With COVID in decline, in-store shopping is on the rise

With the light at the end of the tunnel shining a little brighter, American consumers intend to return back to many of their pre-pandemic shopping habits -- including shopping in stores.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many shopping trips online, a recent study by The Harris Poll on behalf of Morning Brew finds that many shoppers plan to head back to physical stores after all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Overall, consumers are still more likely to shop in-store after the pandemic resolves, that is, after all COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. This is especially true for lower-income consumers who have long lagged behind in online shopping. Forty-three percent of consumers say they’re more likely to shop in-person after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted — compared to only 24% who say they’re more likely to shop online (and 33% who say they anticipate doing both equally). Almost half (49%) of consumers from households with an annual income below $50,000 say that they’re more likely to shop in-person after COVID-19 restrictions lift.

Additionally, it appears that many who were urged online during the pandemic would like to return to primarily shopping in store, which could be good news for department stores and shopping centers. Forty-one percent of current online shoppers say they see themselves doing more of their shopping after all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Another third (33%) say they plan to shop online and in stores equally.

Sixty-two percent of current in-store shoppers say they shopped at a mall or department store before the pandemic, and a little more than half (33%) report doing so during the pandemic.

Big ticket purchases are still the domain of brick-and-mortar. Only 23% of consumers report making big-ticket/expensive purchases online before the pandemic began compared to 35% of consumers who report making these purchases in-store in the same time frame.

Although 35% of consumers say they’ve made big-ticket purchases online during the pandemic, they are still more likely to make this type of purchase inside a store once pandemic-related restrictions let up. In fact, 67% say they’re at least somewhat likely to make big-ticket purchases in-store once COVID restrictions are lifted, much more than the 54% who said they’d be likely to do so online.

Even after the pandemic, retail goliaths will still rule online and in-store shopping. Consumers are much more likely to buy from major, multi-brand retailers like Amazon, Macy’s, and Target when shopping online than they are from DTC brands like Casper or Dollar Shave Club. Fifty-one percent of consumers say they would prefer to buy online from a multi-brand retailer once COVID-19 restrictions lift compared to only 13% who say they would prefer to order from a DTC brand online.

Additionally, consumers were most likely to report shopping in-person or online with a major retailer both before the pandemic (63%) and after the pandemic began (55%).

Looking ahead, 84% of consumers say they are likely to shop for everyday purchases in-person or online with a major retailer after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted — compared to the 76% who say they would do the same at a local or mom-and-pop shop.

Perhaps interestingly, younger consumers’ food ordering and grocery shopping habits reflect their status as digital natives, but they are more tethered to brick-and-mortar shopping than conventional wisdom might suggest.

Gen Z and Millennial consumers are the primary users of food delivery apps, and they are also more likely to buy groceries online even after the pandemic ends. Forty percent of Gen Z and 49% of Millennials report using a food delivery service app since the onset of the pandemic — compared to only 27% of Gen X and 17% of Baby Boomers). Looking ahead, 71% of Millennials and 55% of Gen Z say they are at least somewhat likely to order groceries online after COVID restrictions are lifted — compared to 53% of Gen X and 36% of Baby Boomers.

However, they still shop in-store more frequently than their parents’ generations. Gen Z is the generation most likely to report shopping in-store everyday (13%) compared to Millennials (7%), Gen X (9%), and Baby Boomers (2%). Not to be outdone by their younger counterparts, Millennials are the most likely to report shopping in-store several times each day (17%) compared to 12% of Gen Z, 9% of Gen X, and 1% of Baby Boomers.

Overall, younger consumers are as likely as older consumers to be in-store shoppers, but for Gen Z that shopping is unlikely to take place in a mall or department store. Ninety-six percent of Millennials and 97% of Gen Z say they currently shop in-store, which is about the same proportion of Baby Boomers (96%). However, only 49% of Gen Z report shopping in person at a mall or department store before the pandemic compared to 66% of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Morning Brew during March 19-22, 2021, among 1,078 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download full data here.