Online mask sales jump as Delta variant spreads

Online mask sales jump as Delta variant spreads
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Sales of reusable face masks, which had started to cool down earlier in the summer, have reversed course as the Delta variant spreads across the United States.

Weekly mask sales in dollars had been declining in June and into July, according to Adobe Analytics’ Digital Economy Index, which tracks sales data directly from a majority of the top 100 US web retailers. They’ve been rising since the week beginning July 21. According to the latest data, mask sales for the week beginning Aug. 4 were up 40% over the prior week.

More than 98% of US residents now live in an area where there is a “high” or “substantial” risk of Covid-19 community transmission, up from 19% of residents only a month ago, with the sharp turn driven in large part by the highly infectious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in many regions.

The fast spread of the Delta variant has also led to an alarming number of average new coronavirus cases in the US increasing ninefold since the beginning of July, and hospitalizations to be at their highest rate since February.

“The mask buying behavior that we saw last year into the pandemic is back,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst with Adobe Digital Insights. “As information about the number of new cases and hospitalizations become known, consumers are reacting to it.”

Some sellers see a pickup

Last year, the pandemic turned reusable face masks into a wardrobe staple. Sellers big and small benefited from the trend. Etsy said cloth masks had erupted into the hottest new product category on its platform last summer with as many as 110,000 sellers on its marketplace having sold as many as 29 million face masks, totaling $346 million in the second quarter of 2020.

But earlier in the summer season, an easing of mask-wearing guidelines from the US government, along with a rise in vaccination rates and falling Covid-19 cases, prompted a cooling of mask sales for some sellers.

New masks orders for Etsy seller Gabriela Henriquez had plunged as much as 70% in early May the day after the CDC announced on May 13 that people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances.

The CDC has since revised those guidelines in response to the threat of the Delta variant, urging vaccinated people in certain areas of the country to resume wearing masks indoors in public areas.

Henriquez, who made $212,000 in mask sales in 2020 from her Etsy store LittleLadyAHomemade, was ready to move on from masks to other business ideas for her Etsy store.

But now she’s back to making face masks again.

Last year, during her peak month of April, she was selling 200 masks a day and making about $1,500 in daily sales. “Our average for the past 30 days is 500-700 masks a day and making daily sales of about $5,000,” said Henriquez, adding that she hired five people last month to ramp up mask production because of demand. Henriquez has currently priced her masks at $9 to $10.99 per mask. That’s double the price she was charging for them last year.

At their Etsy shop MamaShawStitchery, Jacki Shaw and her daughter Katie are seeing increased weekly orders for weekly cloth sales in July through August compared to May when their masks sales were cooling off to a handful of weekly orders. “We’re making at least 100 [cloth] masks a week and lately the orders are for multiple masks in one order,” said Katie.

Half of the mask orders are for kids masks, said Jacki, who sews all of the masks. “This might be because of back to school, too,” said Katie.

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