Analysis: Online Sales of Musical Instruments

Pattern Data Science

January 19, 2022

There’s no question that the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic had millions of Americans picking up new hobbies to pass the time while quarantining at home. And, according to our analysis of online demand for musical instruments, there was clear evidence that certain types of instruments (like ukuleles and guitars) received a real boost during the earliest months of the pandemic.

Now, nearly two years later, we wanted to take another look at those trends to see if Americans are still interested in learning how to play a new instrument, or if those new hobbies were more of a flash in the pan.

To find out, we did another deep dive into online sales data to answer questions like: Are favorite at-home instruments like the ukulele still a high-demand item? Did traditional band instruments like the trumpet or clarinet see demand bounce back once schools opened back up? And which instruments had the strongest 2021 compared to 2020?

Which musical instruments were the most popular on Amazon in 2021?

Before diving deeper 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 last year:

Just like in 2020, the guitar once again remained far and away the most popular instrument in our analysis. It towered over the rest of the competition, seeing 181% more demand than the next most popular instrument, the piano.

It’s another significant drop after the piano to the next most popular instruments: the flute and the cello.

Now that we’ve got a good idea as to which instruments are the most popular ones on Amazon, let’s now see how demand was for each last year when compared to 2020.

Harps were the big winner in 2021, with demand surging to nearly double what it was in 2020 (although, it’s important to note that overall demand for harps is still rather low compared to other instruments). We also see evidence that certain instruments may have, indeed, benefited from schools opening back up and the return of in-person learning, with saxophones, flutes, tubas, trombones, and drums all seeing a year-over-year increase as well.

Plenty of instruments saw demand drop last year, though. Ukuleles appear to have returned to earth, seeing year-over-year demand drop the most on our list after having experienced a big boost in demand during the first year of the pandemic.

Harmonicas, another low-cost at-home instrument that was a popular pandemic purchase, saw the next largest drop in demand. It wasn’t just the “quick and cheaper” instruments that saw demand drop last year, though: melodicas, violins, guitars, pianos, bassoons, recorders, clarinets, cellos, and violas all also experienced a year-over-year decrease in demand.

Let’s take a closer look at the data to better understand how this long-term pandemic may have (or may not have) had an impact on these trends.

Examining year-over-year demand trends for musical instruments

Guitars were popular early on in the pandemic, but not so much anymore

Guitars didn’t experience a particularly large year-over-year change compared to ukuleles or harps, but since it’s far and away the most popular instrument in our analysis, let’s start with a closer look at their demand over the past three years.

As you can see in the chart above, the holiday shopping season represents the high point for demand for guitars. Holiday 2019 was the high point overall, with each subsequent year seeing holiday demand drop from the year prior.

We can see that when COVID first hit, there was initially a slight dip in demand for guitars in March 2020, but then demand spiked the following month as Americans clearly figured a month in lockdown was a perfect time to finally learn how to play a little guitar.

Demand then steadily dropped through 2020, and the trend continued into 2021, where demand dropped each month from January to August, before experiencing the lowest holiday increase in demand yet.

It’s difficult to say what’s driving this decline. Perhaps it’s a lingering effect of that early COVID surge in demand, or maybe budding future rock stars are simply waiting until the pandemic is more fully in the rear view mirror before deciding to invest in new musical instruments.

Let’s take a look at some of the other instruments in our analysis.

2021 was not the year of the ukulele

When COVID-19 first hit, the ukulele was an instrument that enjoyed it’s moment in the sun. As we saw in our analysis last year, the instrument enjoyed the largest surge in demand of any instrument when comparing March and April of 2020 to March and April 2019.

It looks like that trend was short-lived.

By June 2020, demand dipped behind pre-pandemic levels, where it remained for the rest of the year.

2021, meanwhile, saw demand drag well behind both 2019 and 2020 for every single month of the year.

It seems that the ukulele, an instrument associated with bright and cheery times, wasn’t anyone’s go-to purchase as the pandemic continued to drag on. It will be interesting to see if a future end to the pandemic might bring a rebound to ukulele sales.

Demand was up slightly for “band class” instruments, but still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels

While guitars and ukuleles represent an accessible at-home musical instrument that would be a popular impulse purchase during the initial weeks of pandemic lockdowns, what about more “traditional” instruments?

For this view we combined some of the classic “band class” instruments, or those that are frequently purchased by middle and high school aged students for in-person learning. For this chart, those instruments include: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, violins, violas, cellos, harps, trumpets, trombones, and tubas:

During a pre-pandemic year, the back to school shopping season represents the high point in demand for these instruments, with demand climbing in August and peaking in September.

Then, in 2020, we see demand drop sharply in March and April when COVID-19 first hit. The impact of the pandemic has clearly been long-term, as demand during September 2020 lagged far behind the same month in 2019.

2021 saw many schools return to in-person learning, which resulted in a slight increase in back to school demand compared to 2020, but one that still failed to come close to pre-pandemic levels.

Let’s see if this trend holds true for another in-school staple, the recorder:

Again we see pre-pandemic back to school shopping representing the high point in demand for this instrument. We also clearly see the pandemic leading to a drop in demand starting in Spring 2020, which has continued through the end of 2021.

It’s clear that the disruption to in-person learning has hurt demand for musical instruments, from the simple recorder to nicer, more expensive instruments.

A lesson for brands

Musical instruments are popular year-round, but our data shows that COVID-19 has clearly impacted every single type of musical instrument.

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, certain types of instruments enjoyed a bit of a short-lived boost in the first months following lockdowns in 2020. Others, meanwhile, have seen nothing but a decrease in overall demand since the pandemic first hit.

So what will 2022 bring? Will a more long-term end to the pandemic and full return to in-person learning mean a huge boost in demand for traditional instruments like clarinets and tubas? Will a new year and a new outlook bring a resurgence in guitar players? Or will 2022 see musical instruments continue to struggle compared to previous years?

To stay up to date on consumer behavior and ecommerce news, info, and trend analyses, be sure to subscribe to Pattern Insights on the right.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can best leverage our data to help your brand win online, holiday or not, get in touch today.

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