CNBCThe post-pandemic spending spree has begun. Here are 6 things Americans are buying

April 18, 20210
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Shoppers wearing protective masks carry bags on Market Street in San Francisco, California, on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Shoppers are emerging from their cocoons and aspiring to switch it up from sweatpants, stubble and streaming.

With each day, more Americans are getting Covid-19 vaccines. As spring temperatures warm up many parts of the country, consumers are booking plane trips, hitting the mall or watching a movie in a theater again.

Retail sales rose 9.8% in March, according to the Commerce Department, as consumers wasted no time spending their $1,400 stimulus checks.

“Their balance sheet is in excellent, outstanding shape – coiled, ready to go and they’re starting to spend money,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Wednesday on a call with reporters. He said consumers have $2 trillion or more cash in their checking accounts than they did before the pandemic.

As shoppers spend again, they are directing money toward some of the same kinds of purchases and some different ones, too. Sporting goods stores had the largest gain in March, jumping 23.5% from the month before and proving that outdoor and exercise gear remains popular. On the other hand, clothing stores saw sales rise by 18.3% — a change that shows people may be refreshing their wardrobe and going out again.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for market researcher NPD Group, said the kinds of merchandise that people buy illustrates “how we’re going to spend in the short term, as we navigate our way out of this whole mess.”

“It’s a really good indicator of where the consumer’s psyche is,” he said.

Here is a look at some of items that have popped in sales recently:

Skirts, jumpsuits and dresses

Skirts have been the top item flying off shelves in recent months. They were selling out at a higher rate than any other category on a weekly basis, according to research by Refinitiv, a financial market data firm, and StyleSage, an e-commerce analytics company. The two companies analyzed the average sold-out rates of apparel and other merchandise on about 20 retailers’ websites from Feb. 28 to March 21. Those retailers included major departments stores like Kohl’s and specialty apparel shops like H&M and American Eagle.

For skirts, the average monthly sold-out rate was 21% for the month of March versus 11% for the prior March, despite the discount levels being nearly the same.

Customers also flocked to other spring-friendly wardrobe additions, including jumpsuits and dresses, according to the companies’ analysis.

Elizabeth Shobert, StyleSage’s vice president of marketing and digital strategy, said people are “allowing optimism to start coming into their decisions.” They are buying clothes for an upcoming vacation or going to a restaurant with friends.

“People are making plans,” she said. “There was just nothing to buy stuff for — aside from the comfort gear like sweats and what you would wear when you’re working out on your Peloton this past year. So this really does mark a shift.”

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said dress sales have picked up, as people have occasions again.

“You’ve got young women that are now able to put a prom date on the calendar and they’re coming to our stores and websites,” he said at a virtual conference hosted by J.P. Morgan this week. “You’ve got mother of the bride. So, you definitely have wedding dates that you’re starting to see pop up onto people’s calendars, and you’re seeing them over at the bride category. And then, just people that are going out more, and so you see that in casual day dresses.”

Alexandra Lapp is seen wearing white shoes Bottega Veneta, wide leg denim jeans during the Berlin Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2020 on January 15, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Christian Vierig | Getty Images

Jeans

As shoppers look for a fresh outfit, many are turning to denim.

When Levi Strauss & Co reported earnings earlier this month, it boosted its sales and profit outlook for the first half of the year and said it expected to see stronger-than-anticipated consumer demand for its jeans and tees.

Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh told CNBC that the industry seems to be in the early innings of a new denim cycle: One where skinny jeans are out of style, and wide-leg, loose-fitting denim is in vogue. The trend is largely being driven by teens and other Gen Z customers who are searching for “mom jeans” to pair with their crop tops.

American Eagle Outfitters is spotting a similar rush toward denim and anticipates a boom in spending, with shoppers returning to the malls again.

“We’re still in the pandemic, but when it goes away, we could be looking at the ‘Roaring 20s'” CEO Jay Schottenstein told Jim Cramer on CNBC’s “Mad Money” this week.

Earlier this week, the tween-and-teen apparel retailer raised its fiscal first-quarter sales outlook, saying revenue is now on track to top $1 billion. Schottenstein told CNBC in a separate interview that American Eagle’s denim business has been driving a portion of those gains.

“We don’t expect a 180-degree shift into formal clothing,” UBS retail analyst Jay Sole said in a recent note to clients. “Denim is a perfect way for consumers to move away from items such as jogging pants into something that feels more put together, yet still comfortable.”

Champagne

Bottles of sparkling wine are seen in San Francisco, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Reuniting with friends and family. Planning for upcoming parties. And even snagging an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine. Americans have more causes for celebration lately and some are popping bottles.

Champagne sales at retailers soared by about 103% in the U.S. for the four-week period ended April 3 compared with the same period a year ago, according to NielsenIQ. 

That’s something the owner of well-known brands, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon, is seeing, too. French luxury conglomerate LVMH said Tuesday that champagne sales rose by 22% in the first three months of this fiscal year compared with the same period a year ago. Its sales in the quarter bested pre-pandemic numbers, too, with a gain of 15% compared with 2019’s first quarter.

