As we ease into 2021, consumer behaviours are settling into a new normal, as people learn to live with the reality of Covid-19.

While the pandemic's impact has varied across the globe, a number of clear retail trends have emerged over the past nine months.

We’ve been finding out where people have been shopping, what they've been buying and how businesses are adapting.

Demand for leisurewear soars

We've all changed how and what we buy, as a result of the pandemic.

Covid-19 has negatively impacted many sectors of retail - but some businesses have recorded an increase in sales.

These are mainly stores that have a strong online presence, that are selling items of high demand.

According to Cork man Niall Horgan, CEO and Co-Founder of Irish clothing brand Gym+Coffee, the leisurewear sector is booming.

"Globally, the market is worth of €350 billion and that is set to grow to €500 billion over the next three years.

"I think Covid-19 is going to accelerate that growth even further," he said.

Despite having to close their physical stores during lockdown, Gym+Coffee has recorded an increase in sales, as demand for casual wear soared.

"Our online sales have almost quadrupled year on year.

"We were hoping to double our online sales in 2020, but they have grown much more than we had expected and that has been great.

Mr Horgan said the boost in online sales has helped to make up for the revenue lost due to store closures during lockdown.

When they set up the business in 2017, the team noticed a culture shift – with people becoming more physically active.

According to Mr Horgan, that active lifestyle is here to stay, which is good news for their brand.

Niall Horgan, CEO and Co-Founder of Gym+Coffee

"People are getting very passionate about their health and their fitness and you can see that in their behaviour.

"It is all about the early morning run and grabbing a coffee with friends afterwards.

"What goes hand in hand with that is the clothing that people are wearing while living this lifestyle," he said.

The Gym+Coffee hoodie was the very first item they launched three years ago, and Mr Horgan said it has remained their top seller over the past few months.

"We want to make sure that the hoodies we design and manufacture are suitable to wear going to the gym and going for a coffee afterwards - but equally suitable to wear on a Zoom call with your colleagues while working from home.

"I think that seems to be fitting in with the behaviour of many at the moment."

"People want comfort, but they also want quality," he said.

Formal wear sector 'decimated' by the pandemic

For retailers specialising in formal wear, a swift change was needed back in March to capitalise on the casual wear trend.

Louis Copeland of Louis Copeland & Sons said the pandemic has "decimated" the formal wear sector.

Louis Copeland of Louis Copeland & Sons

"Normally people would be going to weddings, funerals, communions, confirmations and races - but all of these things have now been put on hold," he said.

With more people working from home, the suits and ties have been replaced with more relaxed outfits.

"People are wearing chino trousers and nice cashmere jeans - some of them are wearing cashmere tracksuits that retail at around €800," said Mr Copeland.

Pre-pandemic, formal wear made up over 50% of sales across Louis Copeland’s stores.

Now, that has dropped down to just 20%, with the majority of people now purchasing comfy, casual clothes.

"I think people are spending more money on their casual wear because that is where the trend is now.

"People want to feel good in clothes, that is why they are spending more money on good casual wear, not throw away garments," he said.

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While their stores were closed during lockdown, the team set up virtual shopping appointments over Zoom to keep in touch with their customers.

According to Mr Copeland, this new way of doing business is here to stay.

"This is a new way of retailing. I think that moving forward, shopping is going to be a mixture of in-store shopping, online shopping and virtual Zoom appointments with retailers.

"The Zoom service opens the store to people who are living abroad and haven’t been able to come home over the past few months - this is a great opportunity for us to communicate with them and sell our products.

"Things won’t go back to the way they were before Covid-19, I am sure of that," said Mr Copeland.

Are material items less important now?

The pandemic has been a wake up call for many.

It has forced to us to reprioritise and think about what is truly important – and perhaps material items aren't top of the list anymore.

Oonagh O'Hagan, Owner and Managing Director of the Meagher’s Pharmacy Group, has noticed that people are much more health conscious when it comes to what products they’re buying in her Dublin stores and online.

"I think people have discovered that health is the most important thing - the health of yourself and the health of your loved ones around you."

Ms O’Hagan said they’ve seen a surge in the sale of vitamins and supplements since March, along with other health related products.

"We have seen huge growth in anything that really bolsters the immune system and products to support sleep.

"Obviously a good night sleep and being able to de-stress has a hugely positive impact on your immune system.

"We have seen a surge in the sale of things like sleep sprays, sleep masks, magnesium, bath oils, candles, diffusers and essential oils," she said

According to Ms O'Hagan the emergence of this self-care trend shows that many people have found the past few months incredibly stressful.

Dip in sale of beauty products

With nights out socialising few and far between, Ms O'Hagan said they have seen a huge dip in the sale of certain beauty products.

"We have seen a drop in the sale of lipsticks because people are wearing masks and so lots of people wouldn’t put a lipstick on during the day now.

"Then we have seen an increase in lip balms and any products that keep your lips moist and stop them from cracking," she said.

The focus has now turned to the eyes, the area not covered with a mask - and as a result Ms O'Hagan said they have seen an increase in the sale of eye shadow palettes and false eye lashes.

Increase in sale of skin care products

While spending less money on make-up, consumers are investing more on skincare products, as Ms O'Hagan explained.

"People working from home don't need as much make-up and many have the time now to spend looking after their skin that they may not have had pre-Covid-19.

