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Apparel Industry Leader Weighs in on Impact of Coronavirus Outbreak

The Apparel retail industry has faced challenges surmounting the coronavirus outbreak. Event cancellations, destination closures, and work and learn from home measures have reduced the need for new spring-time outfits. Apparel industries face a backlog of seasonal-specific inventory as spring is lost to social distancing. Virtual meetings require business-casual tops (if a webcam is used at all), which has created a disparity in tops and bottoms apparel sales.

Last week’s blog summarized the continued impact that the coronavirus outbreak is having on ecommerce sales and consumer’s online shopping behavior based on our webinar on April 23. NetElixir Founder and CEO Udayan Bose was joined by Kaki Zell, Co-Owner and Vice President of Ames Walker, for a Q&A into how Ames Walker is navigating the difficulties and challenges caused by the coronavirus outbreak. 

Stimulus Checks Boosted Apparel Ecommerce Sales

Interest in and demand for Apparel has plummeted throughout the pandemic. However, the distribution of the stimulus checks across the United States around April 15 have caused a slight increase in sales and website conversion rates, detailed below.

Apparel ecommerce sales during coronavirus outbreak boosted by stimulus checks
The boxed section correlates an increase in website visits and conversion rates with the distribution of the stimulus checks, suggesting pent-up demand.

For the first time since NetElixir began collecting and documenting data, the Apparel retail industry has seen a week over week increase. Given the circumstances, Udayan Bose calls this uptick a “substantial spike.” Bose continues that the spending surrounding the stimulus checks suggests a “pent-up demand” in consumers.

“People are willing to spend and looking to spend and ready to spend,” Bose says. 

The indication of pent-up demand will be fundamental when the retail industry opens back up. McKinsey has suggested that there will be a lull in consumer spending and an overall decrease in demand. However, NetElixir believes that the Fashion and Apparel retail category will experience a v-shaped economic recovery post-pandemic. This recovery will be driven by pent-up demand and self-expression. NetElixir believes that people, after being cooped up so long, will have a greater desire for self-expression, especially among Gen Z and Millennials. As these groups reconnect with friends and classmates, they will want to showcase new styles.

Apparel Innovation at Ames Walker

Apparel Industry Leader and Innovator during the coronavirus
Kaki Zell, Co-Owner and Vice President at Ames Walker

Kaki Zell, Co-Owner and Vice President of Ames Walker, is a driven entrepreneur who took a chance to re-engineer her company during the upheaval caused by the outbreak.

Ames Walker was founded in 1995 as the first online provider of medical compression garments. As sales continued to drop across Apparel retailers, Zell and her husband saw an opportunity to shift Ames Walker’s resources and manufacturing capabilities to produce masks. These masks are made in an ISO 13485 medical device factory. They are made from soft polyester and nylon yarns, are double ply, and are treated with a splash resistant finish that helps to repel molecules, liquids, and oils. These masks are reusable, lasting up to 30 washes.

Ames Walker Mask Production

Zell admits she was hesitant at first to lean into producing masks. However, as demand shifted day by day and she saw the need growing in her customer base, Zell changed her mind. She believes personal protective products could become part of our new normal and wants to help make them more accessible to customers. Ames Walker now produces one million masks a week to get them into the hands of people who need them.

“I’d like to think of this as ‘adjusting to the new normal’ as opposed to ‘dealing with’ challenges, as it is certainly a time to be agile,” Zell says.

Because of the medical nature of their core business, Ames Walker is essential and has stayed open while most employees work from home. With a small, critical team in place, Ames Walker has also helped other companies continue their shipment. 

Based on consumer and medical feedback, Zell says Ames Walker is continuously tweaking and perfecting the quality of the masks. The masks are also being sent for more extensive biochemical testing for better protection for customers, as well as military and VA hospital partnerships.

“We are still evolving each day, and evolving our protective masks each day to make them better, make our employees safer, and keep everyone working,” Zell says.

A shifting Demographic

Ames Walker, by the nature of selling medical compression hosiery, usually caters to an older demographic. However, regularly wearing compression hosiery from a young age acts as a preventative measure for later in life. (This hasn’t always caught on among the younger demographic.) By taking preventative measures now through face masks helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus, people may come to see the benefits of preventative measures. This in turn could lead to younger people seeing the benefits exercising health precautions earlier in life.

“If we can gain new younger customers now, and have their trust then maybe we can in fact convince them that compression socks have come a long way and can actually be cool,” Zell says. 

In the meantime, Ames Walker continues to demonstrate their medical assistance and reliability to their customers.

Zell thinks that in the future, people could rely more on masks come flu and cold season, especially among the elderly and immunocompromised. Ames Walker is currently in development of new patterns for their masks.

Advice to Retailers During Coronavirus

In offering advice to retailers, Zell begins, “Well, after the shock wore off after the first few days of this pandemic hitting the United States, and watching our business take an initial downturn, I only wish we would have reacted even more quickly to change and evolve our business.”

Ames Walker continues to improve and perfect their masks for the safety of their customers and others who need the protection. By remaining nimble and relying on the real data presented by her team at NetElixir, Zell and the entire Ames Walker team innovated a means of offering clients a valuable option to protect themselves.

“My advice to other retail marketers would be to act fast and be agile. Use your strengths to figure out where you can help, where you can fit in during these times and in the future,” Zell says. “At some point soon, we will go back to what we are most knowledgeable about with our compression socks and hosiery…, but who is to say this isn’t an opportunity for a new best?”

Additional Insights

For partnering with NetElixir, Zell graciously offered a discount at Ames Walker’s site, viable through the end of April. Larger wholesale needs and questions can be directed to Zell herself at kzell@ameswalker.com.

Ames Walker Discount Code; face masks washable
Use this discount code at checkout at AmesWalker.com. Valid through the end of April 2020.

We will be hosting a new webinar series, starting Tuesday, May 12 at 2 PM ET. Our X=Experience: Expert Series pulls together previous speakers from our annual X=Experience event to provide insights and research on how the coronavirus is impacting different fields. Our first webinar of the series on Leveraging AI, Data, and Tech Platforms To Understand Health Pandemics will be presented by Anindya Ghose. Register now.

You can watch our March 11 webinar here, which was the first of the series on tracking the impact of the coronavirus on ecommerce sales and online shopping behavior.

Our March 26 update webinar featured our first Retail Superhero, Parag Shah, the Vice President of Grocery at Wakefern Food Corporation for Shoprite,  and detailed over a month’s worth of research.

The third webinar in our impact of Covid-19 series, which aired on April 9, featured UPS’s President of SMB and US Marketing, Gerard Gibbons, for a live Q&A.

While we have covered an extensive dataset, it is by no means exhaustive. If you are interested in discussing specific insights for your category, please email us at shareinsights@netelixir.com

Further Reading on Ecommerce Updates During Coronavirus

You can join the conversation on social media using #NxInsights.

Our Founder and CEO Udayan Bose emphasizes the importance of real data. Real-time data, gathered daily by our Retail Intelligence Lab, shares a glimpse into how people are coping day by day. For further reading, you can see our prior retail analytics updates on retail ecommerce and online shopping behavior: