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Pandemic purchases: everything we bought in the second year of the Coronavirus crisis

Tilly Brogan
February 21, 2019

This week, John Lewis released their 2021 How We Shop, Live and Look report, where the retailer looked back at all the products and trends that shaped year two of the pandemic – a year that saw the retail market disrupted like nothing before.

If the Great British High Street was already on the verge of collapsing in 2019, the pandemic was the final nail in the coffin; John Lewis reported a whopping increase in online sales from 40% pre-pandemic, to between 60% and 70% this year. Couple that with the loss of some of the High Street’s biggest names like Arcadia (previous home to Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Burton, and Dorothy Perkins) and Argos – who now only have remaining stores within Sainsbury’s supermarkets – the temporary store closures caused by the coronavirus crisis quickly made online shopping a more permanent fixture. But while it was a punch in the gut to see the only place I’m able to find jeans that actually fit me (Topshop Mom jeans W30 L30, if you’re wondering), the move from brick and mortar markets to online orders meant the country could enjoy items like these delivered straight to their door:


Just as surprised as I was when I saw my local shopping centre install a Crocs shop a few years ago, John Lewis’ reported 58% increase in Crocs sales has shaken me to my core. Could it be the fact that so many of us needed something comfy on our feet as we spent our time moseying around the house? Or the effect of Love Island influencers who rocked these “ugly-cool” sandals on this summer’s season? Either way, Crocs are back.


For a nation that took no time in adopting business wear on the top, comfies on the bottom, it’s no surprise that the store saw slipper sales shoot up by 13% last year. As well as slippers, the demand for other sleep and loungewear items like PJ’s and dressing gowns also soared.


While the international travel ban saw a large decline in John Lewis’ sales of passport covers, travel adaptors, and suitcases, the retailer reported that swimwear was as in demand as ever. With control swimsuits and Speedos winning the prize of most popular product, the stereotype that Brits are total suckers for a holiday abroad (if only the illusion of one) was truly put to the test.


With fewer places to wear makeup and more time in the mornings for a wellness routine (unsurprisingly, the tube isn’t the best place for a 5-step cleanse), the shift from beauty to skincare was one of the biggest changes of them all, accounting for over a third of John Lewis’ total beauty sales.

The retailer also outlined how customers became more interested in what was actually in their products, with eco-friendly beauty products soaring in popularity; similarly, The Hut Group (the online tech retailer behind brands like LookFantastic, ESPA, and Cult Beauty), reported that 83% of Gen Z worldwide buy organic and natural skincare products – no doubt a knock-on effect of the recent craze in sharing skincare routines on TikTok.


For many, these new health and wellness routines didn’t just stop at beauty and skincare. According to data by STADA, 29% of Europeans say they’ve increased their intake of food supplements and vitamins in an effort to build a stronger immune system, while 70% say they’re investing more in their health – admittedly it’s not much of a shock that a global health crisis would be followed by an increased importance placed on immune health.


For those that couldn’t go the whole summer without writing #Staycation at least once on their Instagram, the retailer reported a whopping 650% rise in tent sales. Sadly though, a lukewarm can of Carling in a wet gazebo can never taste as good as an ice-cold Estrella on the beach.


As the whole country spent more time working inside, those lucky enough to have a big enough outside space to relax converted it to suit. John Lewis reported a 270% rise in trampoline sales, as well as a big increase in people purchasing modular outdoor sofas and outdoor rugs – which rose by 50%. Hot tub sales increased by 200% along with fire pits and garden heaters which rose by almost 1,000% in October and November last year as Brits refused to believe that summer was well and truly over.

Air Fryers

Forced closures in the hospitality industry meant Brits were more invested in turning their own kitchen into their favourite dine-in; air fryer sales increased by 400% across the period while sales of coloured dinnerware rose by a third, smashing the demand for white table crockery. Napkin sales increased by 97%, tablecloths by 79%, candlestick holders were up 13%, and the candlesticks themselves up 34%. This so-called ‘tablescaping’ – rivalled only by the Be Our Guest dinner scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – was the fun antidote to the drab monotony of lockdown living.

In a period when our lives were turned upside down, it’s unsurprising that our purchasing priorities also shifted as well – yet some of these changes were a long time coming. Last year John Lewis stopped selling filing cabinets as a result of storage space completely digitising. So now, instead of spending hours manually shredding your paper documents, you can instead spend the time manually deleting incompatible PDFs and never-ending email threads from your work computer. What a trade!

You can read John Lewis’ 2021 How We Shop, Live and Look report here.

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