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COVID-19 May 6, 2020 10 min read

What’s selling globally during COVID-19?

Sanitizer, sportswear and sweatpants. A data-backed analysis of 5 retail trends selling globally through the pandemic.

selling well

With the world on lockdown, there’s been a notable shift in buying behavior as consumers prioritize comfort and essential products. Find out what items are selling well during this time.

Key takeaways

  • There are five essential themes that retailers and brands can count on to optimize product sell outs amid slower than usual trade due to COVID-19. 
  • As the current state of the economy mirrors similarities to the 2008 global recession, bank on promoting essential items as consumers hold back on spending heavily on products that are deemed excessive.   
  • With people anxious to celebrate and socialize in a post-lockdown world, don’t over discount going-out assortments, especially products lending themselves to Fall 2020 trends. 

We analyze the key selling themes with EDITED data across the US, UK, China, Italy, Spain, Germany and Australia and the trends to expect post-pandemic.

Does your brand need help planning for when lockdown lifts? Reach out to our team of Retail Specialists today. 

Business on the top, chill on the bottom

As customers move to remote work and socializing, retailers have pushed dressing for the top-half in assortments and communications. This has resulted in tops outperforming in sell outs compared to  bottoms, as well as a YoY increase in majority SKU sell outs for this category across all markets.

Tops sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 49%
  • CN ▲ 41%
  • DE ▲ 22%
  • ES ▲ 14%
  • IT ▲ 10%
  • UK ▲ 51%
  • US ▲ 2%
Selling Graphs.001

With this new way of working, office dress codes have seen a shift into more casual and comfortable styling. T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies are making up a greater percentage of sell outs across top assortments this year compared to last, while sell outs of shirts and blouses are less.

Despite less focus on the lower-half, sell outs for bottoms categories are also up YoY across all analyzed regions. However, there is a clear shift away from more formal styles as consumers and retailers alike are prioritizing comfort. Breaking down what’s selling reveals trousers, jeans and skirts are making up less of the sold out assortment this year than last, while shorts remain the same.

Bottoms sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 54%
  • CN ▲ 47%
  • DE ▲ 32%
  • ES ▲ 32%
  • IT ▲ 26%
  • UK ▲ 69%
  • US ▲ 10%

Already an established trend born from athleisure and gaining momentum due to the rise of the ‘Netflix & Chill’ generation, loungewear has been at the fore of retailer’s promotions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, leggings and sweatpants sell outs currently make up a higher proportion of bottoms sell outs YoY.

What’s next?

Before coronavirus, casual dressing for the office was fast becoming the norm. As consumers return to work, we can expect company dress codes to relax as we enter a new era. While tailoring and traditional workwear will be scaled back, that doesn’t mean it will no longer have a place in retailers’ assortments.

In China, with major cities returning to work, sell out increases were noted across essentials such as blazers, polo shirts and trousers at the end of April. The postponements of weddings and events will see pent up demand for dressier apparel, so push items that can double for meetings and special occasions.

Last week, lockdown measures started to ease across Europe. Yet, comfort dressing remained at the fore with sweatpants and leggings seeing some of the highest percentage increases YoY in Germany and Italy, suggesting the longevity of the trend post-lockdown. With key regions such as the US and UK remaining indoors as summer approaches, interest will turn to jogger shorts and demand will grow for lightweight loungewear in breathable fabrics.

Workout from home

Gyms and retailers worldwide are promoting at-home workouts, renewing interest in this already-successful category. Since the start of 2020, activewear sell outs have increased across all markets with the UK, China and Australia showing the highest overall percentage growth YoY.

Activewear sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 47%
  • CN ▲ 55%
  • DE ▲ 13%
  • ES ▲ 24%
  • IT ▲ 27%
  • UK ▲ 64%
  • US ▲ 5%
Selling Graphs.003

In addition to the aforementioned success of leggings, sneakers continue to perform during the pandemic as consumers turn to the outdoors for daily exercise. Sell outs of performance sneakers eclipsed fashion styles in China and the US, while women’s sneakers with ‘running’ in their description saw a 17% uptick in sell outs YoY in the US and UK combined. However, lifestyle sneakers were more popular across other markets as rest and recovery during this time have been given just as much attention by retailers as working out.

Selling Graphs.004

What’s next?

Outdoor activities are still top of mind as customers have a newfound appreciation for getting out of the house. This will only amplify once lockdown is lifted, making the present a prime time to promote products for activities that can be enjoyed now and in the future such as hiking, camping and cycling.

The COVID-19 pandemic will pique consumer interest in products with antibacterial fabrics and finishes – an area of untapped opportunity for sport and outdoor gear. Be sure to highlight these properties to customers in addition to promoting mainstay activewear features such as moisture-wicking and absorbency.

Self and personal care

With retailers promoting self-care and wellness during this time of uncertainty, consumers purchasing items to ‘treat themselves’ has emerged as a notable trend. According to lovethesales.com, for the three weeks up to 22nd of April, online searches for lingerie rose by 42%. Majority SKU sell outs in this category have grown YoY across all regions except for the US, Spain and Italy. However, over the past two weeks,  the percentage sell out of bras have increased YoY as non-essential workers return in Spain.

Lingerie sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 33%
  • CN ▲ 23%
  • DE ▲ 3%
  • ES ▼ 24%
  • IT ▼ 36%
  • UK ▲ 150%
  • US ▼ 29%
Selling Graphs.006

The success of loungewear has aided sleepwear sell outs to increase YoY across all regions as retailers emphasize comfort fabrics through the promotion of pajamas, robes and slippers in their communications. Additionally, email mentions of ‘cozy’ have surged by 150% YoY, further enticing consumers to stay indoors.

