The COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on more than half of small online sellers, according to a survey of EcommerceBytes readers that ran from March 29 - April 2, 2020.
Asked, "Overall, how has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted your online sales," 60% of respondents said their sales decreased.
However, 21% said their sales had increased, while 16% said they saw no change. Four percent of respondents said they didn't know.
Sellers elaborated in the comments section. One seller who was experiencing a bump in sales said, "It seems to have increased, but I'm not sure it will last. There have to be a lot of people out there that are soon going to realize that they can't keep spending money on a hobby just because they have time on their hands."
A seller who saw about a 10% increase in sales overall wrote, "I sell auto parts, so it's refreshing to see people still wanting, and thinking, it's OK to work on their own vehicles."
But another wrote, "I think people are afraid of sellers sending a package from a Covid-19 positive home....I know I worry, too, and have cut way down on ordering online."
The increase or decrease in sales sellers reported experiencing wasn't always consistent - some sellers described an initial increase or decrease in early March followed by the opposite pattern later in the month. One seller described their sales pattern as a roller coaster.
What's Selling (and What's Not)
We also asked sellers if they were seeing a difference in the *types* of items customers were purchasing from them, asking them to answer yes if they had seen a change up or down in certain types of products:
- 24% answered yes;
- 64% answered no;
- 12% said "don't know."
Some items selling well according to sellers' comments were puzzles & games; DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs; plumbing, electrical, home fix-up, repair type; bidets; expensive fine jewelry and sterling jewelry; model trains; and Easter items. Items selling poorly included antiques; costume jewelry; party supplies; and handbags.
A number of sellers indicated in the comments sections that they were seeing greater sales of low-priced goods as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Lots of games, puzzles, household, kitchen, craft stuff, garden stuff," one respondent wrote.
"I am pleasantly surprised that people are buying stuff that are not essential," wrote another. "I thought to myself that no one will be buying antiques or collectibles but they are still are. I want to thank the customers for thinking of us as this time."
Product Sourcing Opportunities - and Challenges
One seller saw an opportunity not only to continue their efforts to expand their business through diversification, but through product sourcing: "I will also continue to leverage this opportunity to source more product for the future by taking advantage of the current declining market values and coupled with the increased amount of willing sellers."
Another wrote, "Online buyers are still very cheap. However, I've scooped up a few deals to resell later in the year at shows where people spend money."
On the other hand, some worried about supplies drying up. A craft supplies seller who saw an increase in sales said they were concerned because "some wholesalers have closed until further notice."
Product sourcing also posed a challenge for a seller who sources at retail stores: "I am shut down as my product is purchased in retail stores, and they are obviously closed."
Some sellers said they were experiencing more returns in the current environment. "More scammers and returns, which is normal at the start of a recession/depression," said one.
"Have also had an increase in returns on Amazon - "bought by mistake" & "no longer needed," wrote an Amazon seller. "Basically buyer's remorse."
"Large amount of non paying bidders and cancel requests," said another seller.
While it's anecdotal, it's an indication that returns increased as shoppers began to fear economic challenges ahead. Congress was negotiating the CARES Act in March, and it was signed into law on March 27th.
Some sellers struggled to comply with local restrictions and cope with workforce issues. One seller said they shut down operations for 3 days because of a county-wide stay at home order, but reopened after getting clarification that warehouse/ fulfillment businesses could be open. "We only have our shipping team working on a volunteer basis with $2/hr. hazard pay," the seller explained.
Impact of Marketplace Changes
Comments revealed some of the challenges sellers faced by marketplace changes. For example, one seller said eBay's promotion in which it gave Store sellers 50,000 additional free listings for the months of March and April had the potential to have a negative impact on sales: "I sell postcards and sellers routinely flood the category with penny listings, free shipping. When that happens, my sales decrease. With the 50K free listings for store owners in my category it could potentially put me completely out of business. There are over 500K new listings in the category as of yesterday, since eBay started the promo."
Another seller said Amazon restricted the sale of athletic wear several weeks ago - "This category was my money-maker and I greatly miss the income."
Additional Survey Results
The survey also included questions about sellers' level of satisfaction with ecommerce marketplaces and service providers and shipping services and carriers; if they had changed their selling practices; and their 6-month outlook, where we asked: "Looking forward 6 months, in what shape do you anticipate your online business will be in September 2020?"
Stay tuned for more survey results to come, and thank you to readers for sharing details about how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting you and your business.