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Here’s What the Data Says on Shopping for Apparel in Stores

In-store apparel purchases are on the rise, signaling that consumers are reacclimating to brick-and-mortar, according to a report from Coresight Research, which attributes the development in part to national coronavirus vaccine rollouts.

For the week of Feb. 22, consumers began to shift some purchases from online to offline, Coresight’s analysis of 402 participants found. Plus, the retail research firm found a peak number of consumers patronized a shopping center not in the open-air category, even compared with the holiday season.

“One-fifth of respondents reported going to an enclosed shopping center, up five percentage points from 15.0 percent last week,” Coresight said.

In the same survey period, 16.7 percent said they visited an open-air shopping center, down from 18.0 percent in the prior week. And the avoidance rate of any type of public area in the period fell below 80 percent for the first time ever this year. About 78.6 percent said they are avoiding any public place, down eight percentage points from the peak of 86.3 percent last week. Furthermore, the proportion of consumers avoiding shopping malls and centers fell to 49.3 percent, or almost 10 percentage points lower than the 58.9 percent in the prior week and representing the lowest level seen in Coresight surveys.

The youngest consumers drove the uptick in in-store apparel shopping, Coresight found. In comparison, online apparel shopping saw the steepest week-over-week decline among those between ages 30 to 44.

“For the first time since we started asking the question, the proportion of consumers that reported purchasing clothing and footwear in-store outpaced those buying online this week. After declining for the past two weeks, the proportion that had bought clothing and footwear in-store rebounded to 19.2 percent,” the report said. That compares with about 18.4 percent of respondents who had bought online in the two-week period prior to the survey, down 11 percentage points from 29.6 percent reported in a Coresight survey four weeks ago and representing the fourth consecutive week of slowing numbers.

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Covid and quarantine fatigue have firmly taken hold nearly a year from when lockdowns first ushered U.S. consumers away from public places and into their homes. Local businesses have been pushing governments to allow reopening up over fears of going out of business altogether.

On Tuesday, the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced plans to end mask mandates, which prompted President Joe Biden to denounce their “Neanderthal thinking.” Public health officials still recommend Americans wear masks and enforce social distancing.

As consumers begin to head out to shop and resume their normal spending, the U.S. economy might see an uptick in inflation. That could happen in the second and third quarters as vaccine programs expand. The National Retail Federation is already predicting a surge in annual retail sales growth of between 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent, with an uptick also beginning in the second quarter, the start of the traditional retail calendar.

Economists from Wells Fargo on Tuesday said that the increases in costs over the past few months now are likely due in part to some bottlenecks in production and transportation costs. While there’s an expectation of a rise in the pace of inflation over the short term, it is still considered relatively tame. Even if longer-term inflation expectations over a five-year range is a bit higher than the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target range, it probably wouldn’t be enough to get the Fed to act. Consequently, the economists believe that the Fed will hold its fed funds rate through 2021 and into 2022.