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Apparel’s Sharp Decline May Be Leveling Out, Says NPD Group

Apparel sales may be down significantly from last year, but new data from The NPD Group reveals that retail may be on the rise.

While shoppers understandably tightened their purse strings in the early days of the pandemic, pinching pennies for essential items like food and cleaning supplies, NPD’s numbers show that retail has entered a new phase.

“Apparel was a low priority early in the COVID-19 crisis when consumers were focused on things like groceries and other in-home necessities, but we’re seeing evidence that apparel is once again entering the spending consideration set,” Maria Rugolo, apparel industry analyst at The NPD Group, said.

“Warmer weather is spanning much of the country, allowing consumers to extend their mostly homebound routines to the outdoors, and expanding their apparel needs beyond comfort and above-the-keyboard dressing,” she added.

Though U.S. apparel sales were down 35 percent year over year in the last week of April, that significant decrease represents just half of the impact felt by the sector during the lowest point of the pandemic. With the weather heating up, summer spending is shaping up around seasonal apparel items like shorts and swimwear. These items captured about one-fifth of total spend on clothing—and in fact, beat out sales for this category during the same period last year.

While spending on tailored clothing like suiting and business casual apparel has dropped off since shoppers started working from home, retailers have seen a steady rise in basic apparel categories, like underwear and sleepwear. The category has actually grown year over year, capturing 25 percent of the total apparel market in April compared with 17 percent last year.

Demographically, children’s apparel has seen the softest decline, though still in the double-digits. Clothing sales for kids have captured a higher dollar share of total apparel spend since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting that while adults are reining in spending on themselves, they still need to outfit their growing families. Though children’s clothing saw weeks of year-over-year declines after the crisis hit, the category reached 2019 spending levels in the last week of April.

“Needs and behaviors will continue to shift with each phase of the country’s reopening and crisis recovery, but it is encouraging to see the consumer demonstrating an interest in adding to their wardrobe,” Rugolo opined. “Tapping into this interest with a focus on needs and an underlying yearning for normalcy will be central to capturing apparel sales along the uncertain road that lies ahead.”