The Impact of COVID-19 on E-Commerce GMV, Part 4

This is part four in an ongoing series. Prior posts are available here:

  • Part 1 covered GMV trends from Jan 1 – Mar 17, 2020
  • Part 2 covered GMV trends from Jan 1 – Mar 22, 2020
  • Part 3 covered GMV trends from Jan 1 – Mar 31, 2020

Since our last post at the beginning of April, most of the world has yet to resume any semblance of normal activity, though some regions are starting to make plans for what comes next. Because there are so many changes on a daily basis, we’ve built a COVID-19 resources page to help you keep up with major developments in e-commerce. This blog post is designed to provide an update on ChannelAdvisor aggregate gross merchandise value (GMV) trends.

First, some important points to understand before digging into the data:

  • This data is based on marketplaces GMV aggregated across our entire customer base globally and compares Jan 1 – Apr 13, 2019 against Jan 1 – Apr 12, 2020. The final dates are offset by one day due to leap year.
  • The data presented below highlights only specific marketplace categories, which are merely a subset of all categories. Because marketplaces have different category structures, the data is presented using categories that have been standardized by ChannelAdvisor.
  • This data is not a proxy for overall e-commerce activity or the performance of any individual business, including ChannelAdvisor or any individual marketplace.
  • The data shown below is based on a year-over-year comparison of trailing 7-day GMV and is expressed as percentage growth, but with actual numbers removed. The Y-axis scale is different on each graph.
  • All calculations are done in USD. Global currencies are converted to USD using the conversion rate on the day of the order. These results are not normalized to account for fluctuating exchange rates. Please note that there has been significant volatility in various currencies, such as GBP, which may impact these trends.

Through the course of this series, we’ve highlighted a number of broad categories. Below, we go into more detail on the trends within some of these categories.

Computers/Networking

We had previously called out the “computers/networking” category as one that had seen strong year-over-year growth. That trend continued through the first part of April, as seen in the figure below.

Of the more than 200 subcategories that roll up into this category, we have continued to see demand in those subcategories associated with working/schooling from home. Two of the larger subcategories include laptop and notebook computers, which have experienced significant growth since mid-March. Recently, these subcategories show signs of reverting back toward the average growth rate of the overall category.

Monitors have continued to perform well as people outfit their home offices. A recent phenomenon is a spike in the growth rates of external hard drives since the beginning of April.

Printers have been another important item for some working/schooling at home. Growth in this subcategory started and peaked later than we see above for monitors. Not surprisingly, about two weeks after the growth in printers started to increase, growth in ink/toner sales also started to increase.

Finally, a number of accessories have also seen strong year-over-year growth since the beginning of the year. Sales growth in “headsets” peaked earlier than in the subcategories of “webcams” and “mouse pads/wrist rests.” Note that “headsets” is a larger subcategory in ChannelAdvisor’s aggregate GMV data than the other two subcategories in the figure below.

Health and Beauty

“Health and Beauty” is another category we have highlighted consistently in this blog series. As illustrated below, this category had year-over-year growth that spiked in mid-March. Since that time, growth has declined but has still been running quite a bit ahead of where it was earlier in the year. This category has more than 300 subcategories, several of which we highlight in more depth in this section.

One of the earlier subcategories to show significant year-over-year growth was “hand sanitizers,” with a significant increase in early February followed by an astronomical increase in early March. The “hand washes” subcategory is also included below and in the next chart to provide perspective given the extreme demand for hand sanitizer.

Hand washes, as well as over-the-counter remedies, also had increased year-over-year growth beginning in early March but began to taper off entering April.

“Thermometers” is a much smaller subcategory than the others highlighted in this section. However, by comparing it to the subcategories above, the significant growth in demand for thermometers during mid-March and early April is striking.

As we have noted in prior posts, the subcategories including vitamins, supplements and herbs/botanicals appear to be considered essentials by consumers and year-over-year growth has remained strong. Growth peaked in mid-March but remained above the category average through the first part of April.

Looking at more discretionary categories in health and beauty, we see a decline in year-over-year growth rates beginning in March. The data suggests that a bottom was hit at the end of March and a recovery has begun. In the chart below, “Lips” represents a combination of subcategories related to lip care and “nails” represents a combination of subcategories related to nail care. We hypothesize that the spike in year-over-year growth in nail care subcategories is due to an increase in home manicures and pedicures as nail salons have closed.

On our internal Zoom calls (and in the mirror), we have started to see evidence of our colleagues taking matters into their own hands for hair care. Evidence for this as a broader trend was highlighted in this Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) as well as in the data below. Year-over-year growth in the subcategories “hair color” and “clippers/trimmers” has increased since mid- to late-March. The subcategory “hair dryers” is probably not tied as significantly to behavioral changes related to the current crisis but is included as a reference.

Apparel (Clothing/Shoes/Accessories)

As we have noted in prior posts, the apparel category experienced a sharp decline in year-over-year growth rates beginning in mid-March. We speculated that consumers began to focus primarily on essentials during this time period. During the period highlighted here, the bottom occurred on March 24 and we have seen a slight recovery as consumers adjust to the new normal.

Looking at groupings of apparel subcategories, some have fared worse than others. The chart below shows that “tops and blouses” and “sweaters” were close to the growth rates that were seen just prior to the drop at the beginning of March. “Pants” are not quite back to the growth rates from early March, but are close. The “dresses” subcategory, on the other hand, has yet to experience a meaningful recovery. Given that much of the world is spending more time at home, it makes sense that subcategories that include more formal wear or those tied to being out of the house are performing worse. This trend is also apparent in footwear, illustrated in the second chart below. “Slippers”, a footwear subcategory associated with being at home, experienced significant growth since mid-March. However, other major footwear subcategories are well below the growth rates with which they began the year. In the middle is the subcategory “boots,” which had recent growth close to that of early March.

Finally, a look at more casual apparel subcategories highlights stronger performance for “t-shirts” and “sweats and hoodies,” both of which had higher recent year-over-year growth rates than at the beginning of March. The “athletic” and catchall “casual” subcategories are both below recent highs but appear to be recovering on the same schedule and at about the same pace as the overall apparel category.

Other Broad Categories

After the deep dive into the “computers/networking”, “health/beauty”, and “apparel” categories above, we close with a view of the relative performance of other broad categories. From the chart below, it is evident that the year-over-year growth rates for “home/garden” and “sporting goods” have outperformed the growth rates they had experienced entering March while the categories of “business/industrial” and “consumer electronics” are a bit more neutral. Categories that have underperformed since March include “auto tools/parts”, “cell phones and accessories”, and “jewelry/watches.”

Conclusion

With the start to Q2, a number of the extreme increases and decreases in year-over-year growth rates among categories and subcategories have begun to moderate. However, relative growth in categories considered essential has remained strong as compared to more discretionary purchases or those tied to consumers being more mobile. As governments start to think about the process of returning to normal, though, we expect continued change and will continue to monitor these trends.

In closing, we would like to reiterate from our original blog post that the COVID-19 pandemic has created extreme turmoil globally. The impact on supply and demand and the way people work is in the news daily and can be seen in the data above. The impact seems trivial relative to the personal toll. Nevertheless, the job of ensuring that food, medicine, and other essentials make their way to people globally is important to keep society functioning as normally as possible while we work our way through the current pandemic. So, in addition to thanking medical professionals, researchers, and others for their heroic efforts in treating the sick and trying to find a cure, we’d like to thank those of you in the factories, in the grocery stores, in the distribution centers, and in the delivery trucks helping to bring us the items we need to live.