With governments issuing shelter-in-place orders and concerns over the coronavirus spreading in public, it’s not a surprise consumers are turning to the Internet to get what they need.

In a study of all counties across the U.S., Nielsen found there was a 76 percent correlation between locally confirmed COVID-19 cases and ecommerce in the grocery category. The research firm also found a 68 percent correlation between COVID-19 cases and online purchasing of cleaning supplies, and a 77 percent correlation between cases and online diaper purchases.

Taking local data into account can help retailers plan their distribution strategies, says Ana Salamanca, senior v.p. of data science for Nielsen North America.

 “There are certainly some local dynamics that impact sales trends in a given area, but looking at the county-level correlation between COVID-19 transmission and ecommerce purchase activity can allow companies to make more informed business decisions during these times of uncertainty,” she said. 

And with more people staying home — and needing things to occupy themselves -— online sales in other categories have increased. The data reveals people are eating, cleaning and grooming to pass the time.

From a year ago, online dollar sales have increased 289 percent for chocolate and 157 percent for confections, which is a good sign for candy manufacturers. People still want their sweets, and maybe even more so, while they’re on lockdown.

Other categories seeing increased online dollar sales include:

  • Baking mixes - 489%
  • Nail polish - 335%
  • Hair coloring - 310%
  • Hand lotion - 225%
  • Pretzels - 201%
  • Vinegar - 192%
  • Coffee filters - 131%
  • Body lotion - 56%

Increased online purchases, combined with greater in-store sales, led to an $8.5 billion spike in consumer packaged good sales in the two weeks ending March 21. For context, Nielsen says that’s 15 times the average rate of change for a typical two-week period.

However, Nielsen says sales are now slowing as consumers become content with their supply level and panic buying subsides. The research firm reported a 22 percent decline in online sales between March 21-28.

“Despite local news events that have kept COVID-19 concerns at a high, U.S. sales have since come down,” Salamanca said. “The nationwide e-commerce system is being pushed to its limits, and recent events have demonstrated how quickly the market can turn and how nimble companies must be as a result.”

The last month has been challenging for retailers of all stripes, whether they’re struggling to keep up with demand or seeking new ways to get product to consumers in the face of mandated store closures. How the COVID-19 pandemic transforms retail — and changes who the players are — remains to be seen.