There’s no question that the novel coronavirus pandemic is impacting retailers with governments around the world shutting down any business deemed “non-essential.” What might be coming as more of a surprise is the impact COVID-19 is having on online Shopify retailers as it ushers in rapid and sweeping shifts in consumer buying patterns.

While our families, loved ones, and public health need to be our shared priority right now, we know that your business brings you not only income, but purpose. In the hopes of helping you navigate this challenging time, we’ve pulled together data on how online shopping trends are shifting, how to market right now, plus resources for small business owners by country. 

How is COVID-19 impacting online shopping behaviors?

Although a recent survey by digital product testing firm, First Insight, reported that about 1 in 5 consumers are shopping more online, most online retailers aren’t seeing a corresponding boost in sales because of significant shifts in customer buying behavior and local economies.

Product category obviously matters, but so do demographics

The one factor that’s making the biggest difference in revenue outcomes for retailers right now is most definitely product category. Shops that specialize in products people are interested in stocking up on, like pantry items, cleaning products, and some health and beauty products are seeing spikes in demand.

Online shopping demographics and buying patterns are shifting dramatically right now based on COVID-19.

On the other hand, products people tend to buy with discretionary income, like clothing and accessories are down on average, and luxury products are currently taking the biggest hit in terms of category.

But purchasing data tells a story that goes beyond the basics of category and shows that people in different demographics are reacting very differently to COVID-19 when it comes to shopping and spending.

A couple statistics that might surprise you are:

  • Men are nearly 10% more likely to engage in stockpiling shopping behaviors than women, but were still more likely than women to say they were cutting back on overall spending. 
  • Baby Boomers are showing the greatest overall changes in buying behavior, with 71% saying coronavirus has impacted how and where they shop, but only 38% reporting that they were cutting back on spending. 

(Source: First Insights)

What do these demographic shifts mean? It’s going to vary brand by brand, but analytics is going to be more important than ever for online retailers in the weeks and months to come. 

These shifting behaviors may have major impacts on who’s buying your products, and the channels that are bringing them in, so you need to be keeping a close eye on those stats and adjusting your marketing strategy accordingly. 

For example, if you’ve traditionally sold to a younger audience, but you’re seeing older buyers converting at higher rates, mixing in more imagery of that demographic on your website and marketing channels would be a good move.

Supply chain impacts

Whether you make your own products, source them, or drop ship, supply chains for materials and goods are being impacted by COVID-19. 

Smaller Shopify stores are less likely to see impacts here since they’re moving less inventory, but it’s a good idea for any shop owner to check in with suppliers and shipping providers more frequently to understand any potential delays or issues.

Many smaller store owners are also moving to a less frequent shipping schedule to help themselves and any employees maintain social distancing. Be transparent on your product and checkout pages about any changes in normal shipping times, as well as product availability.

Setting up Back In Stock alerts is a super simple way to let customers tell you they want to order a product that may be delayed or backordered, and you can try it out for free. Tracking which products customers are interested in notifications for can also help you spot shifts in buying patterns and manage your inventory accordingly.

Marketing during COVID-19 means putting your customers and communities first

Now is not the time to leave your marketing on autopilot. You should take a look at all of your channels from your shop’s home page, and product landing pages, to your email marketing and social media. 

First and foremost, any marketing you do needs to serve a specific purpose and show empathy for your customers. Most people are feeling some fear and anxiety right now, and many are being personally impacted by the pandemic, so taking a hard sales approach can really backfire and turn customers off.

Online beauty brand, Herbivore Botanicals, is a great example of a brand shifting their marketing strategy to meet their customers’ current needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Online beauty brand, Herbivore Botanicals, is a great example of a brand shifting their marketing strategy to meet their customers’ current needs. 

Instead, think about how your products can help people adjust to new circumstances. Maybe you make super comfy clothes that would make a great addition to a “work from home” wardrobe. Maybe you make gear or apparel that’s perfect for at-home workouts. Maybe you stock products people can use to start a new hobby. Or maybe your beauty products can help people treat themselves to a little self care during a difficult time. 

Men’s sports and loungewear online retailer, chubbies, is offering a “work from home” collection with a donation to meals on wheels in response to COVID-19.

Men’s sports and loungewear brand, chubbies, is offering a “work from home” collection with a donation to Meals on Wheels.

Many fashion and beauty brands are also creating cause-based promotions, and if you have the means to do this, it’s a great way to demonstrate your support for your community. You can check out Charity Navigator to find a non-profit that will put your donation to the best use. 

Offering discounts is fine, but avoid using “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” as a promo code at all costs. This just makes it seem like you’re trying to profit during a disaster, which isn’t a good look for any brand. 

Consider updating your store policies

Shopify retailers should update store policies with free shipping, and easy extended returns during COVID-19.
Shopify retailer, Gymshark, has added messages to the header of their site announcing free shipping for orders over $75, and a 120-day return policy due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Free shipping and easy, extended return policies will go a long way to making customers feel confident in their purchase. Make sure your policies reflect the times and line up with competitors. 

Resources for Business Owners 

Running a business is challenging at the best of times. Running a business during a global pandemic is undoubtedly threatening to put some online retailers out of business. If you’re struggling to stay open, or worried about the coming weeks and months here are resources available in:

Don’t see your country here? Check out this Shopify post on small business government relief programs.

It’s okay to take time off, too

Some of us are just not able to work, ship products, or focus on our businesses right now with kids suddenly home from school, personal illness, or concern or care for family members. We know that for a lot of business owners, like bootstrapped SaaS companies, being an entrepreneur is a big part of your personal identity, but if you need to step away from your business to prioritize yourself or family, give yourself permission. Your customers will understand — just be sure to update your store and product pages to keep them up to date.

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