Teeth Whiteners and Travel Bags Are the New Reopening Trade

Get ready for the new reopening trade — and it has nothing to do with the stock market. Think teeth and travel.

In discussing its latest earnings on Tuesday, retail giant Walmart Inc. said it had noticed an increase in sales of teeth-whitening products in areas of the U.S. where face coverings were no longer required. At Macy’s Inc., Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gennette said luggage was one of the department store’s categories that had the biggest jump in sales in its first quarter. Notice a trend?

Both Walmart and Macy’s reported strong results for the latest period and boosted their outlooks as consumers, flush with stimulus checks and buoyed by the vaccination rollout, unleashed spending on items they haven’t needed for more than a year. With pandemic restrictions easing and life starting to return to normal, people just want to get out and shop the way they used to. If hot tubs, home cinemas and Peloton bikes were some of the best-sellers during lockdowns, a raft of more outward-facing consumer categories is starting to take their place.

Fashion is already back: Macy’s is the latest retailer to note a rebound in demand for dresses. (So far, the standout style has been the floaty maxi dress that can be accessorized up or down and layered for outdoor drinking and dining.) But Gennette said he was now seeing more formal styles — such as those appropriate for weddings or proms — return. That’s important for retailers because a dearth of events has meant little reason to spend. Macy's has also seen some recovery in men's tailoring, perhaps reflecting more companies calling workers back to the office.

The resumption of travel offers the prospect of another avenue of spending opening up. As well as luggage, other warm-weather categories are starting to come back including sandals and swimwear, a category that has so far lagged the broader apparel resurgence.

And then there’s the easing of mask mandates: Uncovered faces could breathe fresh life into other consumer categories, going by Walmart’s teeth-whitening example. Sales of lipstick were hit hard by mask-wearing. It’s possible that as the masks come off, women will refresh their lip-gloss wardrobes again. While makeup sales have revived in Europe since reopening, this has been dominated by above-the-mask categories such as mascara. A switch back to lips would be great news for the likes of Estee Lauder Cos. and L’Oreal SA.

More broadly, a number of consumer-goods companies such as Unilever Plc have noted that during the pandemic Americans and Europeans spent less time — and money — on their appearances and personal hygiene. With few places to go, there was little reason to shave, use deodorant or spray perfume. Now that we are all getting out and about, that could be about change.

What’s clear is that Americans are embracing reopening, one teeth-whitening kit at a time.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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