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One year into pandemic, shopping trends offer insights

Brian Hartz



Catalina headquarters in the Carillon Office Park in St. Petersburg.

If you’ve let your grooming and hygiene habits slide over the past year, you’re not alone. Data scientists at Catalina, a St. Petersburg-based marketing firm that collects and analyzes retail shopping statistics, have released findings from a study of some 2 billion Universal Product Codes that show significant declines in the sales of personal care products during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many people to work and attend school from home.

According to Catalina, sales of wrinkle reducers are down by 27 percent, while breath freshener sales declined by 26 percent. Face cosmetics, cosmetics removers and eye cosmetics were also in low demand, with sales plunging by 20 percent, 19 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Hair care and styling products also saw a significant drop-off in sales, down by 9 percent.

Similarly, driven by fewer opportunities for people to interact in public, sales of makeup gift sets and men’s toiletries gift sets plummeted by 25 percent. Related categories also saw declining sales, with weight loss pills down by 15 percent and shoe polish and laces down by 20 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, it appears that shoppers are, no pun intended, buying into messaging about the importance of wearing a facial covering to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Sales of home health testing kits, a category that includes face masks, have risen by 314 percent since Feb. 15, 2020.

“Since face masks account for 80 percent of the home health testing category,” Catalina stated in its report, “the strong sales performance has increased throughout the year as the Centers for Disease Control and the Biden Administration have emphasized how they can markedly reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.”

Unsurprisingly, sales of liquid hand soaps have also surged during the pandemic, rising by 246 percent over the past 12 months. Disinfectant cleaners have also been flying off store shelves, with sales jumping at a rate of 235 percent. Likewise for sales of personal most towelettes, up by 155 percent. Household cleaner pre-moist wipes have been another strong seller — sales soared by 129 percent.

“We’ve painstakingly categorized shoppers into hundreds of customized audience segments on an anonymized basis in recent years,” stated Marta Cyhan, Catalina’s chief marketing officer, in the report. “Knowing the type of products and brands they are likely to put into their carts allows us to tailor highly effective marketing messages and promotions, and deliver them across the most efficient media channels to trigger purchases. Doing so in the midst of a pandemic – when shopper behavior has changed so profoundly – benefits both retailers and brands, as well as their customers who are appreciating value more than ever during these uncertain times.”

People have not been dining out as much during the pandemic, but they sure have been baking up a storm at home, Catalina reported. Sales of flour increased by 55 percent, while the refrigerated dough and sweet roll category was up by 46 percent. Brownie and cookie mix sales, meanwhile, jumped by 45 percent. Likewise, shelf-stable pie shell sales rose by 44 percent. Also in the home baking category, sales of refrigerated cookie and brownie dough and yeast ticked up at a 36 percent clip.

Somewhat surprisingly, sales of toilet paper — the subject of buying frenzies in the early days of the pandemic — were not up as much as you’d expect, with a 33 percent and 30 percent uptick in premium and value brand sales, respectively, during the past 12 months.

Catalina’s full report on pandemic shopping trends is available here.

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