Navigating Your eCommerce Business Through the Pandemic

Jon Cogan

Updated: April 27, 2020


Biggest takeaway over the last couple of weeks? The cost of online advertising, which is currently running at or near a three-year low. Major players that have no business operating business-as-usual, like Expedia, airlines, cruises and hospitality have significantly cut their spends. Merchants who can not effectively ship within a reasonable period of time due to supply chain issues are not spending nearly the same amount on their online ads, if at all. Since bidding on online ad inventory works exactly like an auction, this means bargain basement ad costs, which are driving well-above average ROAS for the majority of eCommerce marketers.

Overall, due to aforementioned low cost advertising, coupled with an increase in online purchasing throughout the consumer marketplace, eCommerce business is actually tracking ahead of pre-COVID projections. There still exists the risk of curbed consumer spending affecting all sales channels, but even with 20 million filing for unemployment in the US, eCommerce merchants in most industries are not yet feeling much if any negative effect.

With the information served by my ads team that manages $20 million in ad spend annually, with about 80% being eCommerce merchants, we have tracked the following metrics to ‘take the temperature’ of eCommerce in general during these unprecedented times.

  1. Data across our eCommerce clients (ROAS, CPMs, CPCs, daily changes, etc.)
  2. Trends (macro trends based on the data we are gathering)
  3. Predictions (what we think will happen in Q2, Q3/Q4, and beyond)


The dataset below is compiled from a sampling of our eCommerce clients. The public Google Sheet is HERE. We will be updating the sheet every day. The data is from paid social advertising campaigns, only pulling spend from Facebook/Instagram.

Here is how to interpret the data: Green is good, white is average, red is not so good. The colors are in relation to Year to Date performance.

CLICK HERE to view the real-time dataset on a Google Sheet


What macro trends can we gather from these numbers? Over the last month, CPMs and CPCs have been lower than we’ve seen over the last three years. Aside from a day or two here and there, Return on Ad Spend, Add to Carts, and Purchase Conversions have all held pretty steady as well. Keep in mind, my digital advertising team is not very exposed to the travel industry (who has been hit hard with everything), nor are they exposed to “household essentials” (who are currently spiking). So this is a pretty good sample of your more “typical” eCommerce brand, i.e. apparel, beauty, accessories, shoes, etc.


I believe that everything related to the Coronavirus will be a catalyst for further eCommerce growth throughout 2020 and beyond. As Web Smith states below eCom penetration as a percentage of total retail is still quite small in the US, at just 11%. Whereas in China it’s almost 37%. As fears related to Coronavirus calm down and everyone gets more accustomed to staying at home, overall shopping trends will normalize. But those shopping trends will be almost entirely online now. And as the quarantine lifts and people start going out more again, those newly built online shopping habits (or further deepened habits) won’t just disappear. They will carry on. Web is predicting an almost 50% jump in eCommerce sales by next year, to 15%. We believe it could reach 20%+ penetration.

2020 will see a boom in DTC sales. Historical data + trend analyses suggests as much.

Do not be surprised if eCom penetration jumps from 11.8% to an adjusted 15+% by Q1 of 2021.

That’s representative of an additional $30+ billion in sales.

The last 10 years (census data):— Web Smith (@web) March 13, 2020

If you want to see more data/insights, Common Thread has put together a great piece, as has Within. Shipbob added month-over-month and week-over-week eCommerce sales by industry. It has some incredible data. ShipHero as well. Definitely recommend checking them out.

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