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Will Vaccines Rescue Retail? Why Shots Might Not Be ‘Silver Bullet’ Fashion’s Hoping For

The coronavirus crisis has gripped the nation—and the globe—for over a year now. But even as the U.S. begins to see a reduction in its overall infection rate and a wider, more rapid dissemination of multiple vaccines, many shoppers still plan to sideline themselves at home.

Roughly one-third of American consumers are not comfortable with getting vaccinated, and are unsure whether they will receive the Covid-19 vaccines when they become available to them, according to First Insight research published Wednesday. What’s more, even the consumers who do get their antibody-boosting shots don’t plan on rushing back to retail.

In fact, two-fifths of shoppers said their in-store apparel shopping habits will decrease or remain the same following vaccination. A near-equal amount said the same about shopping for footwear (44 percent), accessories (43 percent), beauty products (45 percent), luxury items (41 percent) and electronics (43 percent).

Regional spikes in Covid cases are exacerbating anxiety, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying that increased infections are deterring them from shopping in their local stores. Notably, consumers are feeling more uneasy about testing and trying on products in person than they were before the holidays, with 62 percent saying they felt unsafe entering a dressing room when the survey was fielded on Jan. 13, compared with 55 percent in November. Three-fifths of respondents said they were wary of trying on shoes, up 18 percent from this fall, and 59 percent said they felt uncomfortable interfacing with sales associates, compared with about half two months prior.

First Insight’s research revealed that while more than half (53 percent) of all respondents plan to continue to wear face masks in stores after being vaccinated, a much higher number of men (61 percent) vowed to do so than women (47 percent).

Safety concerns aren’t the only factor driving shoppers away from retail. The majority of consumers (61 percent) said they plan to pull back on spending altogether if a national lockdown is enforced, “due to their concern of ongoing and future economic conditions,” First Insight founding CEO Greg Petro told Sourcing Journal—a 24 percent increase from last February.

With many non-essential businesses still shuttered and households across the country tightening their purse strings, the pandemic is influencing purchasing decisions even more than it did a year ago. Data showed that Covid-19 was causing 44 percent of shoppers to be more mindful about their consumption habits in February 2020, compared with 76 percent this month.

“Clearly, the vaccine is not the silver bullet that is going to bring retail back from the brink,” Petro said, though the “online shift has happened, will retain levels and even grow further,” he admitted. First Insight’s findings show that e-commerce growth levels will “exceed all current expert opinions of mid-single digit year-over-year growth” due to changes in the way consumers shop. The web has made it safer and more convenient to purchase goods of all kinds, including food and household essentials as well as clothing and shoes.

“Having said that, consumers are wary and have cut spending in some areas, for sure,” due to continued financial constraints, he added. In order to bring back consumer confidence, retailers must work to offer the right products at a great value, which Petro argued does not always translate to “the lowest-priced.” Instead, retailers must provide an enticing assortment curated based on consumer needs and appetites, reach them through compelling messaging, and leverage services—like omnichannel winners curbside pickup and BOPIS—to “create better connections with consumers.”

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