The Stimulus Spending Wave Has Just Begun | Coronavirus Series

stimulus check spending

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that explores the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the world of ecommerce. Explore daily insights surrounding the coronavirus crisis or check out these additional resources to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.

Last week, the government issued the first batch of stimulus checks to millions of Americans. At the same time, ecommerce sales jumped across the board. 

Essentials, non-essentials, and new essentials collectively saw a boost around the same day the first checks arrived.

And there’s more to come as those who qualify for stimulus money and haven’t collected it yet will continue to receive checks through May. 

But while this spike in sales is likely a result of stimulus check spending, not everyone who has received their check is spending immediately. 

The majority haven’t spent all of their checks and most plan to spend it over the next month or longer. In fact, only 14 percent of survey respondents who have received their check said they will spend all of it this week. 

Additionally, while more than half of surveyed consumers plan to spend at least some of their checks in the next week, more plan to spend in the next month.


As more stimulus check recipients spend in the next few weeks, ecommerce businesses will likely continue to see growth. Additionally, once more people get their checks and start to spend them, it could lead to another wave in sales. But some industries might see sharper peaks, while others may see slightly more elongated lifts.


How are people spending?

Daily consumer surveys are providing insights into what product categories people who have received their stimulus checks are spending their money on in the first week since receiving their stimulus check as well as what they plan to spend it on in the future. Here’s what the data shows so far:

First things first—the necessities 

Housing, bills, utilities, groceries, and debt payments are at the top of consumers’ lists. These were categories that the majority of people selected as their number one priority. As one person said, “These are the necessities for life.” 

For some, these priorities alone required their entire check. One respondent explained, “It is exactly the amount of money I needed to get my credit card paid off.” 

stimulus spending first priority essentials
Saving and smaller purchases 

Others still have more to spend, though. Almost half of those who prioritized spending on necessities first also plan to buy everything from wall paint to new shoes to kettlebells.

Sixty-five percent of people plan to spend at least part of their stimulus check in the next month. Many say they are saving some for a rainy day but spending the rest. One person explained, “I want to save some money to pay for my rent in case the shutdown isn’t lifted this summer, but I also wanted to buy myself something since I’ve been trapped in the house.” 

In particular, apparel, health and beauty, and toys came up as the categories that people planned to make smaller or occasional purchases in with their stimulus money. 

Looking at ecommerce sales in those categories last week, it’s clear they also saw growth, though not to the same degree as some other categories. As people continue to buy occasionally in these areas, they may see a slight lift over time. 

One person explained their plans to buy toys and hobby goods saying, “The longer this goes on, the more likely I am to pick up additional new hobbies, so I might spend on that.”

Big-ticket items

Others are using their stimulus checks, which come in at $1,200 maximum (based on income), to buy big-ticket items. Two of the most common categories mentioned? Electronics and home goods. 

Many mentioned buying big-ticket electronics with their stimulus checks from laptops and cell phones to cameras and TVs. For some, it’s a chance to upgrade or replace electronics that are old or worn out. For the 20 percent of respondents who plan to buy electronics that are unemployed, these purchases are likely crucial to help with their job searches or future career moves. 

Ecommerce stores that sell electronics saw a particularly big jump in sales coinciding with stimulus check arrivals. It’s possible that these stores will continue to see some peaks as more consumers purchase their planned big-ticket items and others receive their checks. 

Home goods is another category that people mentioned spending significant amounts of their stimulus checks on. Behind necessities, home and garden was the most popular category with almost nine percent of respondents saying they planned to buy from it.

Some mentioned buying things to make being at home more comfortable. One person explained that they need a new stove to support all their current at-home cooking. 

Others mention that they recently moved or have plans to move and need large household items, such as a new bed or couch, to furnish their new homes 

One shopper explained that she’d been wanting to buy a grill for a while and her stimulus check made it possible. She explained that she’ll buy it as soon as her check arrives in the next week or two so that she can start to use it as the weather gets warmer. 

Similarly to ecommerce electronics sales, home and garden sales also saw a peak around the time the first set of checks arrived. This category may also expect to see additional peaks as more people receive their checks.

As one person explained of their plan to spend on a one-time big-ticket purchase, “It’s about the only thing I can think of that I’ve wanted and I can comfortably get one now.”

What should businesses do during this time?

Some companies have taken a direct approach of asking people to spend their stimulus checks with them, which has been met with less than positive reactions.

For many, this money is crucial. It allows them to be able to keep the lights on, eat, and afford housing, so communicating with empathy is a must. This doesn’t mean you need to stop marketing to customers. In fact, many people have commented that being at home has resulted in them being more likely to interact with emails and ads. But make sure to be thoughtful about the messaging you choose.

Try to understand the buying behavior of your audience and recognize that new customers may be in a different situation than they normally would be purchasing with your brand for the first time. 

It may be a good time to try to learn as much about these new customers as possible from why they purchased and how they found you to what interests them. As more people receive and spend their stimulus checks over time, you may get more of these types of buyers, so you want to understand how to best connect with them.

This may mean leaning into virtual activities or creating opportunities for shoppers to donate part of their purchase to a relief fund or other charitable organization. People who have or will receive stimulus checks reported prioritizing low prices and free shipping more than those without checks so it might be a good time to try a sale, like furniture and home goods brand APT2B is doing with their “Go Big, Stay Home” promotion.


Final thoughts

Spending from stimulus checks has just begun. Many of those who already have their checks still plan to spend more of it in the upcoming weeks. And more people will get their checks and may follow similar spending patterns.

Ecommerce businesses will likely continue to see growth from stimulus check spending. So be smarthave empathy, think about the needs of these new customers, and make sure you are putting your best foot forward.

Looking for more information? These resources may be helpful to you as you adjust your marketing strategies to navigate the coronavirus crisis.

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