March 2022 marks roughly two years since the coronavirus pandemic spurred many U.S. consumers to go into lockdown mode as COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the country. Many consumers flocked online to buy their essential items, pushing ecommerce sales to new heights.
Ecommerce was growing fast before COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic pushed even more U.S. consumers online and pushed more consumers to spend more online and more frequently. Digital Commerce 360 estimates the pandemic contributed an extra $218.53 billion to ecommerce’s bottom line over the past two years. In 2020, the coronavirus added $102.08 billion in U.S. ecommerce, and it added $116.45 billion in 2021, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates.
Overall in 2021, consumers spent $870.78 billion online with U.S. merchants, up 14.2% from $762.68 billion in 2020. If the pandemic would not have happened, Digital Commerce 360 estimates ecommerce sales would not have reached $870.78 billion for two more years, until 2023. And online sales would have only reached $754.33 billion in 2021.
From March 2020 through February 2022, U.S. consumers spent $1.7 trillion online, $609 billion more than the two preceding years combined (2018 and 2019), according to new data from The Adobe Digital Economy Index. Adobe bases its data on 1 trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, over 100 million SKUs, and 18 product categories.
Shifts in online sales by categories because of pandemic
Ecommerce thrived in 2020 because of store closures and shoppers’ fear of contracting the coronavirus in public. This continued into 2021 until vaccines became widely available. In addition, consumer demand for goods surged, with consumers spending their stimulus checks and reallocating dollars that would have been used on expenses — such as travel and restaurants — toward home repairs and furnishings, among other items.
These changes in consumer behavior and finances caused massive shifts in online spend by category. Online grocery sales increased 103% year over year in 2020, with U.S. consumers spending $73.7 billion online, according to Adobe. Shoppers kept up that pace and then some in 2021, spending $79.2 billion on online groceries in 2021, up 7.2% compared with 2020.
Consumers now spend an average of $6.7 billion online each month for groceries, up from $3.1 billion pre-pandemic. Adobe expects the category to top $85 billion in 2022.
“Ecommerce is being reshaped by grocery shopping, a category with minimal discounting compared to legacy categories like electronics and apparel,” Patrick Brown, vice president of growth marketing and insights at Adobe, said in a press release. “It highlights a shift in the digital economy, where speed and convenience are becoming just as important as cost savings.”
Other highly impacted categories in online spend include electronics, hardware/home improvement, and home furnishings. Merchants in these categories increased online sales substantially in 2020 and were able to maintain growth in 2021, Digital Commerce 360 finds.
For the entire online electronics category, Adobe reports U.S. consumers purchased $165 billion online in 2021. That’s up 8% from $152.7 billion in 2020. 2020’s online spend was 26.8% from 2019, according to Adobe data. Consumers as a whole now spend an average of $13.6 billion online each month on electronics, up from $9.9 billion pre-pandemic.
Inflation’s impact on ecommerce sales
Inflation has contributed to the online sales growth. Consumers paid more than $30 billion more for the same amount of goods during the pandemic, according to Adobe.
In 2020, higher online prices added $4.7 billion to ecommerce sales. In 2021, that figured jumped to $22 billion. And in January and February of 2022, inflation added $3.8 billion extra to online sales.
Higher prices, however, have not deterred online consumer spend, Adobe reports. In fact, in an earnings call last week, web-only home furnishings giant Wayfair Inc. said it has increased its prices because of inflation and its conversion rate has not been impacted.
“Folks have $2 trillion more in their savings accounts now than they did pre-pandemic. So that sheer amount of money, we believe, is causing this amount of inflation to be digestible,” CEO Niraj Shah told investors, according to a SeekingAlpha transcript.
For all of 2022, Adobe expects consumers could pay $27 billion more online for the same amount of goods due to inflation.
The pandemic has significantly disrupted retailers’ supply chain, with warehouses continually closing because of coronavirus outbreaks coupled with the surge in U.S. consumer demand for goods. These factors lead to inventory shortages and more out-of-stock messages.
Consumers encountered 60 billion out-of-stock messages from online retailers between March 2020 and February 2022, according to Adobe.
Shoppers are now likely to see an out-of-stock message on one out of every 59 product pages, a 235% increase from pre-pandemic. The odds then of seeing an out-of-stock message were 1 in 200, according to Adobe.
The supply chain has not recovered, and Adobe expects out-of-stock messages will continue into 2022.