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Survey: Online sales keep booming as store shopping picks up

woman shopping in store wearing mask

Consumers are beginning to return to brick-and-mortar stores, but not necessarily at the expense of e-commerce.

According to the new Reopening Shopping Behavior Index from market research company Numerator, online sales continue to surge, with 2021 year-to-date sales roughly 1.7 times above 2020 levels and two times above 2019 levels. Online order sizes are up 7% from 2020, but down 5% from 2019, driven by more frequent, smaller online orders. 

Overall spend per trip remains elevated compared to prior years across channels (up 12% vs. 2020 and 13% vs. 2019), mostly driven by in-store trips. Consumers are still buying bigger baskets (larger orders) in 2021 compared to 2020 and 2019, a dynamic that Numerator expects will likely soften as consumers return to pre-pandemic behaviors.

In one good sign for brick-and-mortar retail, Numerator finds that gas & convenience channel sales, hit hard during the pandemic, are starting to rebound. Sales in this vertical are indexing above year-ago levels for the first time in 2021 (up 27% vs 2020), which Numerator says is likely due to increased travel and activity as reopening efforts increase.

In addition, retail verticals that saw heavy online growth when consumers consolidated shopping during the pandemic (e.g. club, food) continue to see elevated sales vs. prior years as consumers sustain levels of heightened at-home consumption. Meanwhile, channels that rely on physical storefronts (e.g. food, dollar, drug) are still seeing fewer trips per household, but are showing a slow return to pre-pandemic levels.

Other key findings include:
•    The verticals of home improvement (+4% vs. 2020, +8% vs. 2019) and online (+20%, +35%) are consistently seeing more trips compared to prior years as consumers spend more time at home.
•    Total household shopping remains virtually flat (+2%) vs. 2020 and 2019; however, the number of households shopping online is up more than 30% vs. 2020 and up more than 50% vs. 2019.
•    Many channels are seeing a greater number of households shopping in 2021 vs. prior years, including: home improvement (+37% vs. 2020, +48% vs. 2019), pet (+19%, +14%), liquor (+18%, +21%), and club (+4%, +17%).

The 16 channels covered in the Reopening Shopping Behavior Index include Beauty, Bodega, Club, Dollar, Drug, Food, Gas & Convenience, Liquor, Mass, Military, Online, Pet, Electronics, Home Improvement, Office, and Quick Service Restaurants (QSR).

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