On a call with investors this week, LVMH said retailers in the U.S. and Europe have been stocking up again on bubbles, even as some restaurants and nightclubs remain closed. 

“Inventories were pretty low at the end of last year, so there was inventory replenishment, said LVMH Chief Financial Officer Jean-Jacques Guiony. “But on top of that, depletions happen to be extremely strong in the first half of the year.”

Champagne and sparkling wine has made up a larger share of sales for alcohol delivery service Drizly, too. In an interview, Liz Paquette, the company’s head of consumer insights, said bubbles made up 7.4% of the share of total alcohol orders through Drizly in March and April of 2019. That dropped to 5.6% during those two months in 2020 and has rebounded to 8.4% so far this March and April.

“We are definitely seeing a comeback in this category,” she said.

Drizly, which Uber is acquiring for $1.1 billion, has noticed an evolution in other buying patterns, too, Paquette said. Customers are buying a larger share of seasonal adult beverages like rose, white white and seltzers instead of whiskey, red wine and lagers, a typical annual shift that did not happen in a pronounced way last spring.

She said sales of liquors, cordials and bitters have decreased slightly, too, and so has the level of gifting — a reflection that customers may be getting ready to head back to their favorite bars and ordering bottles to their own homes to share with friends.

Shoes

If you have been wearing the same pair of sneakers around the house and on neighborhood walks for the past few months, you’re not alone. That extra activity in a single pair of shoes is driving a higher replacement rate for sneakers.

“The replenishment cycle has gotten accelerated,” NPD’s Cohen said. He said sneakers are among the items that have gotten more use during the pandemic, along with pajamas. Plus, he added, people need new footwear after largely skipping over the category for the pandemic.

New Balance trainers.

Getty Images

Dollar sales for footwear in the U.S. fell by 17% to a total of $64 billion for the 12 months that ended February 2021 compared with the prior year, according to The NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service.

Footwear sales improved, however, in March — not only increasing compared with 2020, but also compared with 2019, according to NPD. With sunnier and warmer weather days ahead, customers have been spending stimulus checks on new kicks and even springing for some seasonal and dressier styles.

The average percentage of heels sold out across retailers’ websites jumped from 8% in March 2020 to 22% in March 2021, according to an analysis by StyleSage.

Beth Goldstein, NPD’s industry analyst for accessories and footwear, said shoppers are still gravitating toward some kinds of shoes more than others, though.

“While nearly all types of footwear improved compared to 2020 as expected, it was the more casual, comfort, and athletic/athleisure styles that performed best and grew vs. 2019, whereas dressier fashion styles continued to struggle,” she said.

Shaving kits

Desiree Martin | AFP | Getty Images

Some men are cleaning up their look after sporting five o’clock shadows and quarantine beards — or at least getting a gentle nudge from a friend, family member or significant other.

High-end shaving products were among the items selling out at higher rates on retailers’ websites during the four-week period from Feb. 28 to March 28, according to the Refinitiv and StyleSage research. About 3% of shaving products sold out on average during that timeframe, a higher sellout rate than kitchen appliances and garden and patio furniture.

Beard oils and shaving creams from brands like The Art of Shaving, owned by Procter & Gamble, and Kiehl’s, owned by L’Oreal, were among the popular items. Retailers with an elevated sellout rate on their websites included Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, the research found.

“For gifting and self-care purchases, people are starting to think of the outside world and what they want to look like,” Shobert of StyleSage said.

Swimsuits

Online swim brand Summersalt said its sales are up more than 850% from the same time a year earlier month-to-date in April.

Colette Debarros

It’s been a long winter for those who are used to taking a brief respite from the cold in a sunny island resort. Spring Breakers helped fuel a resurgence in swimwear sales in recent weeks, but more Americans are daring to dream about poolside weekends and beach getaways this summer.

Macy’s Gennette recently called out swimwear as one of the merchandise categories starting to make a rebound, along with luggage and dresses.

Summersalt, a direct-to-consumer online swim and apparel brand, said its sales so far in April are up more than 850% from the same time a year ago. Like many other retailers, the nearly four-year-old company saw sales drop in the spring of last year, CEO and co-founded Lori Coulter said in an interview.

Now, she said customers are eager to buy colorful swimsuits, resort-wear and other items that feel fresh and fun.

“April was truly the depths of retail sales across the board for most major retailers in 2020, including Summersalt, but what we’re seeing in 2021 is not only a return to our original growth plan for the month — but that accelerated pace of growth that is attributable just to the consumer’s mood,” she said. “She’s ready to celebrate and so that celebration is different for each of us — but it might be that trip to the beach. It might be just ‘We’re ready for a weekend getaway.'”

“What we’re seeing is categories that essentially encourage her to be out and about — swimsuit included — are really resonating,” Coulter said. “She’s looking for fun.”

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