DIY a bright spot for consumer spending in Europe and US amid Covid-19 gloom

DIY shops have been seeing a boom in sales amid the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Many retailers have been caught off-guard by coronavirus restrictions and shifting consumer habits, but DIY stores are enjoying a boom as people spend money on their homes and gardens.

A recent report by consulting group McKinsey found that faced with a prolonged period of financial uncertainty due to the pandemic, consumers "intend to continue shifting their spending largely to essentials... and cutting back on most discretionary categories".

Data has shown consumers worldwide are cutting back on clothing and shoes, but spending more to improve their homes.

In Britain, the sector has helped consumer spending overall to rebound to a level higher than before the pandemic hit.

"Spending for home improvements continued to rise in August as sales volumes within household goods stores increased by 9.9 per cent when compared with February," Britain's Office for National Statistics said this month.

This should not come as too much of a surprise, as people are spending more time at home, and even when not under lockdown, many people are working from home or have fewer public activities to participate in.

A recent survey carried out in 20 countries by consulting firm Accenture found that more than two-thirds of respondents expect that most of their social activities will take place at their home or that of a friend.

The unease and concern that many people now feel in public spaces may push a lasting shift towards people spending more time at home, with Accenture even calling it a "decade of the home".

Certainly, many Germans have used coronavirus downtime to "repair, refurbish and decorate their homes", the country's BHB trade association for home improvement, building and gardening said in a recent report.

Sales in the sector rose by 15.6 per cent year on year to nearly €12 billion (S$19 billion) over the first half of 2020, boosted by the fact that many do-it-yourself stores and garden centres were allowed to stay open during virus lockdowns.

Paint and painting accessories proved most popular, according to the trade body, with sales climbing by 37.6 per cent.

Garden furniture was another favourite, it said, seeing a 21 per cent sales jump.

DIY retailers have been reporting surging sales.

A major DIY chain in the United States, Lowe's, saw comparable sales rise by 34.2 per cent in its second quarter that ended on July 31 - a period when restrictions were still in place in some states.

"Sales were driven by a consumer focus on the home, core repair and maintenance activities, and wallet share shift away from other discretionary spending," said Lowe's chief executive Marvin Ellison when announcing the results.

Kingfisher, which has several DIY and home furnishing chains in France, Britain and Ireland, said that after an initial dip, sales quickly recovered and are still rising.

"The Covid-19 crisis touched our sales in the first quarter, but we saw a strong rebound in the second, a trend which is continuing in the third quarter at all of our chains and in all segments," said Kingfisher chief executive Thierry Garnier.

Consumers have shifted a lot of their buying online, a trend that is helping ManoMano, an online-only French DIY retailer.

"In February, we were at €50 million in sales volume and in April we were at €200 million, so you see the acceleration," the site's co-founder, Mr Christian Raisson, told AFP.

"We'll more than double the €620 million in sales we had last year."

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