Some of the bright spots in spending have included areas like home improvement and sporting goods and bookstores. The retail sales data for June showed a 27 percent jump in the category of sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and bookstores, which rose even compared to June 2019, and followed a surge in May.
Consumer spending has been shifting from traditional entertainment to what analysts have called “solitary leisure activities,” bolstering sales of bicycles, coolers and drinkware for parks and beaches, and hiking and camping gear, according to a Bank of America research note this month.
Megan Searfoss, the owner of Ridgefield Running Company, a running store in Ridgefield, Conn., seems to be a beneficiary of the trend. She had made plans earlier this year to expand to Darien, Conn., in time to capitalize on excitement around the Olympics, the New York City Marathon and the high school cross country season.
“All that stuff went away,” she said. But Ms. Searfoss decided to forge ahead with the Darien store, which opens on Thursday, motivated by changes she made to her operations in recent months and her conviction that small businesses have become more appealing amid the pandemic.
“Big malls may be going away, but this is not, as long as a small business is investing in technology and experience,” said Ms. Searfoss, who helped found the Ridgefield store in 2014. After the store closed on March 16, she started to reach out to customers who had shopped at the store previously and set up virtual fittings through Zoom. She also introduced free same-day and next-day deliveries in the area, getting shoes and other gear to customers even faster than Zappos and Amazon, she said.
The store has been seeing customers through appointments since it reopened on May 20, and has been thriving as many people, including former gym-goers, look for new shoes and do more running and walking, she said. Still, she acknowledged the shopping experience had changed.
“It’s a much more stressful experience because we’re a very touchy business, usually lacing up shoes for customers and showing them how to run properly, and we don’t do that anymore,” Ms. Searfoss said. With masks on, she said, “they can’t tell when you’re joking anymore and it’s harder to get a rapport.”
But she doesn’t believe that is limiting business. “We’re getting a lot of new consumers who have never walked or ran and now are taking this time to try it,” she said.