The ecommerce landscape is in constant flux right now. Every couple of weeks, our platform has seen new product categories surge in views and transactions, largely in reaction to what’s happening with COVID-19.
Hygiene recommendations and the constant talk about using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in public led to an increase in demand for health products at the beginning of the crisis, and that demand has remained steady. Fear of large gatherings drove a spike in demand for online grocery shopping, and many consumers have become reliant on it. Stay-at-home orders and school closures have caused a dramatic increase in consumer electronics sales and traffic.
The latest wave is the biggest one yet, but it’s also different than the other demand increases we’ve seen so far. Hardware has now seen a bigger year-over-year increase in online views than any other product category during the pandemic.
Specifically, consumers are looking at drills, saws, and other hand tools. But while the other top product categories have also seen a significant year-over-year increase in transactions, hardware has only seen a meager increase in online sales.
Here are some of the reasons hardware is so popular right now—and why it’s seeing a huge increase in traffic, but not transactions.
People are staying home more
Between social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, people are spending a lot more time at home. Staying home comes with some perks…but it also comes with a longer than normal “honey-do” list. People have fewer excuses to keep putting off their home improvement projects. They are building sheds, putting in garden beds, installing shelves, remodeling their bathrooms, and powering through their home improvement to-do lists.
And to do those projects, people need tools…powerful ones.
Construction projects are resuming
At the start of the pandemic, many states shut down construction projects altogether. Contractors and construction crews had to fill their timelines with question marks. But as government officials have discussed reopening the economy, construction is one of the first industries that is being allowed to resume in many states.
So it’s possible that all at once, subcontractors are getting the various tools they need to finish their jobs. Buying or upgrading tools didn’t make sense when they couldn’t work, and now all that pent-up demand is coming into play (possibly with help from PPP loans).
Local availability is increasing
One of the earliest ways COVID-19 impacted ecommerce was by disrupting supply chains. Many brands had to circumnavigate countries that were hit hardest by coronavirus, and panic buying caused demand to greatly outpace supply.
At the end of April, we saw local availability of hardware products increase and level out. Shortly after brick-and-mortar stores had hardware in stock again, there was another spike in traffic to hardware brands’ websites.
Stimulus checks are still coming in
The first stimulus checks started rolling out in mid-April. Every week since then, millions more Americans have received one time payments that are intended to be spent. People who don’t need them for bills can use them for big purchases—like buying a new sawzall, impact wrench, or drill set that has been on their power tool wishlist indefinitely. This is one of the reasons why consumer electronics have seen a huge increase in demand, and it certainly could be contributing to the increased interest in hardware as well.
Consumers research hardware online, but generally buy in store
In any given product category, a smaller percentage of views convert to online sales. So there’s not a one to one correlation between an increase in views and an increase in transactions online, especially in categories that tend to be more tactile. And although traffic is always much higher than conversions, our total platform has seen a 181% increase in total views and a 204% increase in sales transactions year over year throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the gap between views and sales is much wider in product categories where consumers either do a higher degree of research (meaning they look at more product pages before buying) or where buying in person is significantly more valuable.
With hardware, consumers may start by looking at what tools they need to complete their project, then explore which brands and products best meet their needs. But while people often buy online and pick up in store through Home Depot and Lowes (which our platform would be able to track), there are a couple of big reasons why people may not do that as often when buying tools.
Some customers may need to talk about their project with a sales associate in the store before they feel confident about what they need. Or they may need to physically hold and inspect tools before they decide which one they prefer. Hardware is one of those categories where people like to handle and hold their potential purchase. Just like “looking” at a pair of pants online is a far cry from taking them for a spin around the store, power tools command a similar tactile quality. Others may wait to buy in-store because they need to purchase supplies and materials that are easier to select in-person (such as lumber).
The huge spike in traffic to hardware product pages and surprisingly small increase in transactions indicates that—for whatever reason—people are researching tools online but waiting to buy until they arrive in store, and this is definitely a trend that is reflected in the history of the category.
Stay informed about how ecommerce is changing
While millions of Americans are out of work and many businesses are being forced to close, companies that deliver quality ecommerce experiences are thriving right now. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve been tracking how the pandemic has been affecting the world of ecommerce, and sharing some of the unique insights that come from our data.
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