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While Americans nationwide are hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the midst of COVID-19, our email inboxes are being inundated with advertisements for discounted apparel, luggage, accessories and other nonessential items.
To name a few: American Eagle Outfitters is offering 50% off some clothing. Michael Kors is offering 25% off eligible purchases. Kohl’s has a coupon code for an extra 20% off.
So what’s going on?
Retailers are facing challenges
As shoppers change their behavior, retailers are forced to adapt.
Consumers are, for the most part, solely focused on purchasing items to stay healthy, safe and entertained, says Jane Boyd Thomas, professor of marketing at Winthrop University in South Carolina.
Most of us are aware that it's nearly impossible to even find paper products and pain relievers as people build home stockpiles — let alone get these items on sale.
But while Americans are shopping at grocery stores, warehouse stores and drugstores, inventory for less essential product categories is left waiting to be sold.
Sales right now are heavily driven by lower manufacturing output as well as volatile consumer behavior patterns during the COVID-19 outbreak, says Robert Hooker, an associate professor with the Monica Wooden Center for Supply Chain Management & Sustainability at the University of South Florida.
An obvious result? Due to a lack of demand, spring, travel and vacation-related products can be found on sale.
Thomas recalls being in Target just a few days ago.
“The shelves were void of paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer and wipes, but they were filled with Easter candy, decorations and apparel,” she said in an email. “The displays for these items looked like they had not been touched.”
Some products were pre-purchased by stores as many as six months ago. And for seasonal items, that means there’s now an opportunity for discounts. For example, Thomas says consumers can expect big savings on Easter candy, decorations and apparel.
Consumers need to be diligent
Astute shoppers can benefit from this situation by searching for available sales and deals in an attempt to save money, Hooker points out. This can, in turn, help retailers move some of their less in-demand, in-stock inventory.
Deals can also be an opportunity for you to help the small businesses in your community that are missing out on business. Beyond online retailers, Thomas has seen service providers such as hairstylists, massage therapists and workout coaches offer buy now, use later deals.
“Many of these service providers are small businesses and need the income, so they are offering incentives and special deals,” she said.
Thomas advises doing your research, reading the fine print and comparing offers before acting on any such promotions.
But amid all the sales and deals you come across on social media or in your email inbox, focus on your greater financial picture. You may have the urge to online shop while you’re stuck at home, but remember to focus on the products you need above the things you just want.