What does the recent sales rebound mean for mask makers and retailers?

Discussion
Photos: Gap
Aug 04, 2021

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.

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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"There will probably continue to be steady demand for masks, but hardly the explosive business of 2020."
"COVID-19 is not going away, vaccines or not. We are likely in for a long haul of seasonal upticks as the disease mutates at the same time we strive for normality."
"I suspect the Delta variant is not the only variant that will be an issue to the general public."

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11 Comments on "What does the recent sales rebound mean for mask makers and retailers?"


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Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Most apparel manufacturers would rather produce and sell shirts (and so forth) instead of face masks, and the rebound in retail sales supports this idea. And most consumers probably already have more masks than they know what to do with, even if they resume wearing them indoors as advised by the CDC.

If people are smart, they will adopt mask-wearing during cold and flu season even if COVID-19 becomes an “endemic” rather than pandemic problem. So there will probably continue to be steady demand for masks, but hardly the explosive business of 2020.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

When the CDC dropped the mask requirement, sales of masks plummeted and most retailers started discounting them. Those discounts have now largely gone and masks are back in prominent positions in stores. I don’t think we will see the same type of spikes as last year, but sales are now elevated. The challenge is forecasting how long this demand will last for and what inventory to commit to – no easy task when the virus can be unpredictable.

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

I say, jump in and buy more masks while retailers are trying to get rid of them! Alas, I think they are here to stay, as a major grocery chain in our area just announced the return of the mask policy even if you’re vaccinated. With so many people choosing to abstain from getting vaccinated, masks are here to stay — like it or not.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

When we first discussed this topic last year, we agreed that masks (and mask fashions) were here to stay. While I had seen anti-bacterials and wipes go down in price (even on clearance) in the past few months, stores have begun to re-stock and that includes masks. I suspect the Delta variant is not the only variant that will be an issue to the general public.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

As long as a sizable number of citizens refuse life-saving vaccinations, masks will be with us for a long while. Demand for masks won’t equal the market in 2020 but will still be a factor.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

Exactly. Unfortunately, we can expect the virus to mutate at least a few more times in the future. We certainly won’t be able to ditch masks before the end of 2021. This is yet another example of how variable demand forecasting is and how retailers need to refine their predictive methods to include a range of product types.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

COVID-19 is not going away, vaccines or not. We are likely in for a long haul of seasonal upticks as the disease mutates at the same time we strive for normality. Forecasting demand for all goods – masks included – will be a challenge to say the least.

Martin Whitmore
Guest

Unfortunately the demand for masks will not recede in 2021. With the confusion around mask effectiveness and the ongoing battles between the vaccinated and unvaccinated the ability to forecast demand will be greatly inhibited.
The fact that there have been so many breakthrough cases in vaccinated people is reigniting the perceived threat, even though the vast majority of those positive tests are asymptomatic.
The safe assumption is there will soon be mask mandates in most states for indoor activities and mask usage will continue to grow.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Mask wearing is going to be around for a while due to COVID-19 variants and the realization by many that masks help prevent cold and flu transmission. Market demand is unlikely to reach the highs of 2020 though since many people purchased masks last year and will not need to replenish their inventory.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Define “strong”: compared to any other year (before 2020) and the answer will almost certainly be “yes.” But I’m reluctant, for a variety of reasons, to view this as a growth industry.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 11 days ago

Kohl’s has a ton of cloth/fashion masks on clearance for 99 cents right now (unless they marked them back up since yesterday). Walmart locations were running various price points back in May-June many with 5 packs of cloth/fashion masks for .25 or $1 and got rid of many of their masks then.

For a variety of reasons, I purchased quite a few of the giveaway masks in May-June, but these did not sell down fast at all.

Based on the surplus of masks and significant markdowns I have observed, I am questioning if mask sales were ever a profitable proposition for many retailers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There will probably continue to be steady demand for masks, but hardly the explosive business of 2020."
"COVID-19 is not going away, vaccines or not. We are likely in for a long haul of seasonal upticks as the disease mutates at the same time we strive for normality."
"I suspect the Delta variant is not the only variant that will be an issue to the general public."

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