Will Minnesotans ‘revenge shop’ to get back at COVID?

Tamara Waterston, the Minneapolis style influencer behind the blog “Champagne + Macaroons,” calls in-person shopping

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.

The comeback in Minnesota has been more modest, so far. On a recent Friday afternoon at the Galleria shopping center in Edina, the restaurants were relatively full, the shops less so. Those who had purchases carried just a bag or two.

Outside the Louis Vuitton store, Lola Cole of White Bear Lake was making a rare in-store purchase (a bag she’d wanted to celebrate her recent birthday wasn’t available online), which she felt comfortable doing now that she’s been vaccinated. “It feels good everything is coming back a little bit,” she said.

Angie Lubenow of Medina was out to shop and have lunch with a friend — an activity they’d just resumed since they’d both had vaccines.

Lubenow bought new shoes and sunglasses for an upcoming trip and said she was happy to see what new trends were on display, especially at small independent shops, as well as feel fabrics and try things on. “I don’t know how many things we bought and returned,” she said of her year of internet shopping. “We adapted well to online, but I would prefer to shop in person.”

More shoppers in stores

MartinPatrick3, the luxe North Loop boutique, started to see a noticeable uptick in store traffic in March, according to CEO Dana Swindler. Especially after restaurants returned to 75% capacity, mid-month, and more walk-ins came off the sidewalks.

Swindler said recent MP3 shoppers have mentioned wanting to have new clothes as they anticipate going out and traveling more. Some have found that things they bought online don’t fit well, or they want to support smaller stores that are oriented to in-person purchases.

Although MP3’s apparel sales have skewed more casual in recent months, Swindler said, interest in formal wear has increased as suit-wearing workers return to their offices and event season is poised to kick off. “Weddings are going to be a major driver for the next six months,” he predicted.

No Carrie Bradshaw

Daune Stinson, owner of June upscale resale shop at 50th and France, said she’s seen an increase in shoppers in the past few weeks, many of whom say they’ve received vaccines.

“They feel much more comfortable and hopeful that things are moving faster back to normal, whatever that is,” she said. “They’ve spent money on their houses, they’ve spent money on their pets, on their kids, on transportation, or setting up home offices, so now they’re kind of looking back at themselves.”

After a year marked by monotony and malaise, Stinson said shoppers see new apparel as a way to inject excitement as they anticipate everything from vacations to dates to a return to the office.

So far, at least, there’s little indication that Minnesotans will be shopping with a vengeance, buying out the boutiques à la Carrie Bradshaw, the shopaholic “Sex and the City” character.

But Stinson says local shoppers have never been known for spontaneously spending on frivolous things. “People will put down the money — there’s a lot of quiet money around here — but it has to be functional,” she explained.

Swindler, of MP3, says that even Minnesotans who could afford whatever they want don’t spend to show status the way they do in other parts of the country.

In Dallas, where Swindler spent nearly two decades, he saw wealthy residents flaunt their designer clothing and accessories, new cars and big houses. By comparison, Minnesota’s luxury shoppers are less brand-conscious, he said.

Perhaps befitting the home of cheap-chic retailer Target, they take a mixed approach of pairing pricey items with inexpensive ones. “They are way more low-key about it,” he said.

Although Swindler isn’t expecting his customers to shop with abandon, he’s cautiously optimistic about the future. “Some people are saying it’ll be like the Roaring ’20s again,” Swindler said. “I would love that to be the case, but we’ll see.”

Rachel Hutton • 612-673-4569

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