Slippers up, ties down: John Lewis reveals its Covid winners and losers
With our social lives on hold for most of the past 18 months, it’s no surprise our consumer habits turned to cosy
As the pandemic at times reduced our worlds to four walls, slippers, pizza ovens and hot tubs became some of the must-have items in the year we all stayed at home.
The John Lewis retail report, which identifies the key shopping trends of the past 12 months, reveals shoppers “couldn’t get enough of slippers”, with sales up 13%. Even with feet hidden from view on Zoom, Britons were not content with bog-standard slip-ons. John Lewis now sells more than 200 styles of slippers, having increased the size of its range by a fifth to include designer brands and the latest trends, which this winter included sheepskin slingbacks and glamorous bejewelled faux fur. The bestselling pair were sheepskin-lined mules from Ugg that cost £80.
As social lives were put on hold and more people worked from home, the going out look was ditched in favour of cosy comfort. Demand for pyjamas and dressing gowns rocketed while the casualties included neck ties (down 75%), briefcases, makeup bags and thongs, which had been enjoying a revival.
The report’s ninth edition comes at a difficult time for the employee-owned retailer, which is part of the same group as Waitrose. It identifies the hit products as well as the obsolete (in 2018 it was DVD players, while in 2021 it was the end of the line for filing cabinets) in a year when lockdowns put the future of department stores in doubt.
Like offices and schools, John Lewis’s shops were forced to close for long periods. In the end, 16 of its outlets did not survive and the company ditched its annual staff bonus for the first time in 67 years as it invested in turning around its fortunes.
Pippa Wicks, the department store’s executive director, said the unprecedented events of 2020 and 2021 had “left a permanent mark on how we shop”. “People have become clearer about what matters to them and their work-life balance has shifted towards life.”
She pointed to the sea change in shopping habits. Before the pandemic about 40% of John Lewis purchases were made online or via click and collect. Today that figure is between 60% and 70%, and sales through its app are up from 15% to 25%.
The retailer’s analysis of its sales shows that people are using any spare cash to turn flats and houses into more versatile places that can double as workspaces, classrooms and playgrounds – a trend the retailer calls “broken plan living”.
Corner sofas, statement desks, ergonomic chairs and even pen pots were “in”, while those lucky enough to have gardens installed trampolines and hot tubs, where sales jumped 270% and 200% respectively in the year to the end of August. Sales of pizza ovens were up 195%.
The nation’s increase in screen time was also writ large. Britons spent a third of their waking hours watching TV or online videos in 2020 and they wanted bigger screens, with sales of “big TVs” – 75 inch-plus – up nearly 150%.
As streaming services replaced social lives, when people were persuaded to buy new things they were often influenced by what they were watching on telly at the time.
The final series of Line of Duty triggered a surprise run on DS Arnott-inspired waistcoats, while the Friends reunion boosted demand for orange sofas and the makeup needed to recreate the looks of the 90s fashion icon Jennifer Aniston.
Nigella Lawson also made a splash, with sales of “micro-wa-vés” up 30% in December, perhaps thanks to her unique pronunciation. Sales of the new kitchen must-have, the air fryer, billed as the unofficial gadget of lockdown, were up 400%.
With more people cooking from scratch, the chain rang up record cookware sales, up 23%. With dining out off-limits, people expanded their repertoires and turned homecooked meals into an occasion, with sales of tablecloths, candlesticks and even napkin rings all up sharply.
The Olympic gold medal-winning diver Tom Daley emerged as an influencer both in and out of the pool. Sales of men’s Speedos doubled, and in August demand for needles and wool jumped nearly 90% after Daley was spotted knitting in the Tokyo stands.
If slippers were all the rage indoors, Britons sought the outdoor equivalent when they ventured out. Croc sales were up nearly 60% as the Marmite footwear brand benefited from the validation of a gold pair on the Oscars red carpet.
The classic Croc, which costs £33, has attracted nearly 33,000 reviews on the John Lewis website and a five-star rating. In one review, Fernanda spoke for many converts when stating they were “like wearing nothing at all”.
Big TVs +146%
Hot tubs +200%
Statement desks +65%
Ergonomic chairs +85%
Pasta machines and accessories +42%
Napkin rings +22%
Fitness machines eg Peloton +79%
Passport covers -83%
Travel adaptors – 74%
Neck ties -75%
Children’s party clothes –27%
Makeup bags -50%
Filing cabinets – delisted
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