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Outbreak Could Shift Shoppers Further Away From Stores

The coronavirus pandemic is changing consumer behavior and could portend significant upheaval in the retail landscape.

A full 79 percent of American consumers are concerned about the outbreak in the U.S., and much of their worry stems from the disease’s financial implications.

Nearly half (about 48 percent) of respondents to a Coresight Research survey last week ranked economic disruption as their biggest pandemic-induced anxiety.

More than one-third (about 36 percent) expressed concern that they could lose their jobs as the disease continues to shut down stores, offices, warehouses and other places of work. A near-equal number (about 33 percent) are stressed about losing part of their income through a reduction in work hours.

Already, about 4 percent of survey takers had lost their jobs due to the outbreak, while more than 12 percent said they were deeply worried about the prospect.

That’s because there’s a widespread belief that the effects of the virus will last several months—at least.

More than 30 percent of consumers said they think their everyday lives will be impacted for one to two months, while an equal number worry that that time frame would double.

Less than 7 percent of respondents said they believed the impact of the disease would abate sooner than a month.

The implication of the findings is that consumers are readying themselves to stay home for the long haul. Notably, though, many retailers only shuttered their doors for around two weeks, beginning in mid-March, though many plan to revisit their re-opening timelines in accordance with social-distancing mandates and various city and state lockdowns.

Even if some shuttered stores do switch the lights back on, there’s no telling if they’ll see a influx of shoppers. Nearly 85 percent of respondents now avoid public places and travel, a considerable hike from just around 27 percent a month earlier.

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The vast majority of consumers (more than 64 percent) are actively avoiding shopping centers and malls. Half said they’re avoiding shops in general.

That 14-point discrepancy is likely due to the fact that malls are places for discretionary, non-essential spending, while grocery stores and pharmacies that sell daily necessities must be visited with some regularity.

Categories like food, household products, personal care and health items have seen a sizeable increase in sales, with more than one-third of shoppers saying they’d bought more of these products over the past month.

Conversely, sales of discretionary, non-essential items including apparel, home improvement, electronics, gadgets and beauty products have floundered. More than 12 percent of shoppers said they were buying less clothing, footwear, fashion accessories, furniture or home décor.

E-commerce stands to gain the longer the pandemic continues, as two thirds of shoppers plan to buy more online if the outbreak continues to spread, with necessities like household staples and foods topping their their list.

However, quarantine-induced stir-craziness seems to be an untenable risk for some shoppers, with nearly one-third (31 percent) saying they would likely be investing in books, movies, music and streaming services if the situation continues.

While analysts admitted it’s impossible to know for sure whether shifts in consumer behavior will stick once the pandemic subsides, nearly half (more than 47 percent) expect to retain at least some of their new habits.

Of those who said they’d continue their quarantine regimens, better hygiene and an increased focus on health and wellness were the top two priorities.

Just more than one-third of those who said they’d maintain their new mindsets plan to shop more online and less in stores, as a general rule.