While total ecommerce sales have boomed during the pandemic, online apparel sales plummeted in March. Now, online shoppers are beginning to buy apparel online, according to new data from Rakuten Intelligence.

Online apparel sales have taken a hit since the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S., according to new data from Rakuten Intelligence.

The data is based on email receipts of online U.S. apparel sales from about 200 merchants, excluding Amazon, Jan. 6-April 21, 2019, and Jan. 6-May 3, 2020.

Online apparel sales in the first week of January were up 16.9% year over year. This is comparable to all ecommerce sales growth, which increased 18.4% year over year that first week of January.

Online apparel sales continued to grow each week compared with the year-ago week through January and February. However, beginning the week of March 9, when the coronavirus pandemic became a larger concern across the U.S., online apparel sales dropped 13.6% year over year.

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Online apparel sales have been down each week compared with the year-ago week from March 9 until the week of April 13. Starting then, sales have bounced back, to a 13.2% increase compared with the year-ago week, up 12.2% year over year the week of April 20 and 4.1% the week of April 27.

While this is good news for online apparel retailers, the online category has been hard-hit by the pandemic compared with the rest of the ecommerce industry. As online apparel sales trended down compared with last year, overall ecommerce sales surged as shoppers flocked online with stores closed. For example, ecommerce sales increased 51.9% year over year the week of March 30, while online apparel sales were down 6.3%.

Online apparel’s share of total ecommerce sales has also dipped. As of the week of January, apparel sales comprised 28.4% of U.S. ecommerce sales. As of the week of April 27, apparel sales only represented 18.3% of ecommerce sales, according to Rakuten Intelligence.

Notably, even though the dollar amount of online apparel sales has decreased, the number of apparel items sold online has remained elevated each week January-April 2020 compared with 2019. For example, the number of apparel products retailers sold online the week of Jan. 6 was an 8.9% increase in items compared with that week in 2019.

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“This could be a reflection of many retailers offering discounted prices, or it could be that shoppers were more conservative about spending and favored lower-priced items,” says Jaimee Minney, senior vice president of marketing and communications.

The number of apparel items has especially surged in the month of April, when apparel items increased 16.9% year over year the week of April 6, 46.2% the week of April 13, 36.7% the week of April 30, and 41.0% the week of April 27.

Ecommerce security and fraud prevention vendor Signifyd Inc., which is also tracking online consumer spending across categories, has found similar spikes and valleys for its 3,000 apparel retailer clients.

“The category saw some tough weeks in the early going of the pandemic,” says Ashley Kiolbasa, head of product marketing at Signifyd. “People who were working were working from home and meeting by Zoom. No need to get dressed up—except maybe from the waist up. Walmart even talked about how it was selling more tops during the pandemic, but not more pants and slacks. Clothes were not a priority.”

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Signifyd also found an uptick in apparel sales during April, which it partly attributed to the arrival of the government stimulus payments, which rolled out mid-April. Plus, online apparel sales are continuing to increase each week, according to Signifyd data. This could be because some states are slowly easing their stay-at-home orders.

“Has that flipped a switch, either because consumers are planning to be out in public more or simply because even the idea of being able to go more places is inspiring consumers to upgrade their wardrobes?” Kiolbasa says.

After the pandemic, Signifyd expects online apparel sales to remain elevated, as shopping at a store might not be as fun as it once was with social distancing measures in place, she says. Plus, consumers who bought apparel online for the first time during the pandemic may discover that they like and will continue to do so even after stores are opened, Kiolbasa says.

However, a recent consumer survey from consumer rewards app Shopkick finds that shoppers may be eager to go to stores, especially for fashion. 61% of consumers said they plan to visit apparel stores once they reopen, and 50% of consumers say they will visit nonessential retailers within a week of them reopening, according to the survey of 10,000 consumers conducted in May. In addition, 58% of consumers say after stores reopen they will shop just as frequently as before the pandemic, 6% of shoppers say they will shop more, but 36% will shop less frequently.

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