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COVID-19 drastically changing shopping behavior

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Consumer shopping behavior is changing dramatically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by Catalina Marketing, which finds that store trips and basket sizes are up and once sleepy product categories are seeings surges in sales.

Total dollar sales per store for the week ended March 14 were up 60% versus the prior year period, as store trips increased 17% and basket sizes increased 37%, Catalina found.

“Store trips began growing around March 1st and really took off last week — with visits peaking around March 13,” Catalina chief marketing officer Marta Cyhan said. “For the week ending March 14, total dollar sales per store were up 60%, driven by 17% more shopping trips and basket sizes that increased an average of 37% versus the prior year.”

As coronavirus awareness and concern really started to take root on February 15th, Catalina said it began reviewing sales data on 756 categories and identified 224 categories that had previously been in decline. Of these, 177 categories have experienced upswings in sales over the past month.  Some of the most dramatic include:

  • Powdered milk, up 375%
  • Chlorine bleach, up 340%
  • Dry, hearty soups, up 235%
  • Deodorant soap bars, up 218%
  • Canned meat stews, up 185%
  • Aluminum foil, up 86%

Sales lifts in several categories reflect a growing trend toward sheltering in place in one’s own household, as more businesses adopt work-from-home models and schools close nationwide.  These categories include products that are likely intended to help pass the time:

  • Books, up 42%
  • Smoking Accessories, up 29%
  • Fire logs, up 25%
  • Condoms, up 25%
  • Games and puzzles, up 23%
  • Toys, up 22%
  • Educational Development Toys, up 11%
  • Magazines, up 8%

Toilet paper hoarding in recent weeks has been a much-discussed phenomenon, and Catalina data backs up what the empty store shelves show:

  • Premium toilet paper sales increased 379% for the week ending March 14 compared to the prior year and 376% vs the six weeks ending Feb. 15, 2020.
  • Value-brand toilet paper sales increased 326% for the week ending March 14 compared to the prior year and 321% vs the six weeks ending Feb. 15, 2020.
  • Folded flushable personal wipes surged 372% for the week ending March 14 compared to the prior year and 369% vs the six weeks ending Feb. 15, 2020, likely spurred by consumers stockpiling toilet paper nationwide.
  • Perhaps also driven by the toilet paper shortage, baby wipe sales shot up 343% for the week ending March 14 vs. the prior year and 339% vs the six weeks ending Feb. 15, 2020.

And more people working from home appears to be prompting sales declines in categories related to personal grooming. There were noteworthy sales declines in several categories for the week ending March 14 vs. the prior year, all of which are tied to one’s personal appearance.

  • Cosmetics – Lips, down 23%
  • Cosmetics – Applicators, down 20%
  • Make-up Gift Sets, down 19%
  • Grooming/Trimming devices, down 18%
  • Women’s Colognes/Perfumes, down 12%

“Our role as a strategic partner to retailers and brands is to share data insights that help them unearth the facts, understand buyer behavior, and plan accordingly to continue meeting the needs of their shoppers, while also preparing for the months ahead once the precautionary measures surrounding COVID-19 have passed and people return to their normal routines,” Cyhan said.


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