A recent rise in consumer traffic in physical stores resulted in spending patterns shifting from household staples to more personal care and apparel, according to research from NPD Group.
Week-over-week dollar gains that began early for categories like small appliances and toys began to expand into more discretionary categories like apparel and beauty in April and in May, which pulled even more of the consumer’s spending in the first half of June, the Port Washington, N.Y.-based marketing firm reported.
“Right now, retail is reflecting the consumer’s need for normalcy in a sea of change,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry advisor in retail. Purchases are becoming less about making our extended time at home more pleasant, and more about finding ways to enjoy ‘getting out’ and once again expressing yourself as an individual in public.”
In May, NPD found more than two-thirds of consumers said they would be comfortable with shopping in a store once stay-at-home requests related to the pandemic were relaxed, and nearly one in ten said going shopping in a store was the first thing they planned to do. Retail traffic in brick and mortar has picked up in recent weeks but remains far below last year’s results.
NPD said sales of apparel, footwear, beauty, and fashion accessories are still down compared to last year, but year-over-year losses have been softening since mid-April. The consumer’s ability to go back into stores is a contributing factor, as in-store sales declines improved across most industries in May.
Despite facing a different retail landscape, conventional needs and seasonality still play a role in consumer behavior, according to the report. Kids’ apparel, underwear, sleepwear, and shorts all achieved year-over-year dollar growth in May, and swimwear built momentum with week-over-week gains in early June. The seasonal impact is also evident in categories like men’s fragrance and fashion watches, where there were week-over-week gains in advance of Father’s Day, NPD reports.
“Even if the shopping experience is different, consumers still want the ‘real-life’ experience of picking out a gift, seeing the color of shoes up close, feeling clothing fabric, or testing out a skincare solution,” said Cohen. “Retailers who can deliver a satisfying and safe shopping experience will win with the consumers who are ready to go beyond virtual shopping.”
Maria Rugolo, the apparel analyst with NPD Group, said the needs and behaviors of consumers will continue to shift with each phase of the country’s reopening and crisis recovery, but it is encouraging to see the consumer demonstrating an interest in adding to their wardrobe.
Summer seasonal apparel categories, shorts and swimwear, recently captured nearly one-fifth of total apparel spending, which is more spending share for this category than the same time last year, Rugolo reported.
That said, May apparel sales were 35% lower than the same period a year ago. Sales picked up in June. For the week ending June 20, general merchandise sales, which included apparel, footwear, fashion accessories, housewares, toys, beauty, sports and office supplies, rose 21% from the year-ago period, NPD reports.