What Are People Shopping for During Coronavirus Lockdown?

For those fortunate enough to have maintained a job and income amid massive economic fallout driven by coronavirus lockdown measures, there is still online shopping for stuff other than groceries to be done. Editorial product recommendation sites Wirecutter, owned by The New York Times, and The Strategist, a vertical of New York Magazine now owned by Vox Media, have seen a surge in site visits, searches and purchases since the coronavirus forced a vast majority of people in the U.S. into their homes. “We’re seeing exponential growth in traffic, more than ever before,” said Jason Chen, Wirecutter’s deputy editor. “It’s extraordinary.” Chen wouldn’t get specific about growth, but as a baseline, Wirecutter had about 1.5 million visitors in February, before the coronavirus became everyone’s new reality, according to Comscore data. A Times spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on how well an increase in visits and searches is affecting sales, which Wirecutter gets a percentage of by providing links directly to products, but did not resist the assumption that it’s been a boost to revenue. All the more important as the Times’ is expecting its advertising business, like essentially all other media outlets, to take a significant hit from the coronavirus. Not only are brands that advertisefreezing marketing budgets, but other purveyors of digital ads are also barring any marketing from appearing next to reports or content covering the global epidemic.

Wirecutter is seeing an increase in interest and sales of a number of products, specifically due to the coronavirus. Chen pointed to digital thermometers selling out and bidets and bidet seats being more popular in the U.S. than ever given the ongoing trouble stores are having keeping toilet paper in stock. Air purifiers, too, are more popular, as are items for home exercise, like adjustable weights and resistance bands, as well as pillows, and cooking utensils. To Chen’s surprise, nothing has been quite as popular as items around making working from home a better experience. Standing desks, computer monitors, ergonomic office chairs, quality webcams, have all seen interest and sales soar.

Products are selling out almost too fast for Wirecutter editors to keep up and they’re responding to people directly on social channels like Instagram with suggestions on where they can find other products they need. “It’s put us in the business of finding options that are serviceable and workable, but not ideal,” Chen said.

Despite issues in shipping and fulfillment and keeping products in stock, it’s clear that people are truly investing in their at home work environments, leading one to think that the still-working U.S. public is not expecting to be back in the office anytime soon.

“I can’t necessarily speak to how people are feeling, but as this draws out longer and longer, it behooves people to create an environment they want to be in,” Chen said. “Over the long haul, do you want to be working over a stack of books? I think that says something about what people are expecting.”

Over at New York Magazine’s The Strategist, along with Vox more broadly, the outlet is seeing a much higher conversion rate, meaning people are clicking an affiliate link in a story and making a purchase (again, NYM/Vox gets a percentage of the purchase total), and is also seeing less price sensitivity. This is due in large part to inventory shortages and a new sense of urgency, a shift Wirecutter has also seen.

One significant difference between the sites is in the beauty and fashion categories, both less of a focus for Wirecutter, although it has been working to expand into both since last year. The Strategist and The Cut, New York Mag’s style vertical, have both seen purchases in the categories hold strong amid stay-at-home orders over the coronavirus. Moisturizers, hand creams, hair care and skin care in general have been selling well, along with comfortable apparel in categories like loungewear pants, leggings, pajamas, slippers and robes.

Major areas of buying growth at The Strategist and The Cut have been in health and household goods and home and kitchen, including UV light sanitizers, white noise machines, vacuums, personal massagers and vibrators.

Changing search habits at Amazon — which is keeping fulfillment centers open as shoppers become even more dependent on its array of goods  — are much along these same lines, so focused on house and home goods and home office-building. Although the massive site of course has some major search habits around more utilitarian products, like canned foods and disinfecting wipes, according to new research from Profitero.

Comparing Amazon searches from the last week of January to the last week of March, Profitero found that searches for “bed desk” increased three-fold, among increases for back massagers and office chairs, noting “consumers accept the new virtual reality of work.” They’re also seemingly accepting being forced to stay at home more. Searches for “bread machine” grew by 13 times, “home workout” by six times (with workout clothes only seeing a brief increase before dipping back down) and “gardening” by seven times. Searches for “wall paint” and “organization and storage” have also grown exponentially. The game Jenga has become a bestseller on Amazon, with searches increasing 14,885 percent.

With desks for their beds, games to play, fresh bread to eat and resistance bands to keep toned, it seems as though those who can afford to do so won’t be leaving the house anytime soon.

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