With most Americans under stay-at-home orders, there has been little happening on the retail front outwardly since most stores are shuttered. Instead, Internet usage has vastly changed within a short period of time and consumers have turned to online shopping, only leaving the house for the most essential items they cannot get online.
As consumers find a way to continue getting what they need without going into traditional brick-and-mortar stores it begs the question: will coronavirus transform customer shopping habits for good?
Currently, many consumers are scared of catching the coronavirus. This is likely to continue, even as states begin opening for business and lifting stay-at-home orders. This fear is likely to remain prominent until a vaccine is created for the virus. The reality is, however, that the shutdown of the economy and the impact of the pandemic is a trauma that all consumers are going through.
It is going to take time, even beyond the creation of a vaccine, for them to become comfortable shopping in retail stores as they once did. It is this fear that will ultimately be the catalyst for the changes that are inevitable in consumer spending and shopping habits.
Strengthening an Existing Trend
The consumer shift to online shopping has only accelerated an already existing trend. For instance, Target’s digital sales are up 275% in April this year, citing changes in consumer behavior. The shift towards online and digital shopping is not new though. In 2019, the $365.2 billion in online sales was projected to grow to nearly $600 billion by 2024. This push towards online shopping has largely been the result of more consumers shopping for groceries online but has encompassed other areas of the retail sector as well.
As stores reduce hours and limit the number of shoppers that can be in the store at a time, some of these concepts will continue to exist even after the pandemic is over. In fact, we are likely to see an uptick in other shopping features being offered during the pandemic such as curbside pickup.
Curbside pick allows consumers to get what they need without having to enter the store or wait days for their order to arrive. It’s the intersection of e-commerce and traditional retail, and it’s an option we are seeing in retail stores of all kinds.
Consumer trends may also be altered due to their time spent at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Spending weeks at home without shopping may lead some consumers to realize they simply don’t need to spend as much money on things. This may also lead to them feeling less need to make purchases.
This would ultimately lead to a decline in consumer spending. Initially, once stay-at-home orders are lifted we may see a surge in purchases, but there is a strong likelihood that this will level off in the long run. This will ultimately increase competition for businesses as there are fewer consumer dollars to go around.
A Different Experience
Even as consumers turn to online shopping, traditional in-store shopping will not disappear entirely. The reality and experience of the in-store experience, however, is likely to look drastically different. In fact, consumer behavior will demand that the experience be different. This can be seen in Asian markets that have faced epidemics before.
The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted how many germs there are in retail locations and how shoppers may get sick from their shopping experiences. Getting consumers to shop in physical locations is going to require brands to rebuild trust with their customers, showing them that they are making the utmost effort to provide shoppers with clean stores and a healthy experience.
Not only do stores need to look clean, but stores also need to provide consumers with ways to protect themselves while shopping. This may include providing sanitizing wipes for baskets and carts, having hand sanitizer kiosks throughout the store, etc.
Additionally, consumers are likely to demand touchless shopping. This means stores will need to find ways to allow shoppers to browse and buy with minimal, if any, touching. There are several ways that this could be done, including concierge staff to handle products for consumers, touchless payment methods, etc. Consumers will be consciously looking for ways to protect themselves long after the pandemic is over and stores must cater to this demand and changed way of shopping.
The Extent of the Changed Consumer
How consumer shopping habits change will largely be dictated by the length and severity of the pandemic. Additionally, the impact the pandemic has had on individual consumer lives will also have a significant effect on their future shopping habits.
The longer the pandemic exists and the greater the severity, the longer the impact will be felt on the retail sector. There is a very real possibility that this pandemic could forever change the face of the in-store customer experience, forcing stores to be conscientious of the customer and employee health in addition to their bottom line.