Quantifying the global e-commerce slowdown

The COVID-19 pandemic was many things. Global contagion. Health catastrophe. Herald of new geopolitical tensions and a long-running commentary on how far we’re willing to go to protect — or not — our fellow humans. It was also a business earthquake that shook up most industries around the world.

But as quickly as COVID came on the scene, breaking supply lines and business models, it also faded. In the wake of most of the world learning to live with — or merely deciding to endure — the health impacts of the pandemic, many industries snapped back to their prior form. Airlines went from trash to first class; in contrast, tech companies flipped from darlings to disparaged.

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Some tech concerns picked up tailwinds during COVID, in that a newly reformed business climate helped them grow for a time. You can cast a wide net here: Robinhood exploding in part thanks to consumers stuck at home with more cash than usual, Instacart seeing explosive demand for its grocery delivery service. Some tech companies went the other way, as was the case with Airbnb’s business cratering during the early COVID months as going places went from aspirational to insane overnight.

Since the return to what passes as normalcy, the businesses impacted initially by COVID have charted diverging courses. Robinhood lost some of its shine as its user base, per the usually chatted narrative, went back outside. Instacart saw its growth slow but managed to hold onto its pandemic-era gains.

Airbnb, an early example of the layoffs that COVID could induce at erstwhile healthy companies, recovered, and has retained much of its value since going public, a rare feat for its IPO cohort.

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