Online continues to be the beneficiary of store closures and scaled-down physical store services in a COVID-19 world as 67% of online shoppers made online shopping behavior changes.

As coronavirus shelter-at-home orders are extended, we felt it was important to revisit current consumer behavior and assess any changing attitudes. Digital Commerce 360, in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, surveyed 1,064 online shoppers the week of April 6. Throughout this article, there will be some comparisons drawn based on a survey of 1,046 online shoppers during the week of March 16th.

Ecommerce may have once again hit its stride. Online continues to be the beneficiary of store closures and scaled-down physical store services in a COVID-19 world as 67% of online shoppers made online shopping behavior changes. A quick look at online behavior reveals that 55% of online shoppers have placed more orders online as a result of coronavirus, with 22% of online shoppers having placed significantly more orders online.

The most interesting observation is that in the initial survey, only 31% of shoppers had made behavioral changes. But 3 weeks later, a quick month-over-month comparison saw a shift to greater online ordering where the change in online status was as follows:

  • Placed significantly more orders: +16%
  • Placed few more orders: +13%

Shopping behavior favors online buying

Critical needs and replenishment products top the list of COVID-19 purchases


Purchasing growth is seen across the board, with 94% of online shoppers having completed a purchase in at least one category. Shoppers focus their spending on critical needs, including food/drug and disease prevention, while also addressing replenishment by purchasing health and beauty and pet products. Apparel received a much-needed boost, fueled by retailer promotions. Home needs also have become more prominent with shoppers looking to set up comfortable surroundings.

Categories purchased were as follows:

  • Food/drug: 55%
  • Health and beauty: 45%
  • Disease-prevention products: 30%
  • Apparel: 30%
  • Pets: 28%
  • Hardware/Home goods/Home appliances/Garden: 24%

On a positive note, all categories had at least incremental growth month-over-month from March to April. Most interesting is the fact that there was a 28% increase in purchasing in at least one category. Online shoppers are in restock mode, focusing on health and beauty along with pets. The focus on critical needs declines, as product availability is no longer as compromised as it was in the early days of coronavirus. The home category receives greater attention under current government directives as the meaning of shelter is extended beyond the basics.


Category shift (April vs. March) informs shopper interests:

  • Health and beauty: +44%
  • Pets: +26%
  • Hardware/Home goods/Home appliances/Garden: +19%
  • Apparel: +17%
  • Food/Drug: +16%
  • Toys/Games/Crafts/Musical Instruments: +14%

Store visits remain challenged, and out-of-stocks and delivery lead times pose a problem for online shoppers

From an overall purchasing perspective, 38% of online shoppers were making fewer purchases (online and in-store). One positive was the desire to support local businesses to ensure their survival (38%), which is more important than ever as we all hope to keep our communities alive and well.

The scary reality was that 29% had delayed making purchases at all. It is this force that may be the biggest factor in preventing the economy from getting back on track. With 25% feeling comforted by COVID-19 messages, one can only hope they will be poised to purchase very soon. With shoppers having more time on their hands, additional research was also being done online by 32% of online shoppers in anticipation of future purchasing.


Out-of-stocks and delays continue to plague the industry under coronavirus. Inventory is challenging and behavior choices are often made based on inventory status. Online shoppers surveyed suggested the following:

  • Encountered out-of-stocks: 47%
  • Experienced shipping delays: 47%
  • Ordered online due to physical store out-of-stocks: 24%

Shoppers alter behavior to accommodate unique needs under coronavirus

Month-over-month facts shed light on changes taking place. Inventory is still problematic but perhaps becoming less of an issue based on the following findings:

  • Experienced shipping delays: +24%
  • Out-of-stocks: +10%
  • Ordered due to physical store out-of-stocks: +6%

Purchase behavior also sees modifications as stay-at-home shoppers adjust to their new lives, which includes 17% ordering prepared meals. 11% are shopping more online due to work-from-home orders and store closures have necessitated a 14% increase in orders placed for curbside or drive-through options. Ordering groceries also has experienced a 7% growth.

Retailer service levels holding up

Online retailers continue to rise to the occasion, delivering high levels of service. More than 69% of online shoppers rate online retailer performances an 8 or higher during coronavirus. Unfortunately, challenges with stock status and delivery issues may still be causing retailer performance ratings to dip below their traditionally high levels. On a positive note, comparable performance levels of online retailers in April vs. March saw a 13% gain in 8+ performance scores. Retailers appear to be adjusting to ever-changing circumstances, delivering higher levels of service for shoppers.

Amazon faces unusual out-of-stock scenarios and delivery challenges

Amazon is well-positioned for both essential and non-essential purchasing, though some delivery issues may become problematic. One only needs to review their current onsite messaging that reads, “We are giving priority to items that our customers need the most. You may be experiencing shipping delays.”


While Amazon purchasing has always been formidable, only 13% report buying more on Amazon. As it turns out, 26% of online shoppers report ordering both essential and non-essential products, while 14% are ordering only essential goods. This is to be expected as the need to stock up and the fear factor of not finding goods are no longer as grim. While it might seem that many would consider using other Amazon products, only 9% had gone in the direction of Fresh, Prime Now, Music and Video.

It is on each of us to do our part. Without the ability to visit our favorite physical stores, ecommerce provides an opportunity to best serve our needs. We can be savvy online shoppers and ensure that the products we need are in stock before placing orders. With promotions being plentiful, it suggests that this is an ideal time to replenish products and purchase new products at discounted prices. Bottom line: It pays to buy under these trying circumstances.

A quick look at the findings from two perspectives (inventory and purchasing) sheds light on what is taking place. Delivery issues were much more of a challenge than in the past as we have come to expect Amazon’s almost immediate delivery (and at no extra cost). Slower deliveries were noted by 31% of those surveyed. Beyond that, 23% simply didn’t order due to longer delivery times. Much of the concern centers on out-of-stocks, which was experienced by 36% of shoppers. Perhaps that is due to current availability, as 18% of shoppers say they are not seeing the same assortment as pre-coronavirus. This number may be higher as many aren’t checking beyond a handful of items. Until the economy re-opens and things get moving, we would have to expect these inventory stock levels and longer lead times may remain. As I am writing this column, I read that Amazon is now accepting deliveries of non-essential goods, so perhaps we can go back to business as usual quicker than one might previously have expected.


On a personal note, I’m still waiting for a yoga mat order I placed for my daughter on March 22. These types of slower deliveries have caused me to actually seek other physical store alternatives, so I headed to Target to make my yoga mat purchase last weekend. In the past, I almost always defaulted to Amazon during any out-of-stock scenarios. Today, I finally decided to take Amazon up on their refund or replace order option that populated when I went to track my order. After a quick automated chat, Amazon adeptly processed my refund

While we are living in the here and now more than ever, it’s the future that is of grave concern. Thus, an understanding of how online shoppers expect their behavior to change is critical for planning and even survival for some retailers. Results show that 58% of online shoppers expect to order more online in the next few months. The challenge as seen from this research is that, under current economic conditions, 40% expect to minimize discretionary purchases to save money, so it may be difficult to prime the economy under such dire circumstances.