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COVID-19 Survey: Shoppers report more visits to stores and increased comfort in the safety of the retail experience.

Oct 26, 2020
3 MIN. READ

In an update to our August survey, American shoppers continue to shop more frequently and report increasing feelings that avoiding stores is not important in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.

Editor’s Note (10/26/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults, including the seventh wave of data collection that was fielded September 23 through October 4. 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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In August, ICF and ICF Next published a first look at how shopping habits and shoppers’ feelings about the role retail shopping plays in the spread of the Coronavirus had changed over the course of the pandemic in the United States. Here, we take another look at these questions and explore the most recent data on American shoppers’ comfort with retail shopping. What our survey reveals is a populace growing more comfortable with retail shopping and shopping with increased frequency. 

Belief that it is “very important” to avoid retail stores to slow the spread of the virus continues to decline, while those who believe it is “not too important” or “should not be done” continue to increase.

In what should be seen as good news for retailers, American shoppers continue to exhibit a decreasing belief that avoiding retail stores is a “very important” tactic to help slow the spread of the virus. As mask mandates have spread throughout the country and retailers have continued to invest in digital tools to streamline the shopping experience—new channels such as curbside delivery or contactless pickup, and health and safety measures such as plexiglass dividers and contactless payment—more shoppers have experienced safe, socially distant shopping.

Of note, while the number of shoppers who believe it is “very important” to avoid retail stores continues to decline, a plurality (and an increasing number) believe that it is “somewhat important” to avoid retail stores. While our survey does not explore shoppers’ willingness to visit retail, our belief is that safe retail experiences reinforce the comfort level that shoppers need in order to continue to visit stores. It will be important for retailers to maintain a commitment to these measures in the months ahead, as a fall and winter surge of cases is considered likely by experts and could put a damper on the key holiday shopping season.

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As was also the case in August, shoppers continue to report increased frequency of non-grocery shopping trips, with fewer days between trips.

 

In August, we reported that 26.7% of shoppers said that it had been over seven days since they had last visited a retail store for something other than groceries. In our most recent survey, that number has now fallen to 11.4%. At the same time, the percentage of shoppers who reported visiting non-grocery retail stores on two, three, four, five, six, and seven days within the preceding week all increased by healthy margins.

We noted in August that many of the improvements in shopper visit frequency coincided with the lifting of temporary non-essential retail closures in many states. We wondered if these big changes were simply the result of pent-up demand due to retail having been closed for so long. While this demand certainly fueled the big swings in the data from mid-summer, it now seems that when coupled with consumers’ increased comfort with retail shopping, we have settled into something of a new retail frequency normal.

Good news for malls: While consumers may not have come back quite as much as hoped for this summer, they express increasing willingness to do so soon.

 

In July, 18.8% of shoppers expressed a willingness to return to malls during the summer of 2020. In our most recent survey, this number stood at 14.6%, highlighting the number of individuals who did not end up following through on their willingness to return to the mall. While this may not seem like good news on the surface, we saw a healthy increase in those willing to resume this behavior in Fall 2020, from 10.4% in July to 16.7% in this survey. We also saw a large decrease in those that intend to wait to resume frequent mall visits until “COVID-19 is completely controlled or a vaccine is available,” from 23.9% in July to 14.6% in this survey, which highlights the improved position that malls find themselves in as consumers continue to express increasing comfort in retail shopping.

Watch this space.

 

How will American shoppers’ feelings and behaviors change as we enter the key holiday shopping months and the pandemic continues? We will report key findings from our data collection efforts over the coming months and share this information.

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