Despite Covid-19, rare handbags and sneakers are in as much demand as ever

Smells as good as it holds value.
Smells as good as it holds value.
Image: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
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While sales of many non-essentials have plummeted because of Covid-19, there are some items shoppers are still buying.

Resale and auction sites selling products including Hermès handbags, hard-to-get sneakers, collectible wines, and other specialty items are reporting that sales continue despite the crisis.

Vestiaire Collective, a Paris-based luxury fashion reseller, told Bloomberg its sales of pre-owned Hermès and Chanel handbags have mostly held steady in price and volume, excepting a dip when the lockdowns in Europe began.

Auction house Christie’s ran an online auction of rare wines and spirits from March 24 to April 7 that brought in $1.1 million, which qualified as a “very good sale result,” according to Chris Munro, head of wine at Christie’s Americas. Munro noted the number of unique visitors to the auction was “over 20% above the average for online wine sales.” Wine auction house Acker Merrall & Condit has reported similar resilience. “It has thankfully been business as usual for us,” its chairman, John Kapon, told wine site Decanter earlier this month.

Sotheby’s said it’s seen strong prices for online auctions of categories including watches, photographs, jewelry, and design. Even limited-release sneakers, which have become collectible in their own right, are still moving. “Thus far, our sales volume and traffic numbers have been largely unaffected by recent events,” StockX, a large sneaker resale marketplace, told the site Hypebeast in a statement.

The common themes among these products are their scarcity and ability to grow in value over time. Last year, investment firm Cowen sent a research note to clients proposing sneakers as an “emerging alternative asset class” (Quartz member exclusive), because their illiquidity can deliver higher returns on investment, they’re a place to put money besides traditional assets, and their risk-to-reward tradeoff is favorable. The same can be said for all these items. A recent analysis of alternative assets from global real-estate consultancy Knight Frank found many grew strongly in value over the past decade.

These items generally trade on the secondary market, which is why auction houses and resale sites are getting the sales. But even primary vendors can still generate sales.

On April 18, Nike dropped a limited-release retro sneaker, a black and gold Air Jordan 6. It also released an Air Jordan 5 shoe tied to the widely viewed April 19 premier of ESPN’s documentary series about Michael Jordan, “The Last Dance.” Pandemic or not, shoppers scrambled to grab them. Nike doesn’t say publicly how many pairs are in each release and numbers can vary from less than 10,000 to more than 20,000. But whatever the numbers, both sold out.

Auction houses and other secondary marketplaces are not immune from the impacts of the pandemic. TheRealReal, a luxury fashion resale site, has had to cut expenses and furlough staff. Auction houses are ramping up their digital sales, since in-person sales are currently not an option in many places. Though not every category translates easily online, such as art. “For certain higher-priced objects, the jury is still very much out on whether an online-only sale without opportunity for proper viewing can truly maximize value,” Edward Dolman, CEO of auction house Phillips, told the New York Times.

For plenty of other items, though, online sales look to be working well enough.