What does the recent sales rebound mean for mask makers and retailers?
While many in the U.S. may have believed that it was time to put away the masks for good, recent surges in COVID-19 cases thanks to the Delta variant have meant a return to masking and, in some areas, even mask mandates. With masks coming back, the industry born from a newfound need for them in 2020 is seeing a resurgence.
Mask sales rose 24 percent week-over-week in the U.S. on the last Tuesday in July, according to an Associated Press report. This came as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in some situations. Google searches for masks have doubled since the CDC announcement. Sales had been trending down steadily week over week since May until the recent turnaround.
Beginning early in the pandemic, a sudden demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) among the general public led to numerous unforeseen developments in the retail world.
Demand for cloth masks caused a surge in traffic to online marketplaces, including Etsy where DIY crafters were able to sell homemade masks to a locked-down public. The influx of sales in the category was so pronounced that flagging big-name crafting retailers like Joann Stores experienced spikes in business as crafters patronized the stores for mask-making supplies.
Small apparel brands, such as menswear brand Blade + Blue, faced with a glut of product they would not be able to sell for at least a season, pivoted their operations to turn fabric already in the pipeline into masks rather than shirts and other apparel products. Large apparel brands, including Old Navy, UnderArmour and others, likewise began manufacturing face masks.
By June of 2020, vendors from other verticals were moving into creative, niche PPE. A trade show display company called Hatch Exhibits, for example, pivoted to creating protective face shields for universities and healthcare workers before launching a brick-and-mortar PPE outlet in a shopping mall in Columbia, MD.
Around that time, Target launched its own line of cloth face masks through its Cat & Jack private label brand and Amazon.com launched a mask-specific online shop.
- Once fading, mask sales starting to rebound – The Associated Press
- Will face masks be a lifeline for apparel retail? – RetailWire
- Will a PPE retailer make it in the mall? – RetailWire
- Will Amazon become the go-to place to buy face masks? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How likely is demand for face masks to remain strong until the end of 2021? How do retailers go about forecasting demand in light of the variables around human behavior (vaccinate or not, et al) and the perceived threat from COVID-19?