Tradeswell Research: What COVID Trends Tells Us About Shopper Demand

This is the first article in our Tradeswell Research series. We’re sharing findings from our data and research and turning them into actionable insights ecommerce brands can use to make better business decisions that drive profit and enhance the customer experience.

In this week’s article, we’re diving into the data around shopper demand and search trends for face masks and hand sanitizer and sharing insights for improving your advertising and merchandising strategies.

You might be thinking, “I don’t sell face masks or hand sanitizer, so why does this matter to me?”

Reviewing face mask and hand sanitizer trends provides insight into how external factors affect shopper demand, as well as the different advertising strategies needed when selling everyday products vs. new-to-market products.

External Factors Have Significant Impact on Shopper Demand

Looking at the bigger picture, reviewing search trends in relation to COVID cases reveals how much shopper demand can change based on external factors outside your company’s control.

For example, here’s how consumer demand for face masks and hand sanitizer evolved in comparison to COVID case levels. 

Consumer Shopping Demand

As you can see in the chart above, demand for hand sanitizer skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic. However, demand quickly dwindled once the CDC announced that the COVID virus isn’t easily transferable on hard surfaces. 

Similarly, demand for face masks dramatically increased in April 2020 after the CDC made its first recommendation for cloth or fabric masks. But unlike hand sanitizer, demand for masks continued to rise and fall in relation to COVID case loads.

What’s the key takeaway?

Tracking external factors, such as political announcements, new research, or cultural trends, can help inform your advertising decisions, product innovation, and merchandising strategies. 

For example, many fashion brands recognized the opportunity presented by COVID and stepped into the face mask category in the Spring of 2020, turning masks into a new way of accessorizing and self-expression. During a time when shoppers were spending less on clothing, this new product category allowed fashion retailers to keep customers engaged and build new revenue streams, while making masks more accessible and keeping their apparel teams employed.

How Search Trends Vary for Everyday Products vs. New to Market Products

People commonly used hand sanitizer long before the pandemic started, but very few people outside the healthcare industry bought and used face masks. 

Once the CDC announced its recommendation for wearing face masks, shoppers turned to Google to learn more about face masks before completing their purchase. In comparison, fewer shoppers spent time researching hand sanitizer before purchasing — presumably because it was a product with which they were already familiar.

Search Volume x Consumer Shopping Demand

What The Data Tells Us About Shopper Behavior

When buying commonly used products, shoppers don’t spend a significant amount of time researching. Based on previous purchases, they know where, how, and when to buy the product.

However, new-to-market products require more time spent in the research phase of the buying journey. Shoppers will read related content, look through customer reviews, and gather input from their friends and family before choosing a specific brand. When shoppers have more access to information than ever, they’re going to form their own opinions and attitudes about a product.

What The Data Means for Ecommerce Brands

When selling a relatively new product to the larger market, we recommend putting your advertising budget towards Google search ads rather than product shopping ads.


Top of the funnel marketing strategies focus on brand awareness and demand generation through tactics like content marketing, social media, and organic search. As shoppers move towards the bottom of the funnel, the marketing strategy pivots to targeted ads that drive people to the product page where they can find more information and validate their purchase.

You want to engage with shoppers early in the buying journey with educational content that helps them make an informed decision. As demand grows, that’s when you invest a larger share of your marketing dollars to shopping ads to capture new customers at the point of purchase.

When creating your Google search ad strategy, keep an eye on how search terms evolve as shoppers become more educated on a product. For example, “N95 Face Mask” overtook “Face Mask” searches as holiday 2020 COVID cases surged. If you were selling face masks at that time, this could signal the need to shift your advertising budget to focus more heavily on longer tail keywords.

In short, attract customers with educational content and convert them with targeted shopping ads.

If you need help optimizing your multichannel sales strategy with an ecommerce operating system, try Tradeswell for free.

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