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COVID-19 Survey: Shoppers express increasing comfort in the safety of retail stores as retail sales improve.

Aug 27, 2020
3 MIN. READ

Americans are shopping more frequently and report increasing feelings that avoiding stores is not important in slowing the spread of Coronavirus.

Editor’s Note (8/27/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults, including the fifth wave of data collection that was fielded July 23 through July 28. Each wave has collected 1,000 completes using a census-balanced, national non-probability sample. The new information, shared below, examines the impact of COVID-19 on the American public’s shopping habits as well as their attitudes toward retail shopping in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Learn more about the ICF COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults.

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, ICF and ICF Next have been fielding a census-balanced survey of the American public seeking to understand how Americans are feeling about and responding to the pandemic and associated public health measures. This survey has included a number of questions regarding personal behaviors, some of which are specific to shopping habits and relevant to retailers.

Now, for the first time, we dig into our survey’s data regarding shopping habits as the economy has largely reopened amidst the continuing and growing pandemic. What our survey reveals is an American public open and somewhat comfortable with retail shopping.

Most shoppers no longer believe it is “very important” to avoid retail stores, and a growing number believe it is “not too important” to avoid stores to slow the spread.

Coinciding with the initial reopening of nonessential retail in many states, as well as generally light levels of case growth in the first weeks of the reopening, many shoppers expressed both a decreasing belief in the importance of avoiding retail stores in slowing the spread and an increasing belief that avoiding these stores was “not too important” in our May and June waves. But it is interesting to note that in July, as cases surged across the country, shoppers continued to hold these beliefs. Retail sales in July have now eclipsed pre-pandemic highs, although growth is slowing.

While our survey does not explore how shoppers feel about their retail experiences, our belief is that public health measures such as mask mandates and capacity restriction in retail stores—coupled with social distancing measures put in place by retailers themselves—have led customers to believe that the retail experience is relatively safe.

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Concern about the importance of avoiding retail stores has fallen

Shoppers are also reporting increased frequency of non-grocery shopping trips, with fewer days between trips.

 

In our first survey of shoppers, 39% of Americans reported that it had been seven or more days since they had last been to a retail store for something other than groceries, a figure that rose to almost 44% in April. Since then, this number has declined each month. In July, 50% of shoppers reported that they had visited a non-grocery retail store in at least two days in the previous week, up from 35% in April. While this does, of course, coincide with many states lifting temporary non-essential retail closures, it has also increased sequentially in each survey since hitting the April low. Showing the most growth, month-over-month, 6.7% of survey respondents reported visiting a retail store every day in the preceding week. We will monitor these trends in our August survey to see if they hold or if the marketplace has simply adjusted to retail being reopened.
Willingness to shop for non-grocery items is increasing

Despite shoppers' increasing willingness to visit a retail store, malls face a long road to recovery.

While retail sales have returned to pre-pandemic levels and shoppers seem to be increasingly willing to return to stores, malls face a long road back to the traffic they experienced pre-pandemic. Nearly 24% of survey respondents expressed a willingness to visit malls as frequently as they did pre-pandemic this summer, and 49% expect to be willing to return to malls at their pre-pandemic frequency before the end of this year. However, over 30% of respondents do not plan to visit malls as frequently as before the pandemic until “COVID-19 is completely controlled or a vaccine is available.” This bodes poorly for department stores and retailers highly dependent on foot traffic and the Q4 holiday shopping season to drive a significant portion of their annual revenue.

Negative attitudes regarding the likely return to shopping malls

Watch this space.

 

How will American shoppers’ feelings and behaviors change as the summer ends, the holidays approach, and the pandemic continues? We will report key findings from our data collection efforts over the coming months and share this information. Sign up to receive alerts as we roll out upcoming results and package our insights into reports.

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