No matter how your life was touched by COVID, one commonality that can be shared by all is the notion that the world changed before our eyes in real-time. Our planet saw this change in the form of clearer skies and cleaner waterways. For people, life changed literally overnight as bars, restaurants, and offices closed up. We stopped going out, worked from home, and hunkered down to weather the first pandemic in 100 years.
For the next year (and counting…) people were forced to make do with their resources and adapt to a life indoors. We set up shop in kitchens and laundry rooms, attending Zoom meetings ad nauseam and embracing life remotely. This steady stream of time, anxiety, and boredom gave way to an unprecedented eCommerce boom that resulted in a $174.87 billion spike in revenue (up 32.4% from the year before) in 2020. For businesses big and small, the rise in sales painted a vivid portrait of how the pandemic affected our shopping habits
Grayson Laird of Grady’s Cold Brew felt the boom immediately with a spike in coffee sales as early as the weekend after the country went into lockdown.
“All of a sudden, these people that were potentially getting coffee for free at their office; it was part of their daily routine,” said Laird. “Overnight, that was taken away from them. So people were trying to replace this office coffee that they had gotten used to and familiar with before COVID.” Laird goes on to say that online sales jumped up a staggering 150 percent for all of 2020 with conversion rates doubling and sales on Amazon spiking at 100 percent for the year.
“We’re an omnichannel business,” adds Laird, “the corporate office channel completely dropped off a cliff from a big revenue generator to zero. Foodservice was the exact same thing; that was good business for us and it completely evaporated overnight.” Alongside the boost in online sales, the retail grocery side of the business jumped up as people began stockpiling, both, home and office staples like toilet paper, hot dogs, and oat milk oddly enough, and of course: coffee.
Laird speculates that Grady’s entered the pandemic in a good spot because of a dedicated fan base and little competition in the cold brew coffee sector. Plus, Grady’s easy-to-use cold brew box was an easy answer for coffee lovers suddenly unable to get their fix at the office or the corner coffee shop. Brick-and-mortar businesses like Starbucks, on the other hand, saw a dramatic decrease in sales from widespread store closures and the fact people were brewing coffee at home.
“Disruption to the weekday morning routines — notably, commuting to work and school — is a headwind,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson in a 2020 Intelligencer story when addressing the company’s 40 percent drop in sales compared to one year prior.
“We were just so thankful that we weren’t going under,” adds Laird, “it was stressful and, obviously everything that was going on in the country weighed heavily on everyone, but in terms of the business itself, it was one of the most exciting and… kind of fun times of I’ve been a part of.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the liquor industry saw a similar bump in sales over the last 12 months.
“Consumers have had more time on their hands and have been using it to learn a little more about what interests them,” said CEO and co-founder of Flaviar, Jugoslav Petkovic.
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated a change in drinking consumption habits, as more people have been mixing drinks at home and bonding over drinks virtually.” Flaviar — an online spirits club, saw its customer base grow by 196 percent last year, both outpacing an overall rise in spirits e-commerce and fast-tracking the company’s growth.
In response to the bump in sales, Flaviar was one of many eCommerce brands to expand to different sectors, finding new ways to bring people together like online unboxing events and virtual distillery tours.
“People seem to value the connection as much as the content,” adds Petkovic, “and they usually stick around to chat spirits and share stories long after the official event finishes.”
For what’s it worth, clear spirits saw record growth this last year, with tequila and vodka coming out on top with a 526% and 408% rise in sales, respectively, over the last 12 months.
Grayson Laird admits that he felt pangs of survivor’s guilt throughout the pandemic, but understands how the coffee company he started as a hobby got people through some truly unknown times.
“We saw a tremendous amount of new customers — thousands of new customers — along with returning customers. People will find other ways to get the products they love.”