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Greenville Business Magazine

What Happened to Lipstick? And Other Pandemic Sales Stories

By Ashley Pastore

Marketing Representative, CORA Physical Therapy

Remember when we all thought this strange virus was going to disrupt our routine for a few weeks? Well, we circled the calendar and made it through another March, disruptions remain abound. I would say it was an unprecedented year, but I gave that word up as a New Year’s resolution, so please pick from: incomparable, unparalleled, or straight-up crazy. No business expert could have predicted someone proclaiming, “The rise in demand for protective acrylic sheet has become meteoric.”

Plexiglass sales had long been steady at best, shipping mostly to the automotive and construction industries, but began seeing an uptick last March. Then, orders began pouring in from retailers, offices, hospitals and public transport companies, all scrambling to find a way to shield employees from the coughing public. Some reports point to a threefold increase in demand and longer term, the industry predicts 15 - 20 percent annual growth – far beyond previous projections, which hovered in the low single digits.

As though a germaphobe flipped some switch, plexiglass, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, face masks and toilet paper sales swung upward overnight. South Carolinians are accustomed to seeing aisles wiped out of bread and milk when the weather forecaster utters, “snow,” but shelves empty of TP was an entirely new phenomenon. Clearly these were related to minimizing the spread of coronavirus, but what other industries were unpredictably affected by the pandemic and how?


In just a few months’ time, the Covid-19 crisis brought about years of change in the way all sectors of companies do business. Technology was called upon to preserve social community, workplace collaboration, distance learning, online sales, virtual doctor visits and digital payments, all the while keeping us e-entertained. The great screen-time debate will continue indefinitely, but there is no doubt social distancing was made possible by innovation and technology.

Online meeting providers existed prior to March 2020, but I never envisioned my grandmother jumping on Zoom to watch her great-granddaughter’s ballet recital. Microsoft saw daily users of its Teams software jump from 32 million to 44 million during March and Zoom saw its stock price surge by more than 100 percent in two months. Now that most companies have found a way to virtually connect, it is likely there will be more flexibility and remote working in the future.

Home Improvement

Feeling stuck, finally attacking that honey-do list (including things ONLY to be executed out of serious desperation, like my husband sorting and rolling over $1,000 in change by hand) and

saving money you would have spent on a vacation? Looks like money + time + boredom = the perfect storm for home remodeling! Houzz reported a 58 percent annual increase in project leads for home professionals last June. Kitchen and bath remodeling saw a 40 percent jump in demand, home extensions and additions grew 52 percent, and fence installation or repairs were up 166 percent.

All that sounds fantastic until you consider supply chain problems – shortages on everything from lumber to appliances to knowledgeable professionals who can do the work. Homeowners may have jumped quickly, but some experts predict spending will fall.

Outdoor Recreation

Have you tried to purchase a bicycle within the past 12 months? Better yet, did you find a bike to buy and feel like you won a Wonka Golden Ticket? Trampolines, snowmobiles, home fitness gear, RVs, boats, fishing and camping gear, stand-up paddle boards, hammocks, running shoes, golf equipment, kayaks, pools, etc… are all in a state of boom because there is nothing to do but be outside. Double that if you have kids. The PeopleForBikes coalition, a nonprofit group, says online bike purchases soared nearly 1,400 percent at the start of the health crisis in March and in-person sales climbed 41 percent year-to-date. Sales of bike parts, likewise, rose by 466 percent.

Though difficult to wholly enumerate the impact of this outdoor play surge, I think we can all agree it is a huge win for society. Last January, the Outdoor Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, reported fewer than 20 percent of Americans were recreating outside at least once a week. That is an estimated billion fewer outdoor activities a year compared to a decade earlier. Despite their own supply chain issues, people are finding hobbies and forming habits that could grow for years. Bonus, outside is free!

Health care

Emergency rooms have been slammed, ventilators are at a premium and scientists must have worked around the clock to produce a Covid-19 vaccine, but it has not been an entirely profitable time in health care. ConsumerMedical’s data analysis demonstrated that elective surgeries dropped by 65 percent year-over-year for the period of March to April. Also, during this time, there was a 35 percent decrease in physical therapy visits, 30 percent fewer office visits for surgery-related conditions and 41 percent fewer injections to manage pain.

The financial success of most hospitals heavily depends on providing well-reimbursed procedures, like elective orthopedic surgeries, to privately insured patients. Normally thought of as a stable industry, healthcare saw all types of clinicians being furloughed. When an anesthesiologist is worried about job security, you know something is amiss.

Hospitality & Tourism

While many industries will struggle to recover from the wake of this pandemic, travel and hospitality were among those hit the hardest. Airports are ghost towns (except those now home to wild animals) and international travel is all but dead. Around the globe, a collapse of the tourist economy has bankrupted hotels, restaurants, car rental and cruise companies - and thrown an estimated 100 million people out of work.

With uncertainty and fear hanging over travel, no one knows how quickly things will bounce back, whether we will still fly as much, and what the long-term scars on hospitality look like. That being said, I am definitely part of the “pent-up demand” who looks forward to injecting some capital into a beachside burger joint.

Whether it was finding supply to keep up with insane demand or trying to stay afloat while demand took a dive, agility to perform the pandemic pivot determined survival. Those who quickly adjusted and made accommodations, from telehealth appointments to outdoor dining in plastic igloos, have become another kind of Covid-19 survivor.

There are so many more interesting stories, like cardboard cutout orders blowing up (such quiet crowds at sporting events these days) and pet adoptions (animals have clearly won big over the past year), but I will wrap up with the product that sparked my thoughts for this column – lipstick. As I started wearing a mask everywhere, my lips went naked. Nobody saw my mouth and lipstick only smeared and stained the inside of my mask. I genuinely wondered, “Have lipstick sales crashed during the pandemic?”

Turns out the term ‘lipstick index’ was coined by Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, who used it as a barometer of consumer confidence during a recession. Consumers still spend money on small indulgences during economic downturns, an affordable pick-me-up. But like so much else, Covid-19 found a way to turn the lipstick effect on its head. Lipstick sales are down roughly 40-50 percent. On the upside, “above the mask” beauty has risen 150 percent, ushering in the era of a ‘mascara index.’

Key takeaway: identify the best way to pivot and highlight the assets you still have available.