Jigsaw Puzzle

The Surprising Big Bucks of Covid-19

Call me dull, and you wouldn’t be the first (today), but recently I tried to order a jigsaw (I know, probably the most high-octane start to any article you’ll read this week). Not only were there hardly any left (and most of those that were available were of suspiciously adult nature*), but those that were still for sale appeared to be listed at a far higher price than jigsaws were the last time I looked, at the beginning of lockdown, such was the demand. Jigsaws, it would appear, are like crack cocaine to people in lockdown. Partly relieved I wasn’t the only person giving in to something I’d always thought I wouldn’t be interested in until my retirement, and partly infuriated that I couldn’t get my latest fix, it also piqued my interest (dullness confirmed) as to what other businesses are thriving during lockdown.

In a previous BN1 article Barsha told us of a number of industries that are thriving, from the pharmaceuticals and telecommunications industries, to streaming services and online gaming. And far from being the only industries financially benefiting from our current situation, there are a number of, altogether more surprising sectors that are flourishing.

Hot tub with people
“Why are we laughing, there’s so much poo in here?”

For example, hot tubs are currently selling like equally hot cakes. With the sunniest Spring on record in the UK, and for much of that time, nowhere to enjoy it other than our gardens, people have been irritating their neighbours by snapping up hot tubs at an alarming rate. According to the Telegraph sales of hot tubs on eBay are up 490%, and almost every style has sold out at Argos, whilst other reports show a 1,600% rise in the UK hot tub business during the lockdown. Imagine how many neighbours are going to see things they can never unsee! Not that I’m jealous or anything, but for all those currently enjoying your new outdoor bubble bath, remember that there’s generally a spoonful of poo in each one.

Speaking of hot cakes (a while back now, but it still works), people are making cakes and breads more than ever. Yes, like a pancake flipped by an over enthusiastic Geoff Capes (ask your parents), sales of baking equipment have gone through the roof – or at least are left peeling off the ceiling. And of course, in today’s world, none of the things we make and bake at home matter at all unless they rack up a gazillion ‘likes’ (the most meaningless, laziest form of praise known to mankind, still inexplicably craved) from random strangers. So, naturally Instagram and all the others like it, are chock full of people’s mediocre-looking cakes and unidentifiable objects masked in icing: a proliferation which serves to self-perpetuate the baking craze, seeing a rise in baking equipment sales of over 49%.

Mini Victoria Sponge
Instagram it!

So, baking equipment sales have risen, and far more than the Victoria Sponges being crucified out there. But sales in other home-based hobbies and activities have risen even further. According to reports in May, beauty product sales are now up 110% year-on-year (we might not be able to go out on the town, but we can sure enjoy a face mask! Err… I hear), food and drink brands up 182% (although at one point, mid the shit-your-pants panic-buying at the beginning of lockdown, it was up at 405%), health and fitness equipment is up 85%, home and garden equipment 110%, and, in rather lovely news, the gift sector is enjoying an increase of 245% over last year.

Another industry that has benefited from the lockdown, and one that my lawyer has advised I pretend explain I know nothing about, is the sextech and sex toy sector. Enjoying a huge rise (easy!) in popularity since the lockdown, the industry is valued at $30 billion (£23.5 billion) and initial predictions of it growing to $122 billion (£95.5 billion) by 2026 may have to be reassessed. Doing some brief research, and providing myself with the perfect excuse for my browser history in the process, I see there have been increases in demand for anything ranging from vegan condoms and erotic audio apps to AI sex toys and sex dolls since lockdown began. We’re either all turned on by global suffering and the possibility of death, or we’re taking the opportunity to experiment more behind closed doors. And of course, if we’re not in a relationship, then sadly physical interaction isn’t going to happen with anyone any time soon, unless that someone is predominantly silicon and arrived in a box.

Ukulele, check. Stoopid hat, check. Slow-mo walk through wheat field, check.

Related to this titillating upturn, and perhaps more surprising, is the significant increase in people using online dating services during lockdown. It’s predicted that by 2040 70% of relationships will have their inception in online communication, which is both oddly frightening and strangely comforting. And it seems we’re taking a giant step towards that figure during lockdown, as Plenty of Fish, eHarmony and Tinder have all reported increased usage. And users are becoming increasingly creative with how they spend their time online with potential partners, sharing virtual drinks, cooking together over Zoom/Skype, attending virtual gigs, and even (and I couldn’t think of a quicker way to turn somebody off me) online gym dates. I suppose if you can’t pump each other, pumping iron’s a good metaphor…

Moving out of the bedroom (or staying in, depending what you’re into), producers of musical instruments are another example of businesses that are finding the silver lining in all of this. In particular, guitar and ukulele sales are exploding. And don’t be put off by hipsters walking around with their acoustic guitars slung casually over their shoulder or clutching their ukulele close to their plaid shirts and unrequired braces, they’re only props to tick the last box on their How to Look Like All the Other Versions of Me checklist. If you’re interested in taking either up, we’re spoiled for choice here in Brighton with GAK, Brighton Guitars, and Ackerman Music just three of the many excellent music shops in the city to choose from.

In a more alarming new trend, people are buying more pets than ever, possibly, and quite understandably, in an effort to combat loneliness. As a result, much like my jigsaw discovery (which must seem like a life time ago to you as well as me!), prices have skyrocketed. With the average price of a puppy doubling and waiting lists quadrupling, the UK is, in a sentence I never thought I’d write, facing a puppy shortage! The RSPCA has warned we should think before taking the plunge into pet-ownership though, reminding us that, although we have a lot of time at home now, this won’t always be the case. To paraphrase an old chestnut, “A puppy’s for life, not just for lockdown.”

Drive-in movie
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”

Whilst all these upward trends are being seen in the UK, one that is synonymous with the US, but perhaps should come over to these shores is the comeback of drive-in movies. According to the Los Angeles Times drive-ins have been open for business in California (as well as Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri), and many have been reporting record ticket sales. With easy social distancing measures, yet still the feeling that you’re taking part in something community-based and supporting a local business, could the drive-in movies be about to have their golden hour? And, if the record Spring here in the UK continues into the summer, could we see this most American of pastimes finally catch on here?

Five predictions for other industries to experience a boom in sales:

  • Space travel – was it just me or did we all look on wistfully as those astronauts in the SpaceX shuttle did the sensible thing and left earth?
  • Stretch limousines – allowing us to social distance in our own cars.
  • Whoever upgrades the standard yardstick to the newly appropriate two-yardstick.
  • Green paint manufacturers – so we can all paint our walls and make hilarious backdrops on our Zoom calls.
  • Hula hoop flares – with a rigid diameter of one metre per leg, this is the casual and stylish way of maintaining social distancing that will soon be taking the catwalk by storm.

*= I bought them all.

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