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Indie hackers are riding the rising tide of e-commerce

An easy way to appreciate the role of e-commerce in this recession is to take a big-picture view of the recession itself.

The New York Times provided such a view a few days ago, based on consumer-spending data:

This chart from The New York Times shows the percentage change in spending from the beginning of the year. Each line is an average of the previous two weeks, which smooths out weekly anomalies.

You can almost pinpoint the week in mid March when the tide of public opinion shifted on the coronavirus and people simply stopped going out and spending money (except to make a final mad dash on grocery stores).

Here's how the economic landscape had changed by the last week of March:

This chart from The New York Times shows changes in spending from 2019 for the week ending April 1. Bubbles are sized by industry sales.

E-commerce is carrying the lion's share of the economy right now.

Last year, Amazon accounted for more than a third of US e-commerce sales, so there's good reason to believe they're doing a lot of the heavy lifting here as well. But not all of the lifting.

Gumroad founder Sahil Lavingia shared his e-commerce platform's revenue numbers yesterday:

Sahil Lavingia on Twitter: "Gumroad in March 2020: Volume processed: $9.7M (up 70% YOY); Revenue: $637K (up 65% YOY); Gross / net profit: $227K / $78K. Let me know if you have any questions."

Ignore the majority of that graph for now, and focus instead on the final bar to the right. That's March: the same month that everyone apparently stopped spending their money.

Sahil gave a zoomed-in analysis of the entire first quarter to confirm that Gumroad hasn't just continued growing in spite of the coronavirus; the pandemic has actually accelerated their growth:

Sahil Lavingia on Twitter: "COVID-19 added a lot of new creators to our platform. You can see lockdowns in our data. It has also minimized the weekend dips. In March: 10 creators made over $100,000; 113 made over $10,000; 1,213 made over $1,000; 4,630 made over $100; 15,516 made something."

As for other major e-commerce platforms, we can't be certain about their financials. But insofar as traffic to their sites correlates with revenue, business seems to be booming.

Estimates from SimilarWeb suggest that Shopify's February-to-March traffic grew by 12%. This is a big deal when you consider that Shopify, the third-largest online retailer in the US behind Amazon and eBay, supports over 800,000 merchants who run more than a million businesses in 175 different countries.

I've seen similar results among e-commerce indie hackers who aren't building on major platforms.

SaaS Army is a collection of small e-commerce apps built by @matthenderson, @aattsai, and @ajaxmetal. Here's how they're weathering the current economic storm:

saasarmy on Twitter: "SaaS Army stats for Sunday, Apr 12th, 2020: MRR: $21,855.40 (+0.9%); new MRR record."

The e-commerce industry is doing well right now for a number of reasons.

Fear, for one. People don't want to risk getting infected, so they're staying away from gathering places like shopping malls and other brick-and-mortar stores, and doing much more of their shopping online.

Second, even those who do want to go out and spend money at physical stores are prevented from doing so by widespread stay-at-home orders, the closure of many restaurants and non-essential retail establishments, and — in the case of people who've recently been laid off — emptier bank accounts. With these restrictions on their movement and budgets, many are leaning more heavily on e-commerce companies to sell them exactly what they need, and nothing more.

Finally, it's important to remember that this shift towards e-commerce has already been in motion for several years. The reasons for this are straightforward: it's generally more convenient to order something online than to have to leave your house to buy it in the real world, and the vast array of digital storefronts offer a much larger selection of products than most people can find at nearby stores.

So I'll expect e-commerce to keep trending up and to the right, even after the virus passes or society adjusts, city by city, to a new normal.

  1. 3

    Nice curation or charts and analysis here. Thanks for putting it together!

    I'd be interested to hear any trends from people around online learning, as I'm presuming a lot of proactive people who are at home, maybe without much to do are thinking of using this time to upskill. Perhaps we'll see more of this as people start trying to plan for a longer period of 'staying home'? I know khan academy reported massive spikes in traffic as one example.

    Any indie hackers got any insights/news around this topic? I'm just generally curious.

    1. 2

      I don't have much of a proper insight here but you are bang on when you say '...a lot of proactive people who are at home, maybe without much to do are thinking of using this time to upskill...'.

      I for one has been doing the same from almost the beginning of this thing, among a lot of other long-pending things on my various websites. I also know at least more than a couple of other people who are using this time to upskill themselves.

  2. 3

    Thanks for mentioning us at saas.army @channingallen!

  3. 2

    Time to start selling merch. Let’s get to it everybody.

    In all seriousness, thanks for the post. I love getting these higher level looks into trends to help guide what we build.

  4. 2

    Thank you for sharing! Very interesting statistics.

  5. 1

    Great Stats Thanks For Sharing

  6. 1

    As an owner-operator, it will be nice to see if trends in online sales will translate to the luxury market. Only 12% of global luxury sales are online pre-shutdown and major markets are currently down 85-95%.

  7. 1

    I’m having problems to get my supplies (I live in Buenos Aires) most groceries stores have low quality e-commerce sites, also they are slow to process the orders.
    3 of my regular local suppliers, are just doing a “list of products” over WhatsApp.

    1. 2

      reach out to them and offer to build a microsite!

  8. 1

    In many ways, this pandemic might sound the death knell for a lot of brick and motor stores. On the other hand, there is real fear that some big eCommerce companies with their muscle power can further monopolize the markets.

    1. 1

      Stop living in Dreams bro, get out there n take ACTION! gud luck.

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