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Ecommerce and Corona Virus

In the short-term, retailers that sell supplies like toilet paper, face masks and water bottles are having significant sales gains due to the coronavirus. Long-term, however, retailers are concerned the coronavirus will negatively impact their 2020 revenue.


The virus causing the coronavirus disease 2019—called COVID-19—continues to spread across the globe, and online retailers are wondering, “How will the coronavirus affect my online business?” Events, like ShoptalkAdobe Summit & Magento Imagine and South by Southwest, are postponed or canceled. Many retailers are having online sales spikes in flu-related products, such as cleaning supplies and health products. However, the long-term impact for the coronavirus is not yet known, and many retailers are lowering their sales forecasts for the year. Retailers that manufacture or supply their goods from China are unsure of how this will impact their supply chain, or how this will impact demand for their products.

47% of retailers expect some downside in revenue due to the coronavirus, according to a survey conducted in March 2020 of 304 retailers by Digital Commerce 360. 33% of retailers say it’s too early to tell.  However, a majority of retailers, 58%, say the virus will impact consumer confidence, and 22% say there will be a significant impact. Consumer confidence is often used as a measure of how consumers feel about the economy.

The coronavirus increases sales for health products

Online sales have increased 52% compared with the same time frame a year ago, and the number of online shoppers has increased 8.8% since the coronavirus began, according to SaaS platform provider Quantum Metric. The firm analyzed 5.5 billion anonymous and aggregated online and mobile visits to retailer websites from U.S. consumers. Jan. 1 and Feb. 29.

Site search provider Bloomreach found similar increases for its 250-plus retailer clients, such as grocery chain Albertsons Cos. Online sales increased the week of Feb. 22-29 compared with the prior week for health related items. The coronavirus has increased sales for the following:

  • Masks sales increased 590% from the week prior
  • Hand sanitizer sales increased 420% from the week prior
  • Clorox/Lysol wipes sales increased 184% from the week prior
  • Disinfectants sales increased 178% from the week prior
  • Gloves sales increased 151% from the week prior
  • Bottled/packaged water sales increased 78% from the week prior
  • Vitamins sales increased 78% from the week prior
  • Tissues sales increased 43% from the week prior
  • Hand soap sales increased 33% from the week prior
  • Toilet paper and paper towels sales increased 26% from the week prior

Mask retailer Debrief Me can testify to the influx in sales since the coronavirus news spread. The retailer sells masks in different colors and styles that consumers wear for anti-pollution measures and to prevent the spread of viruses and germs. The retailer says its masks are engineered to block 99% of all contaminants found in the air.

Debrief Me sells its masks on DebriefMe.com and via Amazon.com with 89 SKUs. It fulfills its products—which come from its Chinese manufacturer—from a warehouse in Georgia. Otherwise, Amazon Fulfillment By Amazon takes care of its Amazon sales. The retailer declined to provide specifics of its website versus Amazon sales.

Debrief Me says its sales have grown 10 times since the coronavirus threat became public. The retailer also moved its products to its Georgia fulfillment center before the factories began to shut down in China. “We were able to get in front of it, and I contacted my factory so, I got my products out of China before the Chinese New Year and before the shutdown,” says Debrief Me’s founder and CEO Matt E Silver.

Since then, production has resumed at Debrief Me’s China factory. However, its factory is still having problems getting workers back to the factory to operate it at full capacity, Silver says. “We are getting product out, slowly by air, and it’s trickling in every day,” he says.

Next week, Debrief Me will begin to produce one of its masks in its Brooklyn, New York-based production facility, Silver says. “We will be able to make products in Brooklyn and soon in other parts of the country,” he says. “We are securing our own U.S. supply line for the country with explosive growth. And we’re diversifying our dependency on supply from any foreign countries.”

The retailer has fielded 200 to 300 customer service messages per day with its 11-person staff, sold a “huge amount” of masks in China and sold out of masks in Japan in one day, Silver says. As of publication, its masks are completely sold out, and it launched a first-come, first-serve waiting list on March 10 to be notified when items are back in stock. As of March 11, more than 800 people have signed up for the wait list.


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