The coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down in 2020 as consumers the world over were forced to change their shopping patterns to conform with social distancing norms.
While many turned to online shopping to meet their needs, others tried newer distribution options like click-and-collect and curbside pick-up to cut down costs and delivery times. Retailers small and large innovated on the fly to reach customers where they were spending most of their time now – online.
Though there was a brief respite in spring 2021, cases are on the rise again across states in the US, indicating that the pandemic is far from over. Measures that had seemed temporary in the past are now taking on a more permanent hue.
We surveyed 1,200 customers across the US to find out how their shopping habits had changed in response to the pandemic. Our findings show that though consumers appreciate the convenience of online shopping, many miss the human element of shopping in-store.
Customers still wish they could “touch-and-feel” products before purchasing, and, for many, especially younger consumers, visiting stores was a recreational activity as well as an opportunity to connect with friends. One-and-a-half years into the pandemic, more than a few shoppers remember the in-store shopping experience with fond nostalgia.
Though retailers have pivoted rapidly to changing consumer needs, addressing this lack of human connection in online shopping is going to be a challenge. An immersive online shopping experience that expands out of the brand website and connects with social media and video can go a long way in reaching younger shoppers.
Older shoppers who want to return to stores tend to approach shopping more functionally. They see in-store shopping as a no-fuss solution: you could handpick items, return them easily, and take them home immediately. Options such as curbside-pickup, click-and-collect, and personal shopping assistants are more likely to appeal to these shoppers who want a hassle-free shopping experience.
Indeed, these pain points are reflected in what customers saw as the downside of online shopping. Age-old problems such as products not meeting customers’ expectations continue to plague the sector. In addition, with growing awareness of data privacy and security, shoppers, especially young men, are also becoming warier of how their data is being used by retailers. Offering consumers a customized shopping experience while still protecting their privacy is a challenge the retailers are going to have to increasingly contend with.
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However, the US retail market has indeed been permanently transformed. According to some accounts, online retail saw a decade’s worth of growth in months. For many users, who increased their online spending, and others, who tried online shopping for the first time, the convenience is hard to overlook.
As smartphones become an extension of our digital lives, consumers are becoming increasingly used to the idea of being able to search for any product from anywhere. Limited store inventory can prove frustrating for shoppers who’re used to the “long tail” or online retail.
Omnichannel offerings, which include the option of checking out the product in-store and having it delivered home, or booking a variant online from the store which is not currently available, can help make things easier for customers who expect to hop across channels seamlessly.
As the lines between our “real” and “digital” lives blur, we expect to be able to shop from anywhere, anytime. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated our transition to such a hybrid future.