COVID-19: What shoppers have been buying online

Reta Lee
·Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
·5-min read
(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

As consumers around the world stay at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have the ways they shop online and offline changed?

The pandemic has certainly rocked the F&B industry, causing a rush of restaurants to register their businesses with ordering and delivery platforms such as Foodpanda, Oddle Eats, Grab Food and Deliveroo to reach hungry consumers.

As for the retail shops, which were deemed non-essential by governments in Asia, they were closed during lockdowns to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Only essentials like banks and optician shops were allowed to remain open, some operating via appointments only.

A Nielsen report entitled ‘Entering a new norm in consumer behaviour’ said that consumers generally have been moving online for non-food items, whereas people are buying food items in an offline setting.

“Despite challenging circumstances and disruption caused by COVID-19, Southeast Asia has high consumer confidence, growing middle classes and increasingly digitally savvy shoppers, which can offer manufacturers and retailers opportunities to drive long-term growth,” the report added.

Fashion and beauty brands surge

In populous countries like Japan and Indonesia, consumers have been shopping for men’s fashion on Ebay, the popular e-commerce platform, while shoppers in India are seeking out kids’ clothing, according to a report compiled by consulting and analyst company Ravenry for Yahoo Lifestyle SEA.

Interestingly, when the same report drills down on the top fashion sub-categories in these countries, the items include slippers, heels, sandals and other shoes.

Consumers searching for shoes online. (PHOTO: Ravenry)
Consumers searching for shoes online. (PHOTO: Ravenry)

This research mainly used Google Trends as the tool to compare different search terms’ growth in each subcategory. The top trends were taken based on the latest month’s search term growth (May 2020) as compared to the previous month (April 2020).

Ravenry also concluded that affluent consumers in Japan, India and Indonesia have been searching for luxury fashion and beauty brands such as Hermes, Armani and Lancome.

Top luxury brands searched by consumers online. (PHOTO: Ravenry)
Top luxury brands searched by consumers online. (PHOTO: Ravenry)

Based on data shared by luxury e-commerce platform Net-A-Porter, in the month leading up to 4 May, their handbags category saw a surge of 48% in sales growth in Asia-Pacific, compared to last year. Some of the top-performing brands were Gucci (+262% vs last year), Saint Laurent (+320% vs last year), Loewe (+23% vs last year), and Bottega Veneta (+1,292% vs last year).

Sales for the shoe category saw a spike of +60% vs last year, which was predominantly driven by designer brands such as Roger Vivier, Bottega Veneta and Gucci. Sales for Roger Vivier were especially strong (+521% vs last year).

Sneakers saw a lift at +13% but sandals were by far the biggest category for APAC, taking 45% of sales. Strongest sandal sales came from Roger Vivier, Chloe and Bottega Veneta but we also saw good results from Gucci slides and Saint Laurent espadrilles.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 06: Aylin Koenig wearing Dior blouse and necklace, Roger Vivier heels, Borsalino hat, Zara jeans on August 06, 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images)
Roger Vivier heels. (Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images)

Created in 2009, pre-owned fashion platform Vestiaire Collective counts over 10 million members worldwide, who are shopping socially.

During the height of the pandemic, the platform reportedly saw a surge of 119% more items ordered in May 2020, compared to May 2019.

Some of the brands that were snapped up are as below:

Top sustainable brands deposited. (PHOTO: Vestiaire Collective)
Top sustainable brands deposited. (PHOTO: Vestiaire Collective)

For some of us who indulge in shopping, and made purchases all the way through the COVID-19 crisis, the Vestiaire Collective community also saw three key increased areas of change: loungewear and athleisure saw a huge increase in sales, for example, Adidas is (+71%)* and Nike (+64%)*, partly driven by influencers and celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Adriana Lima sharing their home workouts; interest in scarves, both silk from Hermès (+68%)* and Louis Vuitton’s shine ‘Logomania’ (+23 %)* showed that the community were seeking chic face masks alternatives; and lastly, Responsible Dressers: Alongside the Sustainability Month activity, we saw big increases in sales for brands like Stella McCartney (+42%)* and Ganni (+47%).*

*Top trending brands in May, ranked by sales volume growth versus February.

A look at Singapore’s buying habits

When we look at the e-commerce landscape in Singapore, there was a surge of FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) buys, which was driven primarily by the non-food category that rose from 12% in 2019 to 14% during COVID-19, according to the Nielsen report.

In February 2020, the biggest shifts to online purchasing was contributed by items like hand sanitiser, canned abalone (a luxury at home?), household cleaners, adult diapers and beauty eye care.

For the past few months, consumers were driven by their needs and what they can get online, due to the urgency in buying behaviour.

“Four weeks after the initial outbreak, sales in Singapore remained 40% above the norm. People were still going about their daily business but were not eating out like before. Shoppers dropped alcohol, beauty products and chocolates from their weekly baskets, and travel halts contributed to their decrease in sales as well,” observed Vaughan Ryan, Managing Director, Southeast Asia at Nielsen.

Looking at the retail climate, only time will tell if consumers’ behaviour may have started to shift offline now that the country has entered Phase 2 of reopening, and COVID-19 cases have been tracking downwards.

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