The Return To In-Store Shopping Has Been Slow

What Retailers Can Do To Bring Consumers Back To Brick-And-Mortar

While many retailers had hoped that the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine would prompt consumers to head back to in-store shopping, things haven’t quite “returned to normal” just yet. According to new research on the state of retail, consumers have been slow to return to regular brick-and-mortar shopping, despite the fact that many of them believe it to be safe again. Taking a closer look at these recent surveys, we’re exploring the ways in which the pandemic has shifted consumer shopping behavior—and what retailers can do to make their in-store experience more appealing to today’s shoppers. 

A new report from titled “The Future Of Retail In 2021” takes a closer look at how the pandemic has impacted consumer shopping habits in the United States. The research included insights from 1,000 adults who were surveyed pre-pandemic and again more recently in order to gain a clearer understanding of how things have changed. Before the pandemic, 45% of respondents said they regularly shopped for non-essential items (like clothing, toys and housewares) in-person. That number quickly plummeted during 2020—but even as it has slowly risen back up over the past year, just 23% of people now say they have returned to regular in-store shopping.

Interestingly though, 68% of respondents said they do feel safe shopping in-person again. This discrepancy between how many people feel safe in-store shopping and how many are actually doing it on a regular basis could signal that a larger, more long-lasting shift in habits has taken place - more so than just a temporary adjustment given the circumstances of the virus. 

People are spending again, though. According to the NPD Group, since March 2020, the average amount of money spent per shopping trip has remained between 13% and 29% higher than the year prior. At the same time, the number of shopping occasions per week is still lower than it was in 2019.

Fewer shopping trips to limit in-person contact at retail stores, combined with supply-chain challenges making fewer products available, means consumers are more willing to spend more now to get the products they need,” said Marshal Cohen, retail chief industry adviser for NPD. This dynamic alters the traditional cadence of product seasonality and creates less price sensitivity.”

It’s clear the pandemic has had a profound effect on consumer priorities, both in terms of what they are buying and how. Cohen expects that we will see shoppers choosing quality over quantity, choosing to spend more for fewer, better products. 

That can be seen in recent retail sales numbers, which increased 0.7% in August. That uptick was a pleasant surprise to economists, who had previously forecasted a 0.7% decrease for that month. In general, retail sales are 15% higher than they were a year ago. Up until now, the rebound in sales has mostly been concentrated around services that were unavailable during the peak of the pandemic—such as dining out, hotel rentals, theater tickets and the like. The recent surge in delta cases, though, has slowed down the demand for these services. In August, sales instead grew at department stores and outlets selling home furnishings—but the most significant growth came from online retailers. 

And that trend isn’t expected to let up anytime soon. According to Adobe, 2022 is expected to be the first year that global online shopping will hit one trillion dollars. “The Future Of Retail In 2021” report found evidence to support that prediction as well; 30% of respondents said they expect that online shopping will be their main way of buying both essential and non-essential items moving forward. 

Some of this shift may be due to habits alone—many consumers have simply gotten more comfortable buying online over the past year. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that retailers have also been investing more heavily in their ecommerce presence during the pandemic. Now it may be time to turn your attention back to your brick-and-mortar location and see what needs to be refreshed. 

Reflect’s In-Store Shopping: Hiccups & Hangups of 2021” report dove deeper into both consumer habits and expectations when it comes to shopping in-store and online. Surveying 1,600 consumers in the US, the report found 60% of respondents said they prefer to do more than half of their shopping online. But at the same time, 67% of respondents also said the thing they miss the most about in-person shopping was interacting with the products, as it helps them get a feel for what theyre getting before they buy. 

“What were seeing—to no ones surprise—is that the factors driving people to shop online are the ease and breadth of features it offers, but consumers are clearly missing key elements of in-person shopping that online retailers simply cant provide,” said Lee Summers, CEO at Reflect. Shoppers still want to physically interact with products, but theyve grown accustomed to the personalized, DIYexperience of online shopping. This data shows that retailers have a huge opportunity to leverage in-store technology to drive store traffic and revenue by deploying tech that puts customers in the drivers seat, giving them access to product information—right at their fingertips.” 

The survey sheds light on a variety of ways that retailers can incorporate technology into the store setting to entice digitally-savvy shoppers back in store. More than half of respondents (56%) said that product reviews would be the most helpful online feature they would like to see in-store. And the majority (83%) believe that digital screens with product information would help improve the shopping experience—that was the biggest draw for people who do the majority of their shopping online. 

This research clearly illustrates the gaps retailers can and should fill between in-person and online shopping,” said Matt Schmitt, Reflect co-founder and president. Through new innovations, personalized experiences and other unique offerings, brands have a host of solutions at their disposal to enhance in-store shopping trips and encourage customers to keep coming back—simply by giving customers the experience they want.”

The interest in in-person shopping is still there, but it is important for retailers to recognize how the pandemic has affected consumer priorities. People are more thoughtful about their purchases; they may be willing to spend more on a higher quality item, but they must first do sufficient research in order to justify the price. Getting the pandemic under control was just the first step to getting consumers back in stores—now, it’s time for retailers to create an in-person experience that meets their new expectations. 

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