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Stockpiling Germaphobes Ignite Unlikely Boom: Appliances

Skyrocketing sales of freezers and pasta makers show how the American home is being reshaped by the coronavirus.

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Illustration: Richard Chance

In the coronavirus era, stuck-at-home Americans are loading up on more than just bread makers. Take Peter Camardella, the 63-year-old owner of a small appliance store in Pelham, New York. He couldn’t find a deep freezer for his own daughter after his shop sold out.

“Customers have bought one, and they already have two or three,” Camardella said. “Many buyers are afraid of food shortages.”

Even as personal spending in the U.S. plunged the most on record amid stay-at-home orders, people bought all kinds of appliances. Sales from March 15 to April 11 rose for about 70% of the 88 subcategories for home and kitchen goods tracked by market researcher NPD Group. Some of the gains were just staggering, including electric pasta makers (462%), soda machines (283%), handheld cleaning devices (284%), water filtration machines (152%) and air purifiers (144%). The much-written-about baking trend also showed up, with purchases of those bread makers surging more than sixfold.

Lockdown life has forced people to rethink their homes, as they have morphed into spaces where schooling, working, exercising, inventory-stockpiling and germ avoidance are new, high-stakes activities. If history is a guide, that won’t change when the world returns to some semblance of normal, according to Ian Bell, a researcher with Euromonitor International. After Brexit and the Cape Town water shortage, people didn’t fall back into a “psychology of abundance” once the crisis passed, he said in a recent presentation. That portends a major shift toward appliances, including adding more space for refrigeration and food storage. 

“It won't be business as usual,” Bell said.