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Coronavirus: impact on U.S. e-commerce - statistics & facts

Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) swept across the United States in early 2020, it has taken a toll on public health, as well as numerous other industries and sectors. From travel and tourism to finance and construction – almost every aspect of the U.S. economy has been affected by the global pandemic. One industry that has seen particularly noticeable changes over the past two years is e-commerce. As most states issued stay-at-home orders in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease, many Americans turned to the internet for work, education, communication, and shopping.

E-commerce gains traction

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 started to take since infections soared across the country. To avoid contracting the virus in a crowded store, over 20 percent of U.S. consumers stated that their frequency of purchasing goods online increased in March 2020, 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 segments with the highest spikes in consumer demand, fashion stands out as the product category with the largest shift to online shopping, as eight in ten U.S. buyers declared buying those items the same or more as of November 2020. In contrast, spending on items like travel gear and swimwear reduced heavily as a result of the travel ban and other government-imposed containment measures.

During the first months of the pandemic, household necessities and hygiene products such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer were in high demand. For example, disposable gloves became the fastest-growing e-commerce category in March 2020, followed by bread machines and cold medicine. However, as the direst times of the outbreak passed, demand for necessity goods subsided. As of 2021, health and beauty continues to be one of the most popular categories consumers would keep buying online once stores are permanently open in the U.S., along with apparel and home furnishings.

The online grocery craze

One of the most visible shifts in U.S. consumer demand and behavior can be seen in regard to grocery shopping. Since April 2020, grocery delivery and pick up sales have remained well above five billion dollars per month. According to a survey conducted in 2021, non-perishable packaged foods was one of the main grocery categories U.S. consumers kept buying online after the pandemic. More than half of respondents had also adopted online shopping for fresh and frozen foods, as well as drinks. Particularly among older generations, consumers seem keen on buying groceries online in the future, as they did during the pandemic.

Not only the amount and type of food that U.S. customers buy and sometimes stockpile has shifted, but also the preferred avenues. Around one-third of surveyed shoppers indicate a willingness to keep using Amazon Fresh or DoorDash to have food home delivered. Other widely chosen options include local grocery stores, chain restaurants, and online grocery sites. In return, app downloads of online grocery delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Instacart are surging. But while these services offer customers a safe and flexible alternative to jammed grocery stores or restaurants, companies like Instacart are also facing 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 have worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, their lack of financial and physical protection remains an ongoing point of contention.


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