May 20, 2020 / 3:32 PM / 6 days ago

All dressed down and nowhere to go: the new M&S shopping habits

A woman walks past people who follow social distancing rules as they queue outside a Marks & Spencer store in Harpenden as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Harpenden, Britain, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/Files

LONDON (Reuters) - Sports wear, sleep wear and bras are the new best sellers at Marks & Spencer, while suits and ties gather dust, as the coronavirus lockdown transforms shoppers’ priorities, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer said on Wednesday.

The vast majority of M&S’ clothing and home space in stores has been closed since a nationwide lockdown began on March 23, but its online business has traded throughout.

What customers are buying is “completely different from what it would have been a year a go,” M&S chairman Archie Norman told reporters, after the 136-year-old group published annual results and its response to the pandemic.

Purchases of sleep wear, active wear, including jogging pants, hoodies and leggings, have surged since the lockdown started, while sales of suits and ties have declined to what Chief Executive Steve Rowe described as “a dribble”.

The number one individual product category was bras, Rowe said, with online sales up 60% on the year, while sleepwear sales rose 125%.

With the emphasis also on home comforts and family needs, bedding sales also rose 150% and towels 185%. Sales of children’s footwear increased by 98%.

Online sales of baby wear were more than the online and store channels put together before the crisis.

The retailer has also noticed changes to browsing habits on its website. For example the peak online browsing time has shifted from 1900 to 2100, to 1500 to 1700.

Reporting by James Davey; editing by Barbara Lewis

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