Numerous businesses are closed up and down the Route 1 corridor, but for some companies work continues over airwaves and fiber-optic lines. One of the companies that has shifted its operations online is Netelixir, an Independence Way-based retail marketing agency. In the past few weeks, its work has focused on understanding the radical changes now taking place in the way Americans buy things.
Netelixir co-founder and CEO Udayan Bose has been using data from his company’s clients, which consist of about 100 U.S.-based retailers, to analyze the latest trends. He says Netelixir does not track the personal data of individual customers but collects information such as how long it takes for customers to make purchases, whether they do so from a mobile phone or a desktop computer, where they live, and other details.
Bose grew up in India, where his father was a scientist and his mother a schoolteacher. He went to school for chemistry before joining an online gaming company, where he ran its lucrative bingo business. “Things became a little crazy when we became rich very quickly,” he says. “A lot of us left to get into slightly more ethical lines of business.”
He founded Netelixir in 2004 together with his wife, Tulika, initially running the company out of a garage in Hyderabad. They moved the headquarters to Princeton in 2007.
Netelixir now employs about 30 people locally and is nominally headquartered on Independence Way, although everyone is working from home. It also has an India-based workforce of about 80 people.
Bose says that Netelixir’s data has showed some expected results, such as that the event and entertainment industries have been hit hard by the virus and social distancing measures.
But other sectors have skyrocketed. Among the company’s clients are sellers of food and gourmet items, and these have seen a massive spike in sales. The first week of virus impacts saw this business go up 48 percent. The next week saw that figure climb to 68 percent, and as of now it has more than doubled, to 120 percent of baseline sales.
With bricks-and-mortar shops closed, online retailers have seen an increase in sales. “Across the board, online sales are more or less trending up,” he says.
Another category of goods that is selling well, besides food and pet supplies, is home decor. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be at home,” Bose says. “If you’re in New York, you probably live in a smallish apartment. You want to brighten up your space as much as possible.”
With more people working from home, home office products are also selling well. For instance, there has been a boom in sales of Lenovo laptops.
Certain products have seen wild increases in demand. As has been widely reported, hand sanitizer is flying off the shelves. There has been a corresponding spike in the price of online advertising related to those products: Bose said the price of a “click” on an ad for a hand sanitizer product has gone from $1 to $9.
Customers are also looking for ways to reach out to their friends and family. Sales of flowers and greeting cards have gone up. “People are trying to brighten each other’s lives as much as possible, which I think is a great thing to happen,” Bose says.
Religious products have also seen an increase in sales. “It makes us think that in such times of a lot of uncertainty, people tend to take a lot of comfort even in very simple things. What makes us very happy is that we’re seeing a lot more flow of compassion and love. People are sending out greetings to one another.”
On a somewhat more ominous note, sales of guns and ammunition have spiked as well.
Netelixir has been hosting weekly webinars to share its research with the business community. In a March 11 presentation, Bose noted that buying something is an emotional decision, and that right now, the dominant emotion among consumers seems to be fear.
However, he says, that has not appeared to translate into companies creating marketing materials designed to stoke fear and translate it into purchases. “A lot of marketers are behaving responsibly,” he said. “Some people have started putting out on their website how they are contributing to COVID-19 victims and so on.”
Bose speculates that the virus outbreak may create permanent changes in the marketplace. A significant number of those shopping online for food were doing so for the first time. Google analytics show that a large percentage of those searching for online food options for the first time were 55 and over. “Many of them are technophobic,” Bose says, adding that overcoming that hurdle to make a purchase for the first time indicates that they may continue to do so even after the crisis abates. “We’ve removed the biggest barrier to online shopping for the 55-plus age group.”
Bose anticipates that there will be a permanent shift from brick-and-mortar retail to online shopping to a certain extent. “It’s a question of habit forming,” he said.
Bose said Netelixir is launching a program designed to help Route 1 corridor retailers that lack online stores to shift their businesses online for a one-time fee. For more information, visit Netelixir’s website.
Netelixir Inc., 3 Independence Way, Suite 203, Princeton 08540. 609-356-5112. Udayan Bose, founder & CEO. www.netelixir.com.