Lifestyle brands got rich from lockdown. Now no one wants what they're selling – iNews

Within days of the first Covid-19 lockdown beginning, alongside the panic buying, toilet roll stockpiling, and general purchasing chaos, we saw the sudden rise of several “it” products – things we eagerly tried and often failed to buy, leaving us envious of others if they’d managed acquire what was now trendy and scarce.
These items included Nintendo Switches, second monitors for the new home office, yeast and sourdough starter, lumbar-supporting desk chairs, and, most infamously, nice elasticated trousers. But among these pandemic-specific purchases, none was quite as notorious, coveted, and ridiculed as the Peloton.
The stationary exercise bike was already synonymous with the elite – seen as a glamorous indulgence for the yummy mummies and tech bros who could afford its £2,000 price tag, as well as the £39 monthly subscription fee for the specific fitness classes the company beams onto the bike’s attached screens.
In early 2020, Peloton quickly became a shorthand for frivolous spending and a symbol of the chilling contrast between wealthy people’s lockdown experiences versus most people. Sales boomed, with the company doubling its sales by the end of that summer.
But as we crept into 2021, it began to experience a few major PR blips. After recalling some of its clip-in pedals due to reported injuries, a child’s death was linked to one of its products, making headlines globally.
Only a few months later, the company saw its stock drop by 11 per cent when, in the premiere episode of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, a storyline aired in which a character died of a heart attack after taking a ride on his Peloton. It didn’t help that in January of this year, another TV show, Billions, featured a plot with a near-identical character arc. By 2022, demand had waned so significantly that the company reduced its overall product production.
Now with the world well out of the adopted lockdown lifestyle, Peloton’s fitness empire is suffering: as of 25 August, with a year-on-year decline of 28 per cent, the company reported quarterly losses of $1.2bn (£1bn) – the sixth quarter in a row that it has lost money.
There was a serious – and not unfounded – belief throughout the first 18 months of the pandemic that the new habits we had adopted were the beginning of a new era; that it was the start of a permanent, seismic change in our lives that would last far longer than Covid-19. But now, more than a year past our last lockdown, some of the companies that benefited most from the new normal are seeing sharp declines, indicating the presumed longevity of our lockdown habits may be much shorter than we believed.
Peloton is not the only pandemic-specific company to have experienced such a significant drop-off since the world has emerged. Another 2020 darling, Entireworld, which made high-end casualwear and appeared in a popular New York Times Magazine cover story titled “Sweatpants Forever”, announced it was closing up shop at the end of last year, citing funding issues.
Even Zoom – arguably the biggest winner out of the pandemic – has experienced a major downturn this year, missing targets that were even adjusted for its general decline since 2021. It’s also likely that Netflix’s first ever loss of subscribers this year can be partially attributed to a reduced need for streaming services after their sudden rise during the lockdowns.
Of course all of these companies selling goods seen as luxuries rather than necessities are also facing off with the cost of living crisis and the need for consumers to tighten their belts.
Although we can see how our pandemic-era habits are dissolving through the decline of specific companies, those changes are also visible when looking across entire sectors. Consumer goods are seeing, on the whole, a sharp decline after the pandemic-triggered boom in online shopping and the rush it generated in house-related buying, wanting to make our homes feel more comfortable while spending more time indoors. In the UK, sales in furniture, lighting, and household goods have dropped below 2019 levels. Ecommerce companies, like fast fashion retailers and electronics outlets, are particularly feeling the squeeze and slashing prices, with the latter seeing a 10 per cent decline in prices year on year.
These numbers are clear, but you don’t have to look at the statistics to understand that the broader population is rejecting every element of our lockdown lifestyles. Many of us look back at that time as a period of momentary madness (and for some of us, understandably, it was), thinking we weren’t really ourselves, and therefore that our behaviour was motivated by something temporary and unpleasant. The associations we have with our routines and habits have become negative – perhaps even distressing. Staring at our tracksuits, standing desks, or even exercise bicycles serves as an unwelcome reminder of what came before.
Subsequently, in 2022, many are seeking to enjoy all the things we took for granted years before. We don’t want to stream films or do a virtual class – we want to go in person. With this sudden change in our consumer habits moving in the opposite direction: a rise of in-person entertainment, going to restaurants or amusement parks, and the overwhelming return of international travel, it would be easy to believe that this is our new “new normal”. However, we should be equally wary of falling into the same trap, presuming that the consumption we are experiencing now will actually stick around for any significant length of time.
We are almost certainly experiencing an overcorrection to the years hemmed in by Covid-19 and, with the service industry struggling with understaffing and demand, these new habits may even be more short lived than consumers would want them to be.
There are undoubtedly many things lockdowns changed in our lives that continue to persist even without a lockdown to enforce them. Flexible working has become more normalised since many workers realised they could skip commutes and get just as much done at home; a boom in book sales has also continued, despite most of us having less free time than months-long lockdowns afforded.
But the broader collapse of our pandemic lifestyle trends shows just how temporary these major changes have proved to be. Rather than a permanent symbol of new money indulgence, a Peloton is rapidly becoming a dated hallmark of a bygone era.
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