Shoppers Are Spending on Discretionary Goods Again — Here’s What They’re Buying

Retailers are seeing a resurgence of interest in discretionary goods as coronavirus-related restrictions continue to ease.

According to a new report from The NPD Group, shoppers in the United States have “expanded their spending consideration set” as state and local governments lift lockdown orders amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

Consumers appeared to have shifted their spend from fashion merchandise to utilitarian and home necessities when the outbreak took hold in the country. However, the market research firm reported that shoppers are increasingly showing interest in clothing and cosmetics, which saw week-over-week dollar gains in April and May. (Week-over-week dollar gains also began early for categories like small appliances and toys.) These fashion and beauty products, NPD added, pulled in even more dollars in the first half of June.

“Right now, retail is reflecting the consumer’s need for normalcy in a sea of change,” said chief industry advisor of retail Marshal Cohen. “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.”

Although sales of apparel, footwear and accessories are still down compared to 2019, NPD shared that year-over-year losses have been “softening” since mid-April as an increasing number of Americans are willing to reenter brick-and-mortar stores.

Across most industries, the firm reported that physical store sales declines were lower in May. At that time, more than two-thirds of consumers who were surveyed for last month’s NPD report said that they would be “comfortable” shopping in stores as soon as stay-at-home restrictions were relaxed.

As shoppers continue to navigate the new pandemic-plagued retail landscape, experts have pointed out that basic necessities and seasonality still influence consumer behavior: NPD noted that children’s apparel, undergarments, sleepwear and shorts saw year-over-year dollar growths in May, while swimwear built momentum with week-over-week improvements in early June. It also logged week-over-week gains in categories like fashion watches and men’s fragrance ahead of the Father’s Day holiday last Sunday.

“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,” Cohen added. “Retailers who can deliver a satisfying and safe shopping experience will win with the consumers who are ready to go beyond virtual shopping.”

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