Six months into the lockdown, many people have settled into a groove. They know to socially distance themselves, frequently wash their hands and use face masks whenever they’re out in public.
Those fortunate enough to have disposable income are buying both essentials (groceries, bath products) and nonessentials (electric grills, beauty items) online. Instead of heading to the physical shops, they browse through online catalogs, place items into their “carts” and wait for the best deals to drop.
Last year, luxury department store chain Rustan’s launched its online portal rustans.com where shoppers could choose from items ranging from signature clothes and perfumes to houseware and home decor.
Keeping homes ‘sacred’
Donnie Tantoco, president of Rustan Commercial Corp., said that their customers are now housebound but still want their homes to be “safe and sacred spaces.”
“They want to be able to do at home what used to bring joy to them outside the home, pre-COVID (new coronavirus disease),” he told Lifestyle in an email interview. “We are noticing an upsurge in cookware and dinnerware—and not just the basics but even more specialized tools to make their own bread, cook a Korean meal, and enjoy wine and cheese.”
Tantoco said that other items that sell have to incorporate a home element. It can be anything to help families work from home, explore hobbies at home, exercise at home, date at home, worship at home or have a salon-like experience at home.
“I believe home is a sort of new luxury,” he said. “Some people are shunning luxuries that they used to buy. However, they are investing in whatever makes their home safer, more functional, more joyful, even more sacred amidst all the uncertainty and upheaval that is around us.”They have also noted upticks in sales of self-care and wellness items. Tantoco surmised that people are attending to parts of themselves they may have neglected in the hustle and bustle before lockdown.
“Skin care is number one but anything to do with the eyes is also trending well. Initially, there was a drop in makeup; however, our collaborations with our brand partners help us understand what kind of makeup would make sense in this new environment. At one level, makeup is about looking good during countless Zoom meetings, but it is also about the stability and inner confidence it gives you during these times,” he said.
One segment that took a hit was apparel, except those made for exercise or yoga. “We noticed that many are using fitness apparel made of technologically superior fabrics and mixing them with casual clothing. I think the new ways people are dressing and experimenting are here to stay.”
What Tantoco did not expect to sell much of during lockdown were the luxury writing instruments from Montblanc.
“We sold more Montblanc pens than expected during a particular month. I guess more people are going back to hand writing journals, letters and cards.”
He added, “Not all the essentials in the digital age have to do with technology. Many are playing video games, but some families are going back to their favorite and classic board games. I think to some extent there is a retro-aspirational trend to classics, the comfort zones of your childhood.”
Rise in domestic hobbies
The country’s largest department store chain has been doing brisk business in online sales with their top items, being personal protective equipment like face masks and face shields as well as vitamins and supplements.
Steven Tan, president of SM Supermalls, said that UV cleaners and air purifiers are also in high demand. “Understandably there is a heightened consciousness for health and immunity,” he said.
Beyond keeping as safe as possible during the pandemic, people have been trying to keep busy and productive.
“We’ve seen the rise of domestic hobbies and purchase of related equipment. These hobbies include baking, gardening and crafting, among others,” Tan said. “Exercise equipment is also hot as people strive to create their own home gyms. You see treadmills, stationary bikes, weights, yoga mats flying off the shelves.”
Perhaps to provide space for new items, people have been letting go of hardly used things.
“In Facebook alone, you see people selling preloved items. There is also a boom for storage boxes as more people tidy up their living spaces. We see people investing in home entertainment and Wi-Fi connection upgrades,” Tan said.
“For those working from home—and now with the advent of online schooling—laptops and office chairs are essential purchases. Other equipment include ring lights and microphones for a semiprofessional touch,” he added.
Tan also noted a rise in “functional fashion” or clothes for the home, “including the ubiquitous ‘duster’ or house dress.”
He pointed out, however, that their customers’ buying habits in the past six months can be seen on ground (at SM stores) and online. “Both need to work in seamless integration. It’s not necessarily a case of one or the other.”
At SM, skin care has eclipsed makeup. Within their health and beauty category, there has been a shift toward cosmeceuticals (supplements such as collagen and biotin).
What constitutes essential or nonessential has likewise shifted. Tan said that people are investing in “small luxuries,” whether it be the Korean alcoholic drink soju or hybrid treats like sushi bake and burnt Basque cheesecake.
“Bringing the outside in is also a concept that has surprisingly been adopted even by men. So now you have the new phenomenon of plantitos who engage in growing succulents and tinkering with hydroponics.”
To keep customers interested, each SM mall has a community Viber group within a 5-km area that receives announcements on new offerings and deals.
“We also have our Mall Shopper Program for personalized call and deliver service. This includes virtual tours and livestreaming, inspired by experiences we run in our malls in SM China,” Tan said.
Health and personal care
The online shopping brand Shopee has been very busy since the start of lockdown. “The most purchased items during the past six months were face masks, vitamins, phone chargers and earphones,” said Martin Yu, associate director of Shopee Philippines.
More people are turning to e-commerce because aside from the convenience it offers, it also limits face-to-face contact. Instead of paying cash, some prefer to pay online.
“The demands for makeup, groceries and home products such as homeware and kitchenware remained robust during this period. We also saw great demand in electronic products,” Yu said.
“We worked closely with our brands and sellers to ensure that we managed the supply of essential goods. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and people continue to spend more time at home and shop online, we curated a series of shopping campaigns to cater to the different needs of our shoppers,” Yu said.
As the end of the pandemic is still not in sight, retailers will have to continually evolve along with the needs of their customers.