Online shopping performance metrics during the coronavirus pandemic have varied results. New email sign-ups, first-time purchases and add-to-cart events depend on retailer category and merchant type, according to new data from Bluecore.

Online purchases, product views and new email sign-ups have increased year over year for online retailers since the coronavirus pandemic swept the U.S., according to the latest insights from Bluecore, a retail marketing technology company.

Bluecore compared shopper activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, examining year-over-year retailer performance from the beginning of April 2019 to the beginning of February 2020—the weeks leading up to the coronavirus outbreak—and month-over-month performance from the beginning of April 2020 compared with the beginning of February 2020, prior to any store closures in the United States and Canada. The data is based on more than 14 billion shopper events—the actions consumers take while they browse a retailer’s website such as adding a product to a shopping cart, signing up for emails and purchasing products, from more than 200 retailers

The data reveals that online purchases have increased for traditional chain stores, traditional department stores and digital natives both year over year and month over month. Department stores include those brands that first launched as a bricks-and-mortar store across a variety of categories such as TJ Maxx (No. 64 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) and J.C. Penney (No. 32); chain stores are also stores that launched as bricks-and-mortars but sell products focused around only a few categories, such as CVS (No. 118) and Sephora; and digital natives are stores that first launched with an online store.

Additionally, online purchases increased for every category Bluecore tracks, consisting of luxury products, beauty, pharmacy, sports and outdoors, and apparel.


Additionally, online first-time purchases have increased for chain stores and digital natives in the same comparable time periods, but have decreased for department stores. Bluecore suggests this is likely the result of first-time purchases primarily occurring in-store for department stores.

Bluecore says an increase in year-over-year first-time buyers in the luxury category is a result of either a seasonal spike or the discounting many of these retailers are currently offering to recoup cash flow because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, an increase in yearly beauty purchases for first-time buyers is likely the result of shoppers’ willingness to experiment, Bluecore says.


For merchant type, digitally native brands had the lowest increase in add-to-cart events—when consumers add an item to their online shopping cart, but don’t necessarily purchase the product. Bluecore attributes this to the “typically limited or nuanced product offering,” meaning digital natives often have fewer products on their sites compared with other merchant types.

Meanwhile, the luxury and pharmacy retailers Bluecore tracks had the largest add-to-cart rates for both month-over-month and year-over-year growth. Bluecore states that the increase in luxury could be the result of shoppers saving money on leisure activities, such as traveling and dining in restaurants, therefore increasing their willingness to spend on more costly products.


Comparatively, product views have increased across all three merchant types—traditional chain and department stores as well as digitally native brands—with department store product views increasing the least month over month. In terms of categories, pharmacy increased more than 200% year over year and more than 100% month over month, which was to be expected, according to Bluecore.

Year over year, email sign-ups decreased for traditional department stores but increased month over month. The same was true for apparel retailers, which Bluecore says could “represent a shift in brands’ promotional strategies as they determine how to promote spring and summer merchandise…” in an effort to support future inventory.