The start of the fourth quarter for the housewares business finds hopeful anticipation that sales will remain strong mixing with lingering uncertainty about how consumers will shop and spend ahead of the holidays.
The pandemic recalibrated the usual annual housewares shopping cycle by driving unexpectedly steep gains earlier in the year. Fourth quarter sales, inventory, and promotional projections made before the coronavirus struck likely had to be adjusted on the fly without a comparable sales history to guide the adjustments.
Key questions remain. Will the fact that consumers have gobbled up so many housewares products already during pandemic mitigate holiday sales volumes? Will inventory shortages shortchange holiday growth? Can retailers make up, online or otherwise, for a potentially steep decline in holiday in-store traffic, especially on Black Friday and the ensuing weekend?
Such unknowns, despite signs housewares will continue robust growth, won’t be answered until all the presents are unwrapped.
At that point, the industry should have a clearer picture to begin mapping out plans for 2021 confidently. Barring a second wave of severe disruption, it will be a vital turning point for an industry whose pandemic-fueled growth often seemed more transactional than inspirational.
Retailers have turned everywhere for goods to fulfill surging, impulsive housewares demand. It has felt at times as if retailers were focused less on why specific products should be selected over others and more on how fast suppliers could ship whatever
While that dynamic might continue to some extent, the next phase of the pandemic shopping cycle should see a revival of more carefully considered consumer purchasing. And that should encourage more carefully considered retail assorting.
For retailers, it’s an opportunity to reassess the selectivity with which they curate assortments. For suppliers, it’s a chance to recommit to development and promotion of their competitive distinctions.
Demonstrably innovative and differentiated product and service will attract consumers who have waited to re-equip their homes or are looking already for extensions and upgrades to items bought earlier this year out of urgent necessity. Retailers and vendors should reset and reengage around offering consumers a more fulfilling experience and enduring value to go with in-stock availability and competitive pricing.
That this pandemic drove an unexpected, early rush for housewares was a welcome consolation to the hardship and heartache of the past several months. If it’s cause for optimism at the start of the fourth quarter, it’s still anyone’s guess exactly how consumers will shop and spend the next several weeks… and at what level the opportunity for housewares during this critical period remains untapped.
Whatever the answers, the close of a holiday season that will play out like no holiday season before it should bring some clarity to the lingering uncertainty about how to plan for what’s next.