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Study: Online order volumes drop, but remain above pre-pandemic levels

shopper looking at shopping cart in cloud

Despite some fluctuations as consumers emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, overall online order volumes are still considerably higher compared to pre-pandemic levels.

According to new data from e-commerce automation company Linnworks, compared to the same month the prior year, overall online order volumes spiked 47% in January 2021, 35% in February 2021, and 14% in March 2021. These volumes then dropped 28% in April 2021 and 29% in May 2021 (compared to the first two months of full COVID-19 lockdown in much of the U.S.).

However, Linnworks data indicates online order volumes in these months were still above their pre-pandemic volumes, which the company says demonstrates that the shift toward online shopping has changed irrevocably. 

Linnworks also observed online order fluctuations related to specific product categories. For example, online order volumes in the health category grew 11% year-over-year in April 2021 and 18% in May 2021. Positive year-over-year growth was more dramatic in the large applicance category, increasing 55% in April and 32% in May.

Conversely, online order volume for wine and alcohol fell 54% year-over-year in April 2021 and 55% in May 2021. Gaming (-58%, -48%) and home and garden (-25%, -41%) showed similar trends.

Examining year-to-date online sales trends, Linnworks found that online purchase of food and beverages was 23% higher when compared to the January- May period in 2020. Although online sales in this category have been slower in 2021, Linnworks expects that growth in online shopping for food and beverages will remain strong, as consumers seek to benefit from the convenience of shopping online. 

Online orders in pet supplies were up 25% year-over-year in the same period, which Linnworks attributes to record number of first-time pet owners buying and adopting pets. Linnworks predicts the post-pandemic sales of pet products, such as dog food and accessories, to remain strong as pet owners will continue to have a strong bond with their animals.

“While a retraction is to be expected, the center of gravity in commerce has shifted from offline to online,” said Callum Campbell, CEO of Linnworks. “This is not a choice, but an imperative for brands and retailers who are rapidly investing for the future into their online proposition. With proportionately less investment into bricks and mortar, in-store purchase options will continue to reduce, making in-store increasingly less attractive for consumers. Online channels will increasingly become the only viable choice for range and access to products, while bricks and mortar will increasingly operate as a marketing channel.”

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