How Retail Has Evolved Through the Pandemic

We’ve reached the grim anniversary of one year since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit us, and we asked ourselves: has retail as we know it survived? As the pandemic continues on, what can we expect over the next several months? Luckily, our data holds those answers. 

Retail should be congratulated, because their strategies kept shopping alive. They pivoted to adjust their delivery and in-store strategy to stay safe and support us all staying at home, including:

Year-Over-Year Growth in Online Engagement (%):

+2716%

In-store and curbside pickup

+242%

“Contactless” shopping and delivery experiences

As a result, retail engagement is only down by 4% in comparison to March of 2020. There are a few shopping categories in particular that are currently helping propel retail growth forward with their own impressive year-over-year growth: 

Increase in Shopping Category Engagement Year-Over-Year (%):

Whether the pandemic is over by summer or not, gathering outdoors is safer than indoors, so outdoors shopping categories like swimwear, headwear, and outdoor markets are doing better than they were last year. We’re also seeing the reflection of more places of work opening up with the growth in uniforms and workwear, while entertainment and greeting cards show us that people are still prioritizing home entertainment and keeping in touch from a distance. 

Another success story of pandemic retail is shopping local. Communities have come together and promoted local economies, with a “we’re in this together” mindset. Since last March, positive sentiment for shopping locally has increased by 7%, and searches for local and handmade goods have grown by 19%. 

Sentiment for Shopping Locally (%):

In technology retail, we’re closely watching the transition from working at home as the norm to returning to the office. We found that while social signals around the topic of going back to the office are increasing, it’s a very slow climb, even though engagement is decreasing more rapidly around the topic of working from home. Interestingly, online engagement with home office topics continue to increase, reflecting the more flexible mindset that employees can balance time at home and at the office even post-pandemic. Companies that have done well over the last year are beginning to acknowledge that working remotely can be just as productive for employees, so home office spaces will continue to be a priority. Supporting this theory is data showing that engagement with desktop computers is up 15% globally year-over-year. 

Projected Engagement Growth of Topics (%), Based on Recent Trends in Searches & Shares:

On the home front, retail will certainly be propelled by the real estate market. Listings are already up 9% year-over-year and steadily increasing at an average of 5% week by week, which means that there will be another spring and summer wave of people moving. Related categories aren’t slowing down either, with house painting up 261% year-over-year and growing an average of 104% each week. In fact, do-it-yourself categories have been strong all year long as people learn new skills or are wary of inviting strangers into their homes; construction and power tool social signals have increased by 92% since last March and are growing 20% each week on average, and home improvement overall has steadily been climbing since the winter months at an average of 12% weekly. 

Increase in Home Category Engagement Year-Over-Year and Week-Over-Week (%):

So, will retail return to normal? Beauty-related retail may hold the answers there. More frivolous spending on things that suggest more in-person contact are starting to grow in online engagement, including making appointments with cosmetology and beauty professionals (+24% week-over-week on average), cosmetic procedures (+22% average week-over-week), and fashion collections (+8% weekly average growth). After all, we are seeing future events being advertised – for example, there has been recent growth in buzz around concerts and music festivals (+66% week-over-week) and event listings (+16% week-over-week), that shows optimism for progress against the virus in the summer months. Either way, we’ve reached the stage where people are focused less on essential purchases. 

Retail is on the brink of bouncing back from the pandemic, but this new era of retail will depend on its flexibility. Customizable, community-oriented, and safe shopping experiences will be more important than ever before as customers readjust at their own pace, and retailers should give them space and support to do so. 

We Predict That:

Home will be the fastest retail category to return to pre-pandemic engagement levels

Technology retail will maintain its current engagement levels for quite a while

Beauty and fashion retail will be slowest to return, but the summer months are especially promising

Contact us if you’d like to use our data to follow along with retail as it continues to evolve. 

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