How to work out what to sell

It is always important in retail to keep an eye on consumer trends and to make sure your product selection follows demands while staying true to your core business values. However, it is rare that businesses have to pivot at the speed at which they are required to do so currently. Many retail businesses are waking up to the reality of falling demand, even if their business had been thriving prior to the impact of Covid-19.

Finding what will still sell during a crisis is an exercise in consumer psychology and observing trends around you. Meet your customer where they are now and it is not too hard to identify what will still be selling.

In this article, I outline a few of the ways that you can work out what to sell if you decide to pivot quickly.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

A simple place to start is by imagining your ideal customer. How has their life changed? What are they going to be thinking about now? If all selling relates to solving your customer’s problems, then what problems are they solving right now?

It’s fairly easy to imagine what the fears and worries are facing your ideal customer because they are probably your own. So tap into how you are feeling, and from that, work out what new problems and pain points that your customer has, and how your products could solve them.

Now is a great time to be a listener on social media. What are people talking about? What are they joking about? What are they worried about?

Watch who is still selling

Chances are you follow a lot of other businesses on social media. Who is still selling and what are they promoting? Who is still running ads? What products are featured in those? Of course you can’t know what they are really selling but you can get an idea from what they are leading with.

Use research tools

Google Trends is an easy way for you to check how searches for certain products are trending. If you have an idea of a product that you want to try, you can easily see data on how many people are currently searching for it.

There are many other tools both paid and free that will give you search volumes – a great way to sense check what your gut is telling you.

Here are some areas that you may want to consider:

Food and essentials

This one goes without saying. Food and household goods are the hottest commodities around. There is a real lack of availability for online delivery slots from the big supermarkets as they cope with an overwhelming rise in demand, meaning that businesses who are not normally in the home delivery game are stepping in.

Wholesale food companies who have been hit by restaurant closures and the collapse of demand in that area are now turning to direct to consumer deliveries. Many are offering either a full range of essentials or pre-made boxes.

Even service providers such as a company who normally pick up and drop off laundry and dry cleaning are now adding essential food box deliveries to their options.

With increasing numbers of people showing symptoms and avoiding leaving the house under any circumstances, the number of deliveries needed will only keep growing in the upcoming weeks. Anyone with existing delivery capabilities can now consider how they can switch these to accommodate basic necessities if desired.

Craft and home activities

On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a big spike in interest in crafting and creative activities. Google Trends shows that searches for “kids craft kits” are up 200% in the last few days. As parents look for ways to entertain children home from school, crafting supplies and kits will continue to be very popular.

Not just for children either – many people in self isolation are looking to find ways to escape and unplug. Craft kits for adults are also trending as people seek to learn new skills and avoid screens with the endless cycle of news.

Handmade businesses are also pivoting – some are selling off their supplies to boost revenue, finding that the market for fabric and other craft supplies is more buoyant than ever. Other businesses are repackaging the items that they might previously have sold as finished products into DIY kits with instructions as people look for projects to keep them busy.

Another area of growth has been home activities such as board games and jigsaws. Anything to keep people entertained during their confinement will be seen as a wise investment.


Another pivot has been an increased focus on gifting items. As people cannot spend physical time together during lockdown, there has been an increase in sending gifts and even hampers to friends and relatives.

Many businesses are increasing their gift wrapping and gift note options. Allowing customers to pay for the item to be nicely wrapped and to include a handwritten card with their purchase is an easy way to make life easier for customers and to encourage continued purchasing.

Gifting can cover a wide variety of product types, but there is a definite focus on small luxuries to make this time more bearable. Not to forget self-gifting either – there is a phenomenon known as the “lipstick effect” where people are more likely to purchase small treats for themselves during difficult times.

Businesses that meet their customers where they are and acknowledge the need for comfort during this difficult time will still find a receptive audience when it comes to purchasing small luxuries.

This is especially true when these luxuries can support and enhance the experience of being at home – whether that’s cashmere lounge socks or comforting relaxed clothing, people are in full “cocooning” mode.

Motivational items

Another strand to gifting is the importance of motivational/encouraging items and messaging during this difficult time. In the same way that people want to buy products that encourage creativity and mindfulness, they also want to give (and receive) items that have encouraging messages or can be used for motivational purposes.

Items such as encouraging art prints or gratitude journals are still of interest to the customer navigating the current crisis.

Businesses in this sector that have the capability to print on demand or create new designs quickly will benefit from updating their slogans that are in line with current sentiment.

Home equipment

As people adjust to life in lockdown, there have been increases in purchases of various types of equipment that are allowing people to continue with their everyday activities but at home.

This covers several areas such as:

  • gym equipment – searches for “home gym kit” were up 350%
  • big ticket items like trampolines or ping pong tables
  • kids play equipment
  • hairdressing supplies from scissors to hair dye
  • beauty supplies for home treatments
  • coffee machines
  • bread makers

Businesses that can provide customers with an experience at home that they normally would have to leave the house for are definitely at an advantage at this time.

This is a selection of some of the product areas still selling during this time. For some businesses, pivoting is simply not possible given their lead times and current disruption in the supply chain. However, for some, they will be able to re-assess their current product range and make adjustments to meet their customers where they are right now.