Clothing and make-up sales surge as Britons scrub up after lockdown

Consumers start to dress up and splash out as handbags, high heels and makeup fly off the shelves, retailers report

The pandemic turned 2020 into the year that fashion forgot as successive lockdowns made getting out of your pyjamas an achievement. But sales of high heels, handbags and lipstick are now roaring back as pub gardens, friends’ patios and the prospect of more freedoms to come is seen as worth splashing out for.

Cosmetics are also selling well again after a very slow year with bottles of fake tan, foundation, mascara and nail polish among the beauty products flying off the shelves, according to beauty retailers.

“I think people are enjoying spending money on themselves again,” said Sarah Miles, chief executive of the beauty website Feelunique. Demand for self-tanning products and mascara has soared more than 50% in the weeks since the rules on socialising were relaxed. “This is a real indication that people are buying things to go out and see people,” she said.

The splurge on wardrobe updates is underlined by data showing that from Monday to Thursday of this week the average spend on clothes was 26% higher than in 2019, based on debit card transactions of Lloyds Bank Group customers.

Paul Martin, KPMG’s UK head of retail, said the estimated £140bn savings war chest amassed by households during the lockdown was good news for fashion and beauty retailers as consumers’ moods “shift to spend mode”. Shoppers, he said, appear ready to “break free from home and get back into stores.”

The spending spree was also reflected in far better-than-expected official retail sales figures for March, published on Friday. They showed resurgent demand for clothing, even though non-essential retail outlets remained closed, with sales more than 17% higher than in February.

Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest clothing retailer, said a recent customer poll showed that nearly two-thirds of its shoppers wanted to dress up in smarter or more stylish clothes. Retailers report that online searches for dresses increase each time the prime minister confirms an easing of the lockdown. Shoppers, they say, are eager to jettison joggers and leggings and are seeking out bright, cheerful colours as they look forward to better times.

Sales of high-heeled summer sandals at M&S were 76% higher in the week after the lockdown was eased in England and Wales, with denim jacket sales up nearly 90%.

John Lewis also reported demand for make-up had rocketed over the past fortnight with lipstick, mascara and eyeshadow sales all 75% higher than a year ago. L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics group, recently predicted the pandemic would give way to another “roaring 20s”, with wearing lipstick a “symbol of returning to life”.

John Lewis also said sales of handbags in all shapes and sizes had taken off, and across all price ranges with designer brands such as Mulberry – whose bags start at around £500 – in demand from women wanting to treat themselves.

Footwear chain Kurt Geiger said sales of high-heeled shoes had increased by a quarter over the past two months. The biggest demand was from shoppers in north-west England where sales of heels were up by more than 50%. Not everyone is keen to put style over comfort though, with sales of flip flops, sandals and trainers also up sharply.

Nick Jones, the chief executive of fashion brand Joules, said it had also seen a “step up” in demand for dresses and accessories as well as shorts and chinos for men. However, sales of sweatshirts, hoodies and gilets were also strong “because when people are meeting up they are having to do it outside”.

After missing out on billions of pounds of business while its stores were shut Primark has rung up record sales in the days since its shops reopened in England and Wales, with women’s fashion, including heels, handbags and gingham dresses among the best sellers. The retailer said people appeared more confident about returning to the high street this time round, with customers buying more than on pre-Covid shopping trips.

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“I think people are fed up sitting in their joggers 24 hours a day in their bedroom,” said the chief executive of a major clothing brand who declined to be named. “People want to get back out there and start dressing up a bit.”

After seeing a dramatic increase in shopper numbers on 12 April, when non-essential retail reopened in England and Wales, the latest data from analysts at Springboard shows footfall early last week was 12% lower than in that first week and are still 25% down on numbers seen in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, reckons that shopping is back. “People are starting to come back to retail,” she said “Footfall has lessened this week but I think that is partly because of children returning to school. Indoor hospitality is yet to open and that is going to help high streets in particular.”


Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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