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Apparel
Quarterly Index
2021: Q3

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The apparel sector was hit hard by the pandemic, but foot traffic data shows that the category is bouncing back. Despite renewed COVID concerns, overall visits in Q3 2021 for the analyzed brands were only 2.4% lower than they were in Q3 2019, and 3.0% higher than in Q2 2021 – indicating that the sector has retained its traditional seasonality. As the return to the office continues and socializing returns, the demand for new clothes may rise even further – positioning for success the apparel players that weathered the COVID storm.

Analyzing dozens of brands including:

Visits almost back to pre-COVID levels

Year-over-two-year foot traffic data seems to indicate that apparel is on its way to a full recovery. But the quarterly average belies a more complex reality, with year-over-two-year apparel visits rising in July only to fall back in August and September amidst rising COVID concerns. Still, the sector’s ability to almost close the quarterly visit gap – especially given the particularly strong 2019 Back-to-School season to which current visit numbers are being compared – means that there is still a strong demand for offline apparel shopping that could fuel a full sector recovery as the current COVID waves continues to recede.

“The sector's ability to almost close the quarterly visit gap means that there’s still a strong demand for offline apparel shopping.”

-2.4%
Yo2Y visit gap narrows to -2.4%

Along with grocery and home improvement, superstores also received a pandemic boost, with year-over-two-year visits rising significantly for both wholesale club retailers and discount superstores. And foot traffic data shows that consumers are increasingly incorporating superstore visits into their regular shopping routines, indicating that the sector’s strength is here to stay.

Weekday Apparel Visits Recovering Faster

Since Q2, the weekday year-over-two-year visit gap has been shrinking at a significantly faster pace than the weekend visit gap. The faster recovery of weekday visits – that can be seen across numerous retail categories – likely shows the impact of limitations on international travel over the summer season, with retail stepping in to fill some of this void. 

 

“Since Q2, the weekday year-over-two-year visit gap has been shrinking at a significantly faster pace than the weekend visit gap.”

-1.5%
Weekday apparel visits were just 1.5% lower than they were in 2019

Visit Duration Fell Compared to 2019

The median length of apparel visits is still significantly lower than it was in 2019, and only slightly higher than it was in 2020. This decrease in visit length could be due to ongoing COVID concerns, or it could be due to the more utilitarian approach towards apparel shopping. With the holiday season giving people the opportunity to shop for fun, new festive clothing, tracking Q4 foot traffic will reveal whether this shift to consumer habits is temporary or a longer-lasting impact of the pandemic. 

“The decrease in median visit length may reflect consumers’ more utilitarian approach towards offline apparel shopping.”

+12.4%
Median Visit Duration was -6.1% lower compared to Q3 2019.

Off-Price and Athletic Wear Continue to Dominate

Despite the overall year-over-two-year decrease in apparel visits, some brands are doing quite well and buoying the wider apparel category. Off-price and athletic wear are leading the pack, with Ross Dress for Less, Burlington, Lululemon Athletica, and others showing strong year-over-two-year gains. The offline success of athletic and athleisure brands seems to reflect an overall increase in demand for comfortable clothes and workout gear. And off-price’s success comes in spite of – and perhaps due to – the category leaders’ reluctance to invest in e-commerce channels, indicating that apparel retailers with little to no e-commerce presence can still be relevant in 2021. 

“Despite the overall year-over-two-year decrease in apparel visits, off-price and athletic wear are doing quite well.”

+18.3%
Visits to Burlington rose by 18.3% compared to 2019

Summary

Apparel visits are bouncing back, and athletic wear and off-price apparel are doing particularly well. Although visit length and weekend visits are still down compared to 2019, the impending holiday season will give people the opportunity to shop for new, festive clothing, and may mark the comeback of apparel shopping as a fun leisure activity.

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