Early in the coronavirus pandemic, consumers fled to stores with hoarding mentalities, clearing stores of essentials, and leaving others searching. Founder of Price Technologies, which operates the comparison shopping web site Price.com, RJ Jain said he was hearing from friends and family across the U.S. as they struggled to find simple items.
Price.com quickly adapted a real-time availability status for the top 40 essential items that consumers were stocking up on for COVID-19. In 2016, Price.com launched as a price comparison tool for consumers looking for the best prices. Unlike other price comparison apps and web sites, Price.com also enables consumers to compare new products to used, refurbished, generic, rental and off-line stores.
“I started Price.com after purchasing a sofa and experiencing buyer’s remorse as I later found the same sofa in used but like-new condition for half the price,” Jain said. “I then realized that there is an abundance of like-new used items lying around while we all continue to just buy new items.
“After conducting some research, I noticed a big shift in consumer behavior where people were beginning to purchase more resale and generic products,” Jain said. “I thought this would be a win-win for consumers and for the world. Consumers would have the opportunity to save money while also shopping responsibly at the same time.”
With the new availability status feature, users are able to install the Price.com browser extension and see all buying options and availability for “COVID-19 essentials” in real-time as they shop on retail shopping web sites including Amazon, Walmart and Jet, among others. Currently, the company is tracking the top 40 essential items that consumers are looking to purchase during the pandemic including new and generic options from big retailers, wholesale providers and lesser-known e-commerce sites.
The company noted it is consistently adding new retailers and products to ensure at least one available buying option for each item at any given time. According to the company, branded items have been the first to go out-of-stock before generic items and big retailers went out-of-stock ahead of smaller retailers.
“Branded items often come first to mind and are usually perceived to be of the highest quality in the marketplace — whether that is true or not — likely due to the effect on consumers of branded-item advertising,” Jain said. “Charmin brand toilet paper was in high-demand and was the primary choice for most consumers, despite having a much higher price tag than generic alternatives.”
Notably, hand sanitizer saw large price increases in late February as consumers began panic buying, and by March it had become completely sold out online. Similarly, Price.com’s data shows that over-the-counter medicines, such as Tylenol, Wellness Formula and Mucinex, saw high levels of price volatility with prices increasing 2.5 times original prices by March 20.
Apart from essential purchases, the company has also seen surges in exercise equipment as consumers build at-home gyms to adopt new lifestyles. And Price.com data finds that “most at-home exercise equipment has become difficult to find in-stock from retailers or has been subject to massive price increases due to increased market demand.”
“Strength training equipment such as barbells, dumbbells and squat-racks quickly sold-out and were a rarity to find online by the end of March,” Jain said. “The supply-side still has not caught up with the level of consumer demand for these items with regards to both manufacturing and distribution — even when items are available, extremely long shipping times are expected.
“All online retailers are quickly selling out of at-home and personal exercise equipment, but larger retailers like Amazon were the first to sell out of these items,” Jain said. “A plausible explanation for why consumers prioritized purchasing exercise equipment from larger retailers are the facts that this equipment can be costly while there have been long shipping delays on many sites, so consumers favored larger retailers where shipping expectations and return policies are well known.”
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