"Because people are wearing masks all the time, we are also seeing an increase in cases of 'maskne' - or breakouts from wearing masks consistently and we particularly see this in healthcare workers.

"So we have seen huge growth in the sale of any products that would treat maskne or be kind to the skin in general," she said.

Changing demand for certain medicine

When it comes to prescription medication, the Meagher's Pharmacy Group has seen an increase in the number of people filling prescriptions for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and sleep medicine.

"This is a huge indicator of the financial pressure, and the psychological pressure that Covid-19 has placed on people," said Ms O'Hagan.

On a more positive note, she said they have recorded a drop off in prescriptions related to cold and flu medicine, due to mask wearing and the adherence to social distancing regulations.

She said they have also noticed another interesting trend - the drop in demand for the morning after pill.

"Demand has dropped off a cliff, purely because people are not interacting as much at the moment," she added.

Discovering the great outdoors

While embracing a socially distanced lifestyle, many of us rediscovered the joys of the great outdoors.

For those living along the coast, sea swimming became the go to activity - and the accessories associated with it shot up in popularity.

With Dry Robes popping up on beaches right across the country - and inland - Dublin brothers, Jamie and Dan Gill launched their very own Irish product.

"Our Swim Club Snugs are fleece lined water proof jackets.

"People have often said that if you are wearing one of the snugs you wouldn't have to turn the heat on because they’re so warm and comfy," Jamie explained.

Dan and Jamie Gill, Co-Founders of Swim Club

Dan and Jamie have been sea swimming for two years.

Dan said it was their love of the sea that inspired them to start the business.

"For me, swimming really is the ultimate freedom.

"To be able to swim alongside my brother and friends and other family members is really fantastic and it not only gives me a huge physical benefit but also mentally I find it really super for that," he said.

With people spending more time than ever on social media during lockdown, the brothers used Instagram to direct customers to their Swim Club website, which Jamie said was a game changer.

"Instagram has been profound to our success, I don’t think we’d have a business if it wasn’t for Instagram to be honest.

"It has really played such an important part in building a community, in building a hype around our product and then eventually launching our product.

"As soon as we launched we put a photo up on Instagram and that immediately drove people to our website and when we look at the analytics of where the traffic is coming from to our website, we can see that it is all through Instagram," he said.

Swim Club snug

Setting up a business with a family member can be tricky – especially during a global pandemic.

But according to Dan, things are going swimmingly.

"We have been getting along fantastically.

"Of course there are periods where we might have a disagreement about a colour or a fabric or something like that, but at the end of the day, you really have to put the business element aside.

"We are brothers and I think Swim Club has brought us closer together but it was certainly not without speed bumps along the way," he said.

Dan and Jamie have big plans for the future and are confident that the sea swimming trend will continue beyond Covid-19, which will allow them to expand their range of products.

"Covid-19 has cancelled holidays and stopped people going abroad, and I think that has really allowed us to appreciate what we have around us - so we think the sea swimming trend will continue," said Dan.

"We are in the middle of developing some new products which will be launched in February," Jamie said.

The new additions to the range include snugs for kids and doggy snugs, which Jamie and Dan are hoping will prove just as popular as their first product.

Will these trends last?

The real take away here is that our shopping habits have changed at a pace that was unimaginable just a few shorts months ago.

Retailers have responded in record time, to change not only what they are selling, but what platforms they are using to market and sell their products.

Ann Torres, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the National University of Ireland Galway, said the biggest retail trend to emerge as a result of Covid-19, is no doubt the growth in online shopping.

"The pandemic has really increased the online customer base, particularly among new or infrequent users and they are expected to persist with online buying, so that has really resulted in accelerated adoption of digital, or what we call decade in days development," she said.

According to Dr Torres, many of the trends that have emerged as a result of the pandemic, are accelerations of previous behaviours.

"Consumers have decided to use this life pause to reflect on their own consumption by striving to shop locally, mindfully and more cost consciously, and indeed many consumers intend to sustain these new habits beyond the crisis," she explained.

She said retailers will need to continue to innovate and find new ways of working, if they want to survive and thrive.

"Social media platforms are set to become the new shopping channels where you can click through TikTok or Instagram to get directly to the website to purchase the products that you see there," Dr Torres said.

Zara and H&M were early adopters of omni channel commerce, Dr Torres explained.

"They don't distinguish between online sales or in store sales - in fact they understand that it is an iterative process.

"So for example, consumers might go to the website to do their research, then move to the in-store environment to try the product on to make their consideration, and then go back to the online environment to purchase," she said.

How can businesses adapt?

Dr Torres advised that businesses should follow consumers in their new decision journey.

"Learning how to market and communicate with customers at these relevant touch points and leveraging these touch points is essential for seamless product service and delivery.

"Whether consumers make that contact with your organisation online or offline, it really doesn’t matter - you need to find a way to communicate with them effectively and seamlessly," she added.

For businesses trying to reach Generation Z, Dr Torres said she believes social influencers will continue to play an important role.

"Firms are availing of user generated content and reverting to product creators or employee advocates and real consumers to talk about the products, so it less marketer controlled and more authentic to those users," she said.

These digital trends are emerging right across the world, but according to Dr Torres only time will tell how long they will last - and what the long-term impact will be on the retail landscape.