shopping online

The trend for most of quarantine has been to stock up on essentials by way of the Internet. 

The need for social distancing and empty grocery store shelves have only perpetuated this style of shopping. Meanwhile, uncertainty about the virus coupled with increased unemployment have left many consumers fearful about spending money on anything that’s not necessary. 

That was until mid-April, when online sales of fashion products and other discretionary items shot up, according to a new survey by BounceX, a marketing technology company.

But consumers aren’t just buying anything. BounceX, which works with e-commerce companies in the fashion, beauty and luxury categories, tracked 1,000 web sites during the week of April 13 and found that sales of intimate apparel, home goods and fashion were among the items most in demand. 

More precisely, online sales of intimate apparel surged 69 percent, compared with the week before. Home goods and fashion accessories also saw huge spikes, with an increase of 55 and 38 percent, respectively. Other categories of growth included discretionary items like apparel, electronics and jewelry. 

“That’s a byproduct of being at home,” Ryan Urban, founder and chief executive officer of BounceX, told WWD. 

The firm’s data painted a picture of people buying things that they weren’t buying in March, when the anxiety from the coronavirus began to sweep over the U.S. and consumers were hoarding large quantities of food and toilet paper. 

Now, he said, “It’s a little less dresses, but [other than that] regular fashion is really making moves now. I don’t know where people are going, but they’re buying stuff. People are buying new outfits even to just take their dogs for a walk around the block.

Beauty is also doing great,” Urban said. “People actually see your face now more with Zoom, since it’s up close, so you have to look good.” 

Interestingly, BounceX’s data shows a decline in online food sales during the same week, about 7 percent down — the only online sales decline throughout the entire survey. Urban said this is likely because “People really stockpiled on food and essentials the first few weeks of March. Food sales are still up from where it was pre-COVID-19. But now you’re starting to see it regress from there. Now you’re kind of seeing intimates, makeup and fashion going on a big rise.” 

While there’s no way to tell for sure what sparked the shopping frenzy in certain categories, the timeline corresponds with the IRS’ round of stimulus checks, which were deposited in taxpayers’ bank accounts starting April 11. 

The onetime “recovery rebate” of about $1,200 was given to individuals as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, to help offset the financial burdens caused by the pandemic. (The exact amount depends on each person’s income level.) 

 It’s not surprising then that sales of comfy apparel, including intimates and loungewear — discretionary items that are well suited for working from home — peaked during that week. 

“On categories, the messaging is that customers (and clients and salespeople and research analysts) are being drawn to soft and cozy styles,” Kate Fitzsimons, equity analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note. “There’s been some question about whether this move to more basic items could be stickier. On the flip side, we understand the argument that after a few months of wearing sweats, people will be eager to wear something more structured as an escape.” 

Either way, the examples of comfortable attire are everywhere. WWD has previously reported that sales of wireless bras and sleepwear from brands like Yummie, Commando, Lively and Figleaves had increased in the last two weeks of March and early April. 

But now, sales of many nonessential, high-priced fashion products are also on the rise. Aside from Figleaves’ growth in both sleepwear and activewear, 65 and 40 percent year-over-year, respectively, the lingerie and swimwear e-tailer said sales of its $300 cashmere “bliss” robe doubled in the last four weeks, compared to the same time last year.  

The Sleep Shirt

Luxury sleepwear brand The Sleep Shirt has seen an increase in both sales and new customers since March, when the coronavirus outbreak hit North America.  Courtesy Photo

Sales at luxury nightwear brand The Sleep Shirt have also risen — by 65 percent — since March 1, compared with the same time in 2019. New customers have increased 41 percent during the same period. The brand sells luxury sleepwear, including $350 nightgowns that double as dresses and basic T-shirts for about $80. 

“Our product really seems to be resonating with new customers right now,” said Alexandra Suhner Isenberg, founder and creative director of The Sleep Shirt. “It is the kind of loungewear you can wear during a Zoom business meeting without looking like you are wearing your pajamas.” 

