVID-19, with packaged foods, alcohol, and nonperishable items most frequently purchased for their long shelf lives. But not only the amount and type of food that U.S. customers buy and sometimes stockpile has shifted in the first quarter of 2020, but also the preferred avenues. Around 74 percent of surveyed shoppers indicated a willingness to visit online grocery platforms during home isolation to avoid trips to the supermarket. In return, orders on online grocery delivery platforms like Postmates and DoorDash are surging, with Instacart, one of the most popular grocery delivery apps in the United States, seeing a 218 percent increase in downloads in March 2020. But while these services offer customers a safe and flexible alternative to jammed grocery stores or restaurants, companies like Instacart are also facing harsh criticism for their treatment of delivery workers. As couriers are hired as gig workers instead of employees, they do not receive sick pay or other health benefits. Seeing that these contractors work on the frontlines of the pandemic, their lack of financial and physical protection against the coronavirus has been an ongoing point of contention.