Working from Home, Consumers Turn to Housewares, Home Office PurchasesNEW YORK—With many consumers in their second or even third weeks of working from home across the U.S., they are spending more time in their kitchens and home offices, and as a result, those categories are among those that have seen recent upticks in sales.

While NPD’s  U.S. consumption trends for early March was similar to last year’s period (the week ending Mar. 7 saw 2 percent dollar growth overall), Chief Industry Advisor Marshal Cohen expected that to change over the next two reporting weeks, as trends have begun to emerge.

Already growth in small appliances was seen for the week ending Mar. 7, as more people are focusing on cooking and cleaning, said Cohen. “This is likely to continue as these products offer assistance with living a socially distant and healthy lifestyle.”

Wayfair has also seen housewares perform well recently, said John Costello, spokesperson. Sales across kitchen and storage grew about 50 percent year over year, and small electrics increased more than 100 percent year over year, he said.

Home office has also been strong for Wayfair, which has seen sales from work-from-home staples such as desks, office chairs, chairmats, office stools, safes and office sets accelerate. “Our growth rate has increased five times in desks and office chairs this month when compared to the past three months,” Costello said.

At Overstock, categories such as office case goods, electronics and crafts and music have seen sales upticks in recent weeks, said Ron Hilton, chief sourcing and operations officer. “I think that we are all anxious to find things to do as we make an effort to fill our days with activities from home, so we’ve seen an uptick in categories with items that might offer customers entertainment.

“Ultimately, we are here to serve our customers and with our site infrastructure, we are able to shift from selling outdoor furniture one week to health essentials and freezers the next,” Hilton told HFN. “It is crucial that we continue to focus on what the customer is looking for. This is one of the reasons we recently opened free shipping on every order sitewide.”

Within its core business categories—home goods and furnishings—mattresses, area rugs, bar stools and accent chairs in particular continue to grow, along with patio furniture, Hilton said. And over the last few weeks, consumers have searched more for freezers, exercise equipment and office chairs as well.

“We are seeing traffic spikes throughout all periods of the day and our conversion has seen a marked increase. Our weekends in particular have seen a larger percent of the business,” Hilton said.

RTA furniture company Walker Edison, whose business is 100 percent online and partners with retailers such as Wayfair and Amazon, said business has been up substantially this month. Home office pieces, storage items and surprisingly, patio furniture have been particularly strong, said CEO Brad Bonham. Patio furniture sales are up 120 percent compared to this time last year. Bonham surmised that as people work from home they’ve had time to survey their surroundings and want to improve them.

Walker Edison’s business has been so strong that it is in the process of hiring people for business analysis and business intelligence positions, among other spots. It has hired 35 people so far this year and plans to hire another 70 by the end of the year, Bonham said.

NPD’s Cohen added that janitorial supplies such as disinfectant wipes and cleaners are driving double-digit dollar gains. “Work-from-home supplies will be the next strong priority to benefit this industry.”

“Our focus has shifted dramatically. Fear has moved purchases from discretionary to necessity. We are thinking more about finding solutions than fulfilling desires.”

Consumers are stocking up on cleaning supplies as well as embarking on fixing up and maintaining their homes, and Lowe’s has seen increases in almost every category, CEO Marvin Ellison told CNBC this Wednesday.

“As customers are sheltering in place, they’re looking at that deferred list of home projects,” Ellison said. “As they spend time around the home, they now have more time on their hands to tackle some of those things.”

Ellison praised Lowe’s employees, as they are delivering products, fixing leaky pipes and other issues. “We’ve had hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and our associates are first to respond and first to give back to the community. In their minds, this is no different because they know if there’s a customer who’s coming in and they need a freezer because they purchased a lot of food products, we need to have the ability to get it to them and deliver it for them.”

“They know that we have to be there because even though this is a crisis for our country and community, if your home is not functional that adds additional stress.”

But it’s not all work and no play. Recreational sales are outpacing previous years, at up more than 160 percent year over year, Costello said. And backyard play products such as trampolines, swing sets, playhouses and lawn games have increased almost 200 percent year over year, he said. Game Room items such as table tennis, air hockey tables and shuffleboards have been up more than 80 percent year over year.

Cohen added that athletic footwear turned positive during the first week and he expects to see tech and toys to grow with the opportunities those categories have. Other shifts include the boost to buy-online-pick-up curbside options and the supply chain shifting its priorities to urgent replenishment needs.

“We are in the midst of unprecedented times,” said Cohen. “Work, family, social, health and emotional well-being have all instantaneously changed. This disruption to our entire lifestyle will most certainly change our short- and long-term behavior as consumers.”