8 Things People Have Stopped Buying (and Why)

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Consumer behavior occasionally seems to change on a whim. Other times, though, what people are buying — or not buying — can be explained by major forces affecting the economy.

Today’s shopping trends can largely be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic and the historic inflation that followed. These unprecedented forces have propelled consumers on a spending rollercoaster over the last five years, and the often-rough ride isn’t over yet.

Shopping behavior changed in strange and conspicuous ways during the early months of the pandemic. (Think: skyrocketing sales of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.) More recently, the impact has been subtler, often involving a scaling-back in purchases that were incredibly popular not long ago.

Here are eight expenses U.S. consumers are shying away from lately, sometimes in dramatic fashion:

Barbecue grills

Outdoor barbecue grill sales began declining in 2022, and a serious slump continues in 2024, according to a range of sources recently cited by CNN and Realtor.com. Confusingly, the main reason why sales are flagging appears to be that the industry was booming not long ago.

During the early months of the pandemic, grill sales were, well, red-hot. People spent more time at home, and they often had money to burn thanks to stimulus checks and the absence of expenses like work commutes and restaurant bills. They cooked more, and it was easy to justify the purchase of a new grill or smoker.

A report from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association noted that as of late 2021, an all-time high 80% of U.S. homeowners owned a grill or smoker, and 38% of them purchased a new grill since the start of the pandemic. Since grills tend to last five years or more, these people have little reason to buy a new one now.

The upside for shoppers is that major stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s may have a surplus of grills this year and be more likely to offer deep discounts on them. This could especially be the case toward the end of summer, when retailers traditionally put grills on sale to coincide with declining demand as peak barbecue season passes.

In-ground pools

High borrowing costs, pinched family budgets and general unaffordability in the housing market are among the factors causing a big drop in the installation of backyard pools — which typically cost $50,000 and up.

Axios recently cited a forecast estimating that roughly 60,000 in-ground residential pools will be built this year. That would be about half as many installed in 2021.

Pool Corp., which bills itself as the largest distributor of swimming pool supplies in the world, has seen its stock price drop about 25% so far in 2024, and it’s down 35% over the last three years.

RVs

You may be sensing a pattern: The recreational vehicle (RV) industry was yet another one whose success rode high during the pandemic before retreating significantly as life returned to “normal.”

As Americans sought safe escapes from boredom at home, RV shipments — meaning products delivered to retailers for sale — rose from 406,000 in 2019 to 430,000 in 2020 before spiking to an all-time high of more than 600,000 in 2021, per the RV Industry Association. But they’ve declined since, dipping last year to 313,000, the lowest tally in over a decade.

The industry expects shipments to rebound slightly in 2024, with forecasts calling for a total of about 350,000. While sales are up from last year for towable trailers, shipments of motor homes — more expensive RVs that come with their own engines and often require financing — are down 23% so far in 2024.

To boost sales (particularly among first-time buyers), RV manufacturers are introducing lower-priced models, and dealerships are more inclined to negotiate or offer discounts. “That first-time buyer is probably more affected by inflation — they’re paying more for the fuel at the gas station and the food at the grocery store — so they’re hurting a little bit,” one Texas-based RV dealership executive explained to the trade publication RV Business. “Interest rates have hurt that buyer probably more than the cash buyer or the high-end buyer.”

Nonessentials

Consumers are cutting back on a wide range of nonessential goods this year, a report from the management consulting firm McKinsey finds. But it’s not because people are suddenly seeing the wisdom of frugality and mindful spending. Instead, researchers say that people are pulling back because they’re paying higher prices for essentials like pet food, groceries and gas — and something’s got to give in the household budget.

“We expect to see the biggest decrease in quarterly spending on international flights, hotel and resort stays, and cruises,” the report states. “Consumers also said they plan to reduce their home-related spending, such as on furniture and décor.”

Peloton

Peloton was undeniably a pandemic success story: Sales of its trendy (and pricey) exercise equipment and subscriptions skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021, as did the company’s stock price.

Now it looks like Peloton was largely just a fad whose time in the spotlight is rapidly fading. The company has announced multiple rounds of layoffs as sales plunged — down 34% versus two years ago. At last check, Peloton shares were selling for under $4 apiece, compared to a peak over $160 in early 2021.

Plant-based meat

Consumer spending on plant-based meat and seafood decreased by 13% over a recent two-year period, the nonprofit Good Food Institute reports. That figure, which is based on total dollars spent, may actually underestimate how much plant-based meat has fallen out of favor. Sales by unit of plant-based meats and seafood — i.e., the number of items purchased — is down by 26% over that time span.

The discrepancy stems from the fact that these foods are significantly more expensive than the groceries they’re meant to replicate. And it’s the high cost of plant-based meat that’s partly to blame for the falloff in sales: “Surveys of lapsed consumers showed that plant-based meat products are largely not meeting consumer expectations, particularly in regard to taste, texture, and price,” the Good Food Institute report states.

In related news, Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, recently said that test runs of a meatless “McPlant” burger in Dallas and San Francisco were a failure.

“I don’t think the U.S. consumer is coming to McDonald’s or looking for a McPlant or other plant-based proteins from McDonald’s now,” Erlinger told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re looking for great french fries. They’re looking for a $5 meal deal.”

Mattresses

The number of mattresses and foundations sold in the U.S. fell by about 15% from 2021 to 2022, and then they decreased another 8% from 2022 to 2023, reports from the International Sleep Products Association show. The association forecasts sales to fall another 4% this year.

At the same time, most Americans seem desperate for more sleep. A Gallup poll reported a record-high 57% of people said they’d feel better with more sleep, compared to only 43% a decade ago. Why aren’t these sleep-deprived consumers buying new mattresses to help the cause?

The cycle of shopper behavior over the past few years offers an explanation. Basically, people devoted a ton of money to mattresses and bedding at the start of the pandemic. Shoppers justified mattress upgrades in 2020 because they were spending so much more time at home and wanted to be comfortable. Many others escaped small city apartments and purchased homes that had more rooms that needed new beds.

As Philip Krim, then-CEO of mattress brand Casper, told USA Today in 2020, “It is a great time to be in the mattress business.”

People who purchased mattresses in 2020 or 2021 are unlikely to be in the market for new mattresses now. What’s more, consumers who have faced months of persistently high inflation across the board are less likely to feel the need to swap out an old mattress for a new one. In a recent report to investors, mattress giant Tempur Sealy pointed to “macroeconomic pressures impacting U.S. consumer behavior” as the main reason why sales have decreased.

Home remodeling projects

People poured money into their houses in 2020 and 2021, but the great home improvement boom has gone bust as budgets have been stretched thin due to inflation.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University estimates that spending on home remodeling and maintenance will shrink throughout 2024 and into early 2025 — including a decrease of about 7% in each of the last two quarters of this year.

Research from the nonprofit Home Improvement Institute indicates that the top reason homeowners canceled a planned remodeling project in 2023 was, unsurprisingly, price. And the projects with the highest percentage of cancellations were bathroom and kitchen remodels, which are among the more expensive improvements.

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