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5 Ways We Passed Time While Social Distancing

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April 2020

5 Ways We Passed Time While Social Distancing

As social distancing became the norm in March 2020, people across the U.S. drastically changed their routines. By analyzing the types of products purchased in the weeks that followed mandated social distancing orders, we can offer a glimpse of the ways people planned to pass time during this new reality.


For those fortunate enough to be able to work or learn from home, productivity hardware was critical in March. “In response to this new reality facing many people today, the technology market has pivoted its focus to at-home productivity and is seeing historic sales in select hardware and accessory categories,” said Stephen Baker, vice president, technology industry advisor.

The shift to working from home breathed new life into previously struggling categories, such as web cameras, which grew 226% in the five weeks ending April 4. Additionally, computer monitor sales more than doubled during that period. Mice and keyboard sales grew 52% and 65%, respectively.

“Although growth is beginning to level off, in the dash to equip their homes for distance connections consumers paid more attention, and allocated more funds, to getting their new home office setup right, likely anticipating that this environment would extend for quite a while,” Baker added.

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“As communities practiced social distancing and observed stay-at-home orders in much of the country, many people turned to video games as a means of finding connections. Whether together on the couch playing locally or playing online, gaming generated increased engagement, which has resulted in corresponding increases in consumer spend,” said Mat Piscatella, games industry analyst.

Nine of the top 10 best-selling video games of March 2020 posted higher dollar sales than similarly ranked titles a year ago. Dollar sales of tracked video game software grew to $739 million, the highest total for a March month since 2011. Hardware spending in March 2020 grew to $461 million, and first-quarter hardware spending increased by 2%, to $773 million. Total March 2020 spending on accessories and game cards reached $397 million, a record high for accessories and game cards in a March month.

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Hands-on Activities

From board games to crafts, activity-based categories for entertainment and hands-on learning grew rapidly in the week ending March 21.

“Consumers prepared for their families’ survival over an extended period by stocking up on the basic necessities, but as schools and workplaces closed, Phase Two of the big scramble began. U.S. parents loaded up on things to keep their kids occupied at home, help them navigate the new homeschooling situation, be a source of entertainment for the whole family as they spend more time at home,” said Juli Lennett, toys industry advisor.

Total toy sales in the U.S. grew by 26% in the week ending March 21. The fastest-growing category was games/puzzles (+228%), driven by family board/action, card, and children's games. Building sets (+76%) and arts and crafts (+70%), primarily craft kits and reusable compounds, also were among the fastest-growing categories.

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As late March approached, it was clear consumers had entered into a mode of adjusted living. Do-it-yourself was a strong theme as consumers took care of their needs while avoiding social contact. It drove sales growth in many home appliance categories in late March. During the week ending March 21, nearly 80% of the kitchen electric categories we track showed year-over-year growth, and more than two-thirds grew by double digits — products like compact refrigerators, hot plates, waffle irons/sandwich makers, and specialty coffee/espresso makers. Even personal care, which struggled overall, had a bright spot in home hair clippers: 33% in dollar gains. This was a significant change from the prior week when just a handful of categories showed growth.

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Showing Gratitude

“To spread kindness and make connections with one another while practicing social distancing, consumers were creative in how they interacted with others. In the weeks after social distancing began, trending activities included rainbow scavenger hunts, kindness art and messaging, stained glass sidewalk chalk art, chalk games, and car parade celebrations where consumers made signs for one another,” said Leen Nsouli, office supplies analyst. Chalk sales grew by 56%, and writing instruments including window/glass markers (+146%) and color markers (+81%) shot up in the week ending March 21.

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For more on consumption trends in this challenging environment, visit our COVID-19 insights page.

Source: The NPD Group/Retail Tracking Service