Sleepwear sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 46%
  • CN ▲ 12%
  • DE ▲ 8%
  • ES ▲ 12%
  • IT ▲ 14%
  • UK ▲ 56%
  • US ▲ 2%
Selling Graphs.005

Under the self and personal care umbrella, beauty retailers have been promoting at-home day spas and DIY beauty tips amid salon closures. Additionally, the virus pandemic has attributed to the rapid sell outs of soap, handwash and hand sanitizer.

What’s next?

Events such as Mother’s Day in May for all regions except the UK will see these categories continue to perform, with consumers using gifting to show appreciation in a time of need.

Brands can also promote these categories for couples that have been separated during the outbreak, as well as to remind consumers they still need to take time for themselves.

For beauty, the increasing demand for PPE could see face masks as a more popular lifestyle accessory, meaning the beauty industry will need to adapt. Consumer purchasing will be drawn to mascara, eyeliner and eyeshadow instead of lipsticks and glosses, along with an increased focus on foundation that doesn’t smudge with face protection. Finally, the greater emphasis on hygiene will highlight a further need to carry hand sanitizer and hand cream.

Accessible price points

Similarities have been drawn comparing the current state of the world and the ‘cocooning effect’ noted in post-9/11 consumer behavior, which saw more money spent on home comforts, renovations, furnishings and electronics. A surge has been observed in household items as retailers promote creating a safe space with homewares during lockdown. As consumers become enamored with baking, demand for bread machines online increased 652% in March YoY according to Slackline data, while searches for bread recipes have soared on Pinterest.

Searches for family games on Pinterest are up +1863% in the US, while sales of board games and jigsaw puzzles rose 240% during the first week of lockdown in the UK according to NDP. The demand for entry-priced home items is apparent market-wide with the most popular pricing bracket for sell outs during the pandemic between $10-20 and 80% of homeware sell outs in China priced at $30 and under.

Selling Graphs.009

What’s next?

A year after 9/11, consumers maxed out their credit cards and became more uncertain about spending, a potential downside to the predicted ‘revenge spending’ retailers are banking on to help boost the economy post-pandemic. Middle-class spending will be impacted due to the level of unemployment during coronavirus.

In the US alone, it has been reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that 16 million jobs have been lost in the past three weeks (from Apr 9th) making it essential to have a strong offering at an accessible price point across all categories now and in the future.

Post-recession trends

As retail is hurtling towards an inevitable recession, trends born from 2008’s GFC are starting to rear their head. The recession saw a backlash against excess with maximalism and logomania eventually giving way to cleaner lines and a crisper aesthetic.

Plain apparel sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 13%
  • CN ▲ 21%
  • DE ▲ 11%
  • ES ▲ 2%
  • IT ▼ 1%
  • UK ▲ 74%
  • US ▼ 8%
Selling Graphs.007

Excluding activewear from the analysis, overall plain apparel sell outs are outpacing printed. YoY comparison shows a greater percentage increase in sellouts for plain across all regions except for the US and UK.

Printed apparel sell out % difference YoY:

  • AU ▲ 3%
  • CN ▲ 12%
  • DE ▲ 4%
  • ES ▼ 4%
  • IT ▼ 13%
  • UK ▲ 82%
  • US ▲ 2%
Selling Graphs.008

Millennial pink was another prominent trend to emerge post-recession. It was already making a comeback in menswear last summer along with  the success of pastel tones across apparel, footwear and accessories for women has helped it return to favor.

Since the outbreak, pink has seen particular success in the UK with a 69% increase in majority SKU sell outs compared to a 14% increase in China and a 4% increase in the US market.

What’s next?

Daniel Lee’s appointment at Bottega Veneta helped propel post-recession minimalism back in focus, satisfying consumers shopping for a simplistic product aesthetic in a post-Phoebe Philo at Celine era. Items such as the Pouch Bag and the Stretch Sandals began influencing mass market assortments while environmental concerns helped shift focus on quality over branding.

Voluminous OTT silhouettes stole focus on the Fall 2020 Runway. Yet, Scandi Style continued to influence shows and will drive future interest in classic shapes as well as elevated details such as split hems, longline silhouettes and modest necklines.

While bold color is being used by retailers to lift consumer’s spirits soft tonal colors will have a place in the future. Softer pinks were noted on the runway, while traditional feminine dressing themes will continue to pave the way for millennial pink’s reintroduction.

  • Bottega Venata Fall 2020
    Bottega Venata Fall 2020
  • E. Tautz Fall 2020
    E. Tautz Fall 2020
  • N21 Fall 2020
    N21 Fall 2020
  • Temperley London Fall 2020
    Temperley London Fall 2020

Keep in mind

Local support

Retailers have already come together to show support for communities during coronavirus, whether through donations or giving exposure to small local businesses. According to Mintel, 57% of Chinese consumers said that they feel closer to community shops because of the outbreak, while 54% of German consumers say that it’s important for them to feel part of a community. This will continue post-pandemic as retailers are now aware of how offshore manufacturing can be impacted in a crisis. Moving forward, we can expect a heightened focus on promoting artisan fashion and craftsmanship.

Future dressing up

With events and social gatherings cancelled, retailers are promoting dressing up for staying in. These edits have proved popular across fast fashion retailers, making already in-stock dresses, shirts and heels work despite social distancing measures. As demand builds for future events, avoid discounting items that can lend themselves to Fall 2020 trends such as voluminous dresses and 70’s inspired nostalgia.

Vegan leather

Shift in consumer tastes and the spotlight on sustainability have already put exotic skins and leather in fashion under the microscope. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 60% of all human pathogens and 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases originate from animals. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus started at a live trade market, consumers will further question their consumption and purchase of animal products. This will create additional demand for vegan alternatives in fashion for the future, requiring retailers to experiment with materials that are friendly to both animals and the environment.

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