The past year has seen Americans picking up all sorts of new hobbies and interests. Months spent sheltering in place made sourdough starters all the rage, houseplants and DIY projects dominated social media feeds, and pandemic puppies became a new buzzword (read our analysis: the Purchasing Patterns of Pet Owners).
But were Americans also interested in picking up a more demanding skill like learning to play a musical instrument?
To celebrate National Buy a Musical Instrument Day, and because we love digging into the data to uncover new ecommerce trends, we did a deep dive into online sales for musical instruments and accessories: Which musical instruments experience the most online demand? Which ones saw the biggest bump right after lockdowns last year? What were the long-term effects of COVID-19 on musical instrument sales?
Our data science team analyzed market demand for musical instruments and accessories in 2019 and 2020 to find out the answer to these questions and more.
Which musical instruments were the most popular on Amazon in 2020?
Before diving deep into the data, we started by comparing the major types of musical instruments on Amazon. Here’s a list of the instruments in our analysis and the total demand each received in 2020:
The piano may be the most commonly played instrument in America, but it’s no surprise that on Amazon it’s the guitar that reigns supreme. The guitar is so popular that it received 87% more demand than the rest of the instruments in our analysis combined.
The piano (which for our analysis includes keyboards) received the next most demand, while drums received the third most.
Ukuleles were a strong fourth place, as you might expect people are far more willing to purchase a ukulele online than a more specialized or advanced instrument.
How did COVID-19 impact market demand for guitars?
As the chart above suggests, demand is likely to be extremely different depending on which musical instrument you examine. But since guitars represented such a massive slice of the pie, we decided to start first by examining demand for guitars throughout 2020.
Here’s what we found:
Initially, COVID-19 appears to have had a negative impact on demand for guitars. Demand plummeted in early March during the uncertain early days of the pandemic. By the week of March 22, as Americans began to understand the implications of a future sheltering in place, demand rebounded sharply.
Demand for guitars then settled to consistent levels before reaching their highest levels during the holiday shopping season.
The chart above shows that there was a clear impact in the early weeks of the pandemic, but to even better understand the overall impact of COVID-19 we’ll need to compare 2020 to the previous year:
Monthly demand for guitars started the year high, with demand in January 2020 37% higher than January of 2019. And it’s here where you can see even clearer evidence that many Americans decided early quarantine was a perfect time to learn to play the guitar.
Demand stayed higher than in 2019 throughout the entire year, though the boost clearly waned as the year went on, with December’s demand only outpacing December 2019 by 2%.
How did COVID-19 impact market demand for musical instruments?
After seeing how COVID-19 impacted the instrument with the highest demand, we next wanted to see if other instruments experienced similar trends.
First, we took demand for the months of March and April 2020 and compared them to the same months in 2019 to see which instruments got the biggest “quarantine bumps.”
According to our analysis, the ukulele was by far the most popular early quarantine musical instrument. Demand in March and April last year was 66% higher than in 2019. A cheap, fun, and comparatively simple instrument, it’s pandemic popularity is no surprise.
The guitar got the next largest boost, followed by the piano, and then far more surprisingly, the harp got the fourth largest early-pandemic boost.
Not all instruments in our analysis had a better March and April in 2020 than in 2019, though. Trombones and violas both saw demand drop by 27% in those months. Trumpets and saxophones also saw demand dip in that timeframe.
But, as we saw in the monthly year-over-year chart for guitars, the early-pandemic bump only tells part of the story. So we next compared total demand for all of 2020 to total demand for all of 2019 to determine the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on each instrument.
Most of the instruments in our analysis experienced an early-pandemic bump, but here we can see COVID-19 had a negative long-term effect on most of the instruments in our analysis.
Guitars, pianos (and keyboards), ukuleles, harps, and drums all experienced more demand in 2020 than in 2019, but the rest of the instruments in our analysis saw demand fall last year.
A possible explanation is that instruments well-suited for self-teaching at home did well in 2020, but those more associated with traditional in-school learning environments (like High School band class, etc.) suffered long-term.
For an even clearer picture, let’s take a look at the monthly year-over-year comparison for some of the most impacted instruments. First, here are the instruments who saw the biggest increase in demand:
Each instrument started the year strong before seeing demand surge in April. Demand for pianos and guitars remained slightly above 2019’s through the end of the year, while drum and ukulele demand settled to just under 2019.
Here’s how 2020 looked for the instruments that experienced the biggest decreases in demand:
2020 started strong for these instruments as well, but their demand plummeted in April and never really recovered.
The lack of an early pandemic bump makes sense as someone’s far more likely to decide to teach themself how to play the guitar while on lockdown than they would the trombone.
The lack of any recovery and the dip in August during the back-to-school shopping season, meanwhile, lends further evidence to our theory that distance learning has had a severe impact on demand for specialized musical instruments.
How did COVID-19 impact market demand for musical accessories?
We’ve learned that last year saw people more likely to want to buy a new guitar or ukulele, and far less likely to buy a new trombone or viola, but what about musical supplies? To close out our analysis, we examined data for musical accessories. Here’s what we found:
Strings and tuning supplies both experienced a modest increase in demand in the early days of the pandemic shutdown, but both pale in comparison to the run on rosin. Demand for rosin shot up by 79% in April 2020 compared to April 2019, and increased even higher to a 91% increase in May.
It appears that string musicians felt adequately stocked up by the summer, though, as demand fell to normal levels for the rest of the year.
Drumsticks, meanwhile, saw demand fall from above 2019 levels early in the pandemic and never recovered.
A lesson for brands
Musical instruments are popular year-round, but our data shows that COVID-19 has impacted some types of instruments far differently than others.
Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design and marketing strategy.
For example, we may see demand for certain types of instruments quickly rebound as schools begin to resume in-person learning, while other types of instruments may see demand decline after 2020’s surges.
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