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Is Covid-19 Fueling More Mindless Consumerism?

While consumer spending as a whole—and apparel purchases in particular—have seen a steep decline during the pandemic, fast fashion may be doing brisker trade than expected, a new report has found.

Further lockdowns due to a second wave of the coronavirus sweeping the globe may exacerbate the trend. During the first lockdown in the United Kingdom, Internet searches for “cheap clothes” surged by 46.3 percent between March and June, according to data analyzed by Pink Casino. Terms such as “free trial” and “free shipping” saw a similar uptick, increasing by 31.6 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively.

Consumers in England, the study noted, accounted for most of the rise in “cheap clothes” searches, while shoppers in Wales and Scotland furnished the majority of inquiries into “free shipping.” British consumers were 98 percent more likely to search for “buy now pay later” apps—the top options were Klarna, Clearpay and Zilch—than secondhand clothing. They were also 62 percent more likely than their American counterparts to seek out cash-back sites, with the most popular being Top Cashback, MySupermarket and Shopmium.

When it come to queries of “student discount,” Amazon was the retailer leading searches, followed by Asos and Boohoo, the study said. Nearly a third of Britons, the study added, employed a discount code for their clothing purchases.

The findings suggest that tightened pursestrings during this time may be resulting in more unsustainable shopping behaviors, though some patterns may be seasonal as well. Data from the previous year indicated that search terms for “cashback” peak around Nov. 24-30, “buy now pay later” between Nov. 10-16, “free shipping” from Dec. 1-7. Searches for Gen Z-focused retailers such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Asos also come to a head around Black Friday, Pink Casino said.

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Overall, Britons were 53 percent more likely to search for clothing priced under 5 pounds ($6.66) than items that cost more than 10 pounds ($13.32).

“Fast fashion—whereby trend-led clothing is mass produced to be sold at a discounted price on the high street—remains a prevalent global issue, while an estimated 10,000 items of clothing are sent to landfill every five minutes in the U.K. alone,” Pink Casino said in a statement. “The research points to unsustainable shopping habits having risen substantially in the U.K. during the Covid-19 lockdown [and] younger generations appear to be the primary perpetrators behind fast fashion supply and demand.”

Boohoo’s September earnings report showed a similar trajectory, with sales for the e-tailer, which also owns PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal and Oasis, jumping to 816.5 million pounds ($1.1 billion) in the six months to Aug. 31, far ahead of the 773 million pounds ($996.9 million) average of analyst forecasts. In October, Asos reported a 329 percent rise in annual pre-profits to 142.1 million pounds ($189.1 million), which it credited to the heightened demand for casual clothing and sportswear during lockdown.