Why the web's biggest ecommerce stores are having a coronavirus clear-out sale

Credit: Dreamstime

In addition to a barrage of emails from corporations and brands detailing their respective COVID-19 responses, you might have noticed that many of the web’s biggest ecommerce platforms are going all out with seasonal sales. 

eBay is offering 20% off a million items. Catch is trying to snag the budgets of work-from-homers with a markdown sale on fitness equipment. Kogan is running an Egg-straordinary promotion ahead of Easter. Even brick-and-mortar retailers like Bing Lee got involved with Afterpay’s Afterpay Day Sales last week. 

You might be wondering: Why now? 

We’re months away from even spending extravaganzas like Prime Day and Black Friday. Why are these companies all trying to get you to buy cheap tech right this second?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is probably coronavirus. They might not be mentioning the outbreak by name but make no mistake, this is an unofficial coronavirus clear-out sale.

At the time of writing, Australia has reported 2985 confirmed cases of the viral pandemic. The Australian Stock Exchange has experienced a precipitous drop and the value of the Australian dollar isn’t faring much better. If things continue along this trajectory into economic recession, that new set of noise-cancelling headphones is going to cost a lot more than it used it and the market for similar luxury products is likely to shrink as well. 

The math isn’t complicated here. 

With the closure of pubs, cafes, restaurants and other non-essential services, thousands are out of work. For those people, the amount of expendable income they’re able or willing to drop on things like consumer electronics is about to go down in a very real way. Those who have successfully transitioned to working from home aren’t much better off. Now is not a good time to be paying extra for a cool piece of tech you probably don’t need.

Credit: Kogan

What’s more, with months of social distancing ahead of Australians, this situation is unlikely to look better at the end of the tunnel. The half of 2020 where things hopefully settle down isn’t likely to be one where Apple’s most expensive iPhone yet gets a standing ovation.  

What’s more, the average selling price for most consumer electronics is likely to rise in response to coronavirus. 

Many companies will look to reorganise their supply chain to reduce the risk of being this susceptible to the economic shock of pandemics like this in the future. For a lot of companies, the savings they made from manufacturing in China don’t outweigh the hit they’re taking now. Delayed products don’t just represent lost sales, they’re a liability. 

To try and offset these unexpected costs, it’s likely that the cost of this manufacturing maneuver will be passed onto consumers, resulting in more expensive products. 

Blame it on the poor exchange rate. Blame it on the efforts of companies to soften the hit to their bottom line by passing the cost onto consumers. But don’t be surprised. 

If you’re in the midst of transitioning to working from home, good news, you might be able to see a good deal or two pop up in your Facebook feed over the next few weeks. And, if it makes sense, go ahead and take advantage. I'm not trying to judge anyone for how they spend their money but if you're more concerned with keeping bread on the table than buying that Animal Crossing-themed Nintendo Switch, maybe hold off.

It isn't a crime to take advantage of a decent bargain but don't lose sight of the big picture. The web’s biggest ecommerce brands are trying to get you to think about what you could buy right now, instead of what you might not be able to afford later. 

ecommerce_online_shopping_macbook_cc0_via_negative_space-100751406-orig.jpgCredit: Negative Space

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Fergus Halliday
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