What's Selling In the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Updated: Apr 30
Retail Dive | April 27, 2020
Initially, shopping was all about panic. Consumers were used to stocking up for snowstorms and hurricanes where stores physically could not open and applied that logic to the COVID-19 stay-in-place orders, stockpiling essential goods such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. However, when it became clear that would not be the case, habits began to shift from hoarding essentials to buying things to make life easier and more livable.
According to NPD Group, a global market research firm, hoarding categories had, for the most part, slowed down to single-digit growth by mid-April. Additionally, the office supplies category, including janitorial/breakroom products such as paper towels, hand sanitizers and wipes, etc., were up only +1% as of April 4, 2020, compared to the prior week.
Of course, what consumers consider essential is subjective. Alcohol and firearms sales were up as of early April, as well as sporting goods, kitchen, home office, toys and games, beauty and pet supplies. The definition of what constitutes positive sales trends has shifted as most stores across the U.S. remain temporarily shuttered and shoppers shift their focus to curbside pickup and e-commerce.
As the weather warms, there may be an increased focus on yard-based buying. "If we're still quarantined by summer, in-home activities will turn to outdoor games and playground sets for the people who can afford it," said Thomas. "And if this ends tomorrow, a lot of people want to travel, even if it's just to visit their friends and family."
When looking toward the future, no one really knows what to expect. Prior to COVID-19 consumers valued "mission-driven and sustainable shopping," said Katie Thomas, who leads the Global Consumer Institute at Kearney, a strategy and management consulting firm. "Now it's about taking comfort and addressing boredom. It's about more human reasons, and more practical reasons, related to cooking at home, working from home, and teaching kids at home." It's also about being happy and spreading positivity. "You're seeing so much negativity in the news," said Thomas. "But there's a degree where people are trying to have fun too. At least until the next bout of anxiety."