Market Trends 2020

BY Kristen Classi-Zummo & Todd Mick

The NPD Group shares what's happening in apparel retail during the pandemic, and implication for intimates .

Apparel was hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. According to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, apparel sales declined 55% in the 6 weeks from March 22-May 2, and the women’s segment contributed to more than half these declines. However, NPD’s Kristen Classi-Zummo, Director of Market Insights & Apparel, says that when looking at individual weeks, there is a bright side. Apparel dollar declines compared to the same time last year have been gradually getting better since the week ending March 28, and some categories are actually seeing growth! As we have been staying home, consumers are opting for practical categories. In the week ending May 2, intimates, sleepwear, and underwear units grew double digits compared to the same week in 2019.

During NPD’s April Curve webinar presentation, we discussed the comfort trend and how it was going to continue due to our stay-at-home behaviors. At the end of March 2020, we asked consumers what they had done within the past week while staying home: 48% said they wore activewear/sweats all day, 46% said they wore pajamas/loungewear all day, and 36% said they wore a bra less than usual*.

Beyond the comfort of the items we wear, consumers are also looking for comfort in the retail stores they shop. Since only a third of consumers said they would be very/somewhat comfortable shopping in stores once stay-at-home requests are relaxed**, it’s important for retailers to be clear about the steps they are taking to keep consumers safe. Sanitation will be an important area of focus for retailers, especially with 70% of consumers indicating that being provided with sanitizing options would make them feel more comfortable to shop in-store again*** .

NPD’s Todd Mick, the Executive Director for Apparel and NPD’s Innerwear Analyst, says that while a lot has happened in the past couple of months, much remains the same. In addition to our daily routines of work-snack-eat-stream-sleep-repeat, the same key drivers impacting intimates consumers are still at play – value, comfort, and on line.


The three largest value apparel retailers with their doors open during the pandemic are Walmart, Target, and Costco. Their Intimates business was strong before the virus hit, and now they are gaining market share. These retailers are positioned to continue their strong performance with product that is styled and priced right for a host of Americans experiencing job loss and financial insecurity.

When thinking about the other value players – off-price retailers – given all the cancelled orders in up channel retailers, we know they will have an abundance of new spring goods to sell. Once they open their doors, we will be watching to see if the consumer has pent-up demand for treasure hunting.

Retailer dot-coms have been driving growth elsewhere, offering a different kind of value to the consumer. Intimate apparel, sports bras, and sleepwear have been the drivers of week-over-week increases in the department and specialty channels. Now that retail has begun to reopen, more department and specialty store doors are opening and intimates will be an important part of building on that momentum.


The emphasis on real consumer benefits over the last couple of years has only been amplified by the current situation. As a result, the comfort category has gone to the next level. NPD’s Retail Tracking Service information shows comfort driven categories like sports bras and sleepwear gaining share. Digging a little deeper into product attributes, wire free and smoothing are winning – both delivering comfort and shaping – just what the consumer is looking for. Seamless bras and bralettes, that offer fit flexibility, comfort, and shaping are also out performing more constructed underwire bras during the pandemic. With a larger number of female consumers now working from home, the comfort trend will only become more important to the intimates industry.


The primary success factor behind those brands and retailers who are faring better than most is their ability to sell online. Be it store closures, or consumers reluctant to shop when stores do reopen, online is going to accelerate as a popular shopping choice for intimates – already a highly developed online business pre-COVID-19, penetrating at 25%. Incremental growth is already apparent, with online sales of bras capturing almost half of each dollar sales in the three months ending April 2020. Before the pandemic, one in four bras were sold online, today it is one in three – could this be the new norm?

These factors are likely to be constant in a retail environment that will be continuously changing for the foreseeable future, but the way consumers respond to them will evolve. How the intimates industry responds to marketplace changes as it relates to the roles of value, comfort, and e-commerce, will determine future success.

*The NPD Group/March 2020 NPD Trend Tracker survey done in conjunction with NPD partner CivicScience

** The NPD Group/ Omnibus Survey May 2020

*** The NPD Group/April 2020 NPD Trend Tracker survey done in conjunction with NPD partner CivicScience

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