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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.