Illustration of emergency kit (Shutterstock/photka)
Some Americans have found a measure of reassurance in these coronavirus days by stocking up on hand sanitizer and toilet paper. For others, peace comes with the purchase of a $4,995 emergency go-bag, outfitted with “Bond-like gadgets” and custom monogramming.
Or a $149.95 “virus-eliminating” personal air purifier that’s worn as a necklace. Or a $99.95 Sanitized Sleeper’s Safe Haven, a bedtime cocoon made from “patented antimicrobial fabric that kills nearly 100% of bacteria, fungi and viruses.”
These items are part of a cornucopia of survival products that float at the rarefied end of the burgeoning $4.5 trillion wellness market. As the pandemic spreads, they’re sold out or on back order or otherwise in short supply. Just like toilet paper.
“Our warehouse shelves are almost wiped out,” says Ryan Kuhlman, co-founder of Preppi, maker of high-end disaster kits including the go-bag, which comes with four hard-to-obtain N95 respirator masks. Preppi’s sales so far this month have increased 5,000 percent compared with February. “Having the right tools and supplies can provide incredible relief to anxieties.”
Sure, the markets are haywire and every hour or so brings an announcement of another institution closing or public event postponed or canceled. But for makers of products that cater to one-percenters nervous about exposure to a deadly illness, inventory can’t be replenished fast enough.
The granddaddy of pricey-gadget peddlers is Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. The retailer stocks a range of defenses such as the “Virus, Mold, And Germ Destroying Air And Surface Sanitizer,” which for $399.95 promises to zap nasty microbes from your living room using technology similar to what NASA employs to purify its space shuttles.
In the days before coronavirus, the item was billed mainly as a mold fighter. And though it was always meant to fight viruses, the company added the v-word to it and some other products to grab the attention of agitated shoppers, not to mention internet-search algorithms.
“We strengthened the title to aid consumers in their search,” said Ann Marie Resnick, the company’s vice president of marketing.
It’s working. Sales of some Hammacher personal-care items are up as much as 500%, according to Resnick.
“It just went boom,” she said. “Everyone needs an air purifier for the home. You’ll need more than one.”
Coronavirus-related spending is most prevalent among higher-income consumers, according to Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., and those folks need everyday items as well.
If Purell is too gloopy for well-manicured hands, there’s Touchland, a spray-on sanitizer ($12 for 1.3 ounces) whose packaging looks modeled on a mini-iPhone. It contains moisturizers, essential oils and something called Glycereth-26, which the company says is “an awesome humectant.” Bonus: It smells like watermelon or lavender or other fun stuff, not ethyl alcohol.
There’s just one problem: It’s currently sold out.
“It’s been a little bit crazy,” said Andrea Lisbona, Touchland’s 34-year-old founder and chief executive.
Lisbona said she’d just returned to the US from the company’s factory in Mexico, which is ramping up production to get Touchland into the unsanitized hands of the 25,000 customers on its waiting list.
“Until three weeks ago, this product was essentially a fashion statement,” said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Now, things have changed.”
Turns out, if you want something that’s both fancy and functional, you might have to wait -- no matter what tax bracket you’re in.
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