The luggage category had a hard 2020. With travel heavily restricted, brands like Away and Rimowa saw a huge drop in sales. But now, with vaccinations rolling out and travel (slowly) returning, luggage brands are anticipating a return to growth over the next two quarters.
The category saw more than 80% of its sales dry up in the first three months of the pandemic, according to an NPD report from spring of 2020. And many luggage brands made an effort to transform their businesses overnight. Sara Banks, founder of SteamLine Luggage, said that, pre-pandemic, the brand’s sales were 70% of large luggage and 30% of handheld bags. From March to November 2020, that ratio flipped to 30% luggage and 70% handheld.
SteamLine also refocused its marketing efforts, shifting more resources from social media ads to email marketing and changing the content to focus on how its high-end trunks could be used as in-home storage and not solely as something to use while traveling. Banks said those shifts helped the brand dodge some of the impacts of the pandemic. It wound up seeing just a 14% decline in sales in between March and November. SteamLine actually had 12% more transactions in 2020, compared to 2019, though the average order value was lower.
Banks said the luggage category is primed to make a comeback over the next two quarters, particularly in markets outside the U.S. While her brand did about 80% of its business in the U.S. prior to the pre-pandemic, that number shrank to 60% in 2020. It saw 14% year-over-year sales growth in the U.K. and a 31% boost in Australia. Banks is now considering opening another distribution center in Australia to alleviate the high shipping costs to that market.
Based on Australian consumers’ behavior, moving forward, people in the U.S. and U.K. “will be more thoughtful about their travel, and there will be less place-hopping and more staying in one place for longer,” she said.
Early in the pandemic, travel and luggage brand Beis expected to see sales down by 45% in 2020, but it ended the year with revenue up 159% from the year prior by refocusing its marketing on its non-travel bags. 2020 DTC sales of its weekender bag were four-times the previous year’s sales, and sales of its totes doubled. Beis launched in 2018.
Beis’ president and CEO Adeela Hussain Johnson said she believes the tail-end of the summer leading into fall will see a resurgence of travel, albeit domestic only. Accordingly, she said the brand is gearing up to ramp up its luggage production by fall. It will introduce new models that are either very small or very large, reflecting the two types of travel Johnson expects to see in the next year: short frequent trips or extended stays in a single location, fueled by the consumers’ new ability to work from home while traveling.