COVID-19's effect on e-commerce: How it has reshaped online shopping

The coronavirus pandemic gave e-commerce an extra boost of $183 billion, as shoppers turned to online shopping to meet daily needs, according to a new report from Adobe.

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Image: iStock/Jennifer J Taylor

The year anniversary of the start of the pandemic presents several snapshots of the tremendous changes to lifestyles globally. A new Adobe report, which used more than 1 trillion visits to US sites and 100 million SKUs in 18 product categories for data, revealed that while working from home, online shopping for daily needs surged and e-commerce got a $183 billion boost, for a total of $844 billion online. 

This shows a clear upward trend for online shopping: In 2020, $813 billion was spent shopping online, a 42% growth from 2019.

Adobe predicts that 2021 will bring between $850 billion and $930 billion. It equates the pandemic's production of change in online spending to a 20% boost; 2022 is expected to further build off this gain, garnering the first trillion-dollar year for e-commerce.

Highlights of the Adobe e-commerce report

Credit cards, or as the report dubs it "buy now, pay later" were up 215% in the first two months (January and February) of 2021, and people are placing orders that are 18% larger. Retailers now offer more of the buy now, pay later option to accommodate customers battling financial insecurity.

Also in the first two months (January and February) of 2021, consumers spent $121 billion online, a 34% increase from last year. In the same period, home improvement products grew 60%. Only apparel was at 22%, "lagging other major categories," Adobe's report said.

In February 2021 alone, online grocery shopping grew by 230%, while sporting goods had a 75% growth.

Who could forget the toilet-paper, Clorox wipes run of 2020? Adobe discovered that July 2020 marked a peak in the "out of stock" messages shoppers were receiving online. Even last month, the out of stock message was elevated at four times pre-pandemic levels. 

Most often out of stock: groceries, medical supplies and pet products.

SEE: Gartner's top tech predictions for 2021 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Regionally, the northeastern states saw the highest in the U.S., a 82% collective growth in June 2020, while in February 2021, the western states reported the most growth, with 34%.

Adobe found that as online shopping became a daily activity, traditionally "branded shopping days," such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Presidents' Day, Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday were not shopping boons in 2020, commerce grew less on those days than on others in the year.

COVID-19 protocols are the norm in most places, and one method that's met with great success is the buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) or curbside, which grew 67% in February 2021.

Adobe surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers and 30% of online customers preferred the BOPIS model than standard delivery options. 

For the first time in years, digital inflation was found in online categories. From January 2020 to January 2021, it was down 2.2% compared to January 2019 to January 2020, when it was down 10.4%. Computer prices were down only 6%, compared to 13.5%. Groceries were up 4.2% vs. down 6%.

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