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Will Americans 'revenge shop' to get back at COVID-19?

Rachel Hutton, Star Tribune on

Published in Fashion Daily News

MINNEAPOLIS — Tamara Waterston, the Minneapolis style influencer behind the blog "Champagne + Macaroons," calls in-person shopping "a form of therapy." As a mother of young kids, Waterston considered a solo trip to Target a favorite form of pre-pandemic relaxation. She also loved showing off the area's unique, independent shops to out-of-town guests.

But all that has been on hold for the past year. "I hugely miss it," she said. "I miss seeing people's smiles. I miss talking to strangers."

Retailers hope others with a similar mind-set will soon engage in what some call "revenge shopping." That those who curbed their discretionary spending for the past year will open their pent-up wallets and splurge. That they'll make up for lost time as vaccines roll out and in-person activity resumes.

Waterston is among many fashion enthusiasts who say they're ready to debut new duds after padding about in loungewear for a year. "I miss putting on my heels," she said. "I put on a dress the other day because I said, 'I need to wear a dress — I need it for my mental sanity.' "

Waterston said she's amused by the term "revenge shopping" and the suggestion that it could be a form of pandemic payback. "Are we breaking up with the coronavirus?" she joked. "That sounds amazing!"

For decades, "revenge shopping" has been used to describe a wife spending money that her husband earned as passive-aggressive retaliation for being slighted or wronged. (Among the most famous examples were allegations that baseball star Alex Rodriguez's soon-to-be ex-wife jetted off to Paris and charged $100,000 to his credit cards after accusing him of affairs.)

 

The term doesn't quite make sense in the current context, considering that post-pandemic spending on goods or vacations (dubbed "revenge travel") won't harm a virus in the same way as, say, bleach.

Yet there is an element of truth behind the marketing lingo, as people who formerly spent regularly on apparel, restaurants, entertainment and travel saved money when they stayed home. Many now want to treat themselves after enduring a difficult year.

While the pandemic financially devastated many Americans, plenty are flush with cash. The stock market ended 2020 at record highs and many who have remained employed socked away extra funds. Even those struggling may spend their stimulus checks; after funds were issued in late 2020, retail sales jumped a few percent in January.

Some Asian countries reported a post-lockdown uptick in retail spending, especially for luxury items. In April 2020, the day that the Hermès store in Guangzhou, China, reopened, it did a record $2.7 million in sales. In February, the National Retail Federation, the American industry's trade association, predicted retail sales would grow 6 to 8% in 2021.

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