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From Stockpiling Essentials, Americans are Now Spending More On This Item—And No, It’s Not Toilet Paper

The past weeks have been a flurry of stockpiling for basics like groceries and household items as more people are preparing for the quarantine period caused by the coronavirus outbreak. However, there has been a change in priorities for Americans. After the toilet paper frenzy, more people are now online shopping for books.

There has been a surge in online shopping as people are now mandated to stay home. They have temporarily bid goodbye to the typical trips to the store and have slowly embraced the realities of the new normal during the extended quarantine period.

In addition to the overall growth of e-commerce spending, sales data also show that American online shoppers have now shifted their focus to another category. They are now buying more books and games in a bid to entertain themselves while sheltering at home.

There has been a surge of online spending due to stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic

E-commerce spending in the United States saw a growth of more than 30% from the start of March through mid-April. This is a significant growth compared to the same time last year. Market research firm Rakuten Intelligence says that this growth is 50% more than the average annual growth in recent years, which is only at 20%. This data just shows what Americans are now buying and the shift of priorities for shoppers amid the quarantine.

This figure is a sharp contrast to the recent data for retail sales in the U.S.—including figures of brick-and-mortar businesses. In March, sales declined by 8.7%, the biggest drop since the government started monitoring it in 1992.

The surge in online ordering was initially driven by demand for staples. According to Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Kodali, there was a huge stockpiling that happened in March, a time when states have begun stay-at-home orders. Some of the most in-demand items—which were usually bought in bulk—are home office equipment, health products, and pet supplies.

During the early stages of the pandemic, people were stockpiling on groceries and cleaning supplies

A Shift From Basics to Books

Rakuten Intelligence senior vice president of marketing and public relations Jaimee Minney saw a trend in “panic buying” right at that time when the outbreak was still new and unfamiliar to the general public. Now that it has been quite some time since people have been adjusting, they have now focused on a different type of need.

According to Minney, people have now realized that things are okay and that they can go beyond the basics of food and shelter.

Comparing the data during the 1st half of March prior to stay-at-home orders and during the 1st half of April, there have been huge increases in entertainment-related categories in e-commerce as people are now looking for ways to keep themselves busy during the quarantine.

Book purchases alone went up by a whopping 777%. The toys and games category followed with 182%, sports and outdoor items including gym equipment went up by 131%, while demand for home improvement and health and beauty increased by 71% and 38% respectively.

The demand for online shopping has now shifted to books and other entertainment items

On the flip side, online spending on cleaning supplies and grocery items has been reduced to 25% in the 1st half of April. Quite low if you compare it to the 100% annual growth rate.

The slowdown may be attributed to the fact that it has become harder to find these essential items on the Internet. Minney says that these have become harder to come by.

Another possibility is that many Americans are now struggling financially, with over 26.5 million people filing for unemployment amid the COVID-19 crisis. Those who can afford are now reaching beyond the basics and are finding ways to pass the time. Minney is expecting this trend toward self-improvement to continue in the next weeks and months.

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