The Influence of Social Media on Sales of Essential Retail Items During the Current Pandemic

Retail supply chain analysts may want to consider Twitter traffic by geography to be one more signal to improve their demand-based decisions when distributing goods from distribution centers to stores.

In order to assess how recent COVID-19 news are affecting the retail sector (with emphasis on the grocery segment), the Appriss Retail Data Science team is using data from the Johns Hopkins CSSE COVID-19 repository, the CDC, the US Census Bureau (for state population estimates), Twitter data, and the aggregated and de-identified Appriss global retail transaction database.

Illustrated in the following is the current strong relationship between daily grocery sales volume and daily tweet volume. This implies that social media has a strong influence on sales of essential items in times of national emergency. Appriss Retail intends to analyze and publish multiple articles as the coronavirus pandemic evolves, with this report being the first.

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Using Twitter data between March 4 and March 17 based on COVID-19 related hashtags, we identified an upward swing in tweet volume beginning on March 9, reaching a peak on March 13 (the date of the US national emergency declaration). The tweet activity tapered the following day but has remained high; as of March 18, it was 302% higher than March 10, the day prior to the World Health Organization’s global pandemic declaration.

While COVID-19 tweet volume declined somewhat following March 13, social media anecdotes of grocery store product outages for essential items proliferated. On March 17, Amazon confirmed stressors in the supply chain when it announced that they were suspending shipments of non-essential items into its warehouses, stating: “We are seeing an increase in online shopping and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock. With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers.”

Appriss Retail has more than 300 large, global retail clients, including many in the grocery, chain drug, and convenience sectors. Using de-identified metadata, we analyzed the sales transaction volume in this segment of retailers in the US from the period of March 4 through March 14 (the last aggregated data available at the time of this writing).

Much like the Twitter data, grocery data showed a peak in sales transaction counts on Friday, March 13 with an overall growth rate of 32.40%.

While confirmed cases and number of deaths continue to climb, tweet and grocery sales have tapered slightly from their peak on the 13th. As of this writing, it remains to be seen how much of the grocery sales decline is a result of out-of-stocks vs. an actual decrease in demand.

Click here to read the full report.

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