Retail Therapy: Virtual Shopping and Covid-19

Girl holding shopping bags with address bar above against a blue sky

Since March of this year, we have been home... a lot. We have also been spending money online more than ever. Even though most of the retail industry is facing uncertainty with the current situation around Covid-19, several US-based direct to consumer brands selling non-essential items have experienced record-breaking virtual sales. We are going to share some of the top selling categories during the pandemic and some tips on how to shop safely online.

According to data shared by Forbes, many online retail categories saw an uptick in sales during March 2020 (as much as a 74% year over year increase) compared to March 2018. 

So what are we buying?

Home Goods

Retailers in the home goods industry are seeing an increase in sales, due likely to the fact that as people spend more time at home complying with shelter-in-place laws, they’re paying more attention to their home environments.

Almost all of the platform’s sellers within the furniture category have seen revenue growth during the pandemic according to Forbes. When comparing their data from the first full week of March to the first full week of April, sales volume is up 220% on average for those retailers.

There’s also the aspect of increased online competition these retailers must consider as well. For online-only furniture retailers, being a direct to consumer brand does offer an advantage in not having a physical location to manage—but again, new challenges have cropped up. These smaller brands with less visibility now have to compete with bigger brands who are leaning more fully into the digital space.

Elegant white wooden table and chairs in dining room

Athletic & Loungewear

With more people working from home (and generally spending more time there) it’s no surprise that athletic and loungewear sales have gone up. 

In the loungewear category, Richer Poorer shared with Forbes that they sold three times the amount of sweats online in the three weeks following the March shelter-in-place mandate than they had in all of 2019. 

This extends to athletic goods, too. Bike and skateboard helmets, saw an 80% increase in year over year sales during the last week in March of 2020, while sales in April are on track to climb more than 200% in comparison to the same time frame in 2019 according to Forbes.

Portrait of male mountain biker carrying bicycle in the forest on a sunny day

Again, the uptick in sales comes with a challenge, however: A limited supply chain around certain items due to restrictions for manufacturers. While they’ve placed buys with some of their factories, others are unable to replenish orders at this time—so those product categories will remain sold out until deliveries can be made next quarter.

Tips for Safe Virtual Shopping

Female fingers touching smartphone with locked device requiring passcode

Look for the padlock

  • Always use a secure Internet connection when making a purchase. Reputable websites use technologies such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) that encrypt data during transmission.
  • Look for the little padlock in the address bar or a URL that starts with “https” instead of “http,” as the “s” stands for “secure.” Some browsers will tell you it’s safe to give out your credit card by showing you a green address bar, while unprotected ones will be highlighted in red.

Use a secure payment method

  • Only shop on sites that take secure payment methods, such as credit cards and PayPal, as they likely give you buyer protection just in case there’s a dispute. In other words, you won’t be held liable for fraudulent charges. Even before it gets to that, you might be notified by your credit card company or bank if suspicious activity is detected.
  • It’s always a good idea to review your account transactions online or go through monthly paper statements to see if anything looks questionable.
  • Beware of sites and apps that only accept money orders, wire transfers, or checks.
  • Look for well-known security labels such as DigiCert, VeriSign, and other seals.

Password pointers

  • A strong password is at least seven characters long, has a combination of letters, numbers and symbols, and with some uppercase characters, too.
  • Change passwords routinely. Or use password management apps if you’re worried you won’t remember the password.
  • It's good to reset your shopping passwords every so often, just in case someone guesses them, or if there’s a data breach at an online retailer.
  • And never use the same password for all virtual shopping sites (or other Web activities, like online banking), as once someone guesses one password, they’ll have free reign over everything else.

High angle view of young man using his laptop in bright living room

Do your homework

  • When on marketplaces like eBay, check the seller’s reputation and read comments before buying a product to see what the experience was like for past customers. You can always ask a question of a seller and reputable ones will reply in a timely manner.
  • Also, read the item description carefully before you buy, including where the seller is located, shipping charges, if the product is new or used, refund and return policies, and payment methods accepted.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid unbelievably hot “deals” from unknown merchants.

Watch out for fake shopping apps

  • Be sure you’re downloading the legitimate app by getting it from the company’s official website or, if downloading from an app store directly, check to see it’s been around for a few years and has high ratings from many users. Never be the first to download a new shopping app.
  • If you’re interacting with brands on social media, make sure they’re “verified,” with the little blue checkmark by their profile, which means the company is legit.

Avoid shopping on hotspots

  • Try not to do any virtual shopping when you're using a public computer (such as in an airport lounge) or when you're using a public Wi-Fi network (say, at your favorite coffee shop or in a hotel lobby). You never know if your information is being tracked and logged — so it's best to wait until you get home. Or use your smartphone as a personal hotspot, which is safer than free Wi-Fi.
  • Use gift cards when you can, like many retailers offer, as a smart way to shop without providing any financial information.
  • Keep your devices up to date by turning on “automatic updates.” This includes your Web browser and third-party add-ons, which could warn you if you land on suspicious websites.
  • Always have good anti-malware (“anti-malicious software”) installed to catch threats like viruses.

We are all doing what we can to stay sane during this unique time. If retail therapy is what you need, buy those sweatpants! Just make sure to do it safely. We've got your back Minnesota. Happy shopping!


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