As of April 24, intimates brand Okko said April 2020 sales were up 20 percent, compared with March, even though the brand decreased its advertising budget by about 50 percent. 

“However, our wholesale business has all but dried up starting late March,” said Phoebe Kunitomi, founder and ceo of Okko. “This financial impact is significant and difficult to measure until we get out of the other side.”

The brands that are best able to capitalize off the extra spending money in consumers’ pockets are most likely the ones that are able to reach shoppers in unique ways, Urban said. 

Fashion Nova is pushing digital date night apparel while Rag & Bone is promoting “essentials” apparel across its home page. Hugo Boss is focusing on casual spring wardrobes. 

“No one is buying suits at this time, so Hugo Boss pivoted the merchandise that they’re featuring and the events that they’re doing,” Urban said.  

Other brands, like bracelet brand Pura Vida and luxury sneaker business Greats, promise to donate money to charity for every order placed through its e-commerce business.

Lululemon has also previously reported increased digital sales during the time period physical stores have been closed, thanks in part to an extensive social media following. Chico’s FAS, parent to the Chico’s, White House|Black Market and Soma brands, said Monday that digital sales and increased engagement along social channels have been up in the last six weeks. The retailer announced the temporary closure of all stores across North America on March 17, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Companies and brands can also maximize the new retail norms by using “small and smart e-commerce tactics,” Urban said. 

One example would be small discounts on higher-ticket items, such as 10 percent off a $150 order, or 15 percent off a $250 order. Promotions that don’t greatly decrease the average order value. 

“Having those promotions where you would offer a high minimum to get an even better deal, those were working the best,” Urban said. “More people than normal would take advantage of those.”

Retailers can also focus on how and when they plan to communicate with customers. In the last six weeks — since the need for social distancing began in the U.S. — e-mail open rates have spiked on Mondays. Across the board, BounceX found that shoppers have opened promotional e-mails about 20 to 25 percent more in the last six weeks, compared with the same time in 2019. But on Mondays, that number is up around 45 percent. 

“It used to be much stronger conversion rates during lunch hours,” Urban said. “People were at work; during lunch hours, that’s when people were talking to their friends. A lot of sales come from word-of-mouth recommendations. It gets them into the shopping mode. Now, it’s Monday morning, when they sit down to work, the first thing they do is go to that promotions tab in Gmail and open rates are through the roof.  

“You used to plan out e-mails a few months in advance,” Urban continued. “Now you have to plan out a week in advance because things are changing so much. We’re advocating to all of our clients to have a very specific Monday e-mail strategy.”

Kris Mobayeni, assistant vice president of integrated marketing at BounceX, also pointed out that some consumers — many of whom were reluctant to shop online or through text message or social media before the pandemic — have been forced to convert simply out of necessity with brick-and-mortar stores closed. For some of them, the behavior will stick. 

According to Coresight Research’s weekly U.S. consumer survey, 60 percent of respondents, or six out of 10 consumers, especially younger people, were making more online purchases the week of April 8, compared with the time before the outbreak reached North America. Of those people making more purchases online, one in five is buying apparel. 

There’s also the 88 percent of respondents — down only 1 percent from the previous week — who said they’re either somewhat or extremely concerned about the virus. That could signal that even after brick-and-mortar stores do reopen, few will be eager to return to shopping in real life because of health concerns. 

Still, with high unemployment rates in the U.S. — 26 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks — many people will be reluctant to spend any money at all. 

The same Coresight survey found that some shoppers were in fact once again buying discretionary items — but in small numbers. While a small percentage of shoppers were using the time at home to shop for apparel, many more said apparel was the first category they planned to cut out or spend less on in the near-term. Another 18.5 percent of respondents estimate it will take them six months or more for their spending habits to return to normal. 

“This transition from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce, this is showing that this [pandemic] really accelerated it,” Mobayeni said. “It will be interesting to see if there is now this new, fresh-blood for online shopping that e-commerce companies can capitalize on in the longer term.”