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Shoppers Give Stores Side Eye, Though Shift to E-Comm Sticks

Physical retailers better be reassuring in their new health and safety practices upon reopening if they want to generate traffic in the aftermath of COVID-19, with 29 percent of shoppers saying they don’t know if they will be ever as comfortable entering a store as they were before, according to a survey from Fast.

Of those unsure if they will ever be at ease shopping in stores, 39 percent were baby boomers (the number jumps to 42 percent between the ages of 55-64) and 36 percent live in a rural community.

In total, just 17 percent of shoppers say they already feel completely comfortable shopping in stores, while 19 percent will feel comfortable when they receive a COVID-19 vaccine and 13 percent tying their comfort level to when their state or local government gives approval. Fast’s survey was conducted online among 1,004 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, between May 8-10, 2020.

Several technology companies already have begun to establish solutions in an aim to keep shoppers and staff abreast of new social distancing measures as stores reopen. Sensormatic Solutions released a Real-Time Occupancy solution designed to assist retailers with understanding shopper density within a store to comply with social distancing guidelines or ordinances, and to meet maximum limits.

The Sensormatic platform can help optimize cleaning schedules for common facilities or high-touch areas such as self-checkouts and calculates staffing needs for fulfillment of buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup orders.

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Additional features include thermal imaging to screen elevated body temperature, in which cameras detect elevated temperatures above defined thresholds and send a notification to store or warehouse managers, as well as a social distancing scoreboard, which layers statistics related to new reported cases with changes in mobility and non-essential store visits, and provides daily community grades (A to F) to help retailers evaluate reopening individual store locations across their enterprise.

The unease around store safety has led many to believe that brick and mortar should still wait some extra time to reopen. Sixty-seven percent of shoppers are fearful of early reopening due to the potential spread of COVID-19. At the same time, 32 percent are eager to partake is non-essential services, according to a state reopening survey from Bigtoken.

Post-COVID e-commerce  opportunities

As shoppers remain leery about stores, the potential opening of many more will be a litmus test for the success of brick-and-mortar in the near future. The shift to online spend has been a major shopping habit shift throughout the pandemic, with slightly more people saying they will continue to shop more online in the future (45.1 percent) as those who say they will go back to their old habits if they could (44.9 percent), according to an Izea Worldwide study of 1,214 U.S. Internet users aged 18 to 60+. Among age groups, 49.9 percent of the 18-to-29 demographic plan to shop online more, while 50.4 percent of the 30-to-44 demo will do so.

“While many states have begun to lift restrictions on stay-at-home orders, it appears that consumer behavior has been forever altered by the coronavirus,” said Ted Murphy, founder and CEO of Izea. “Internet usage was high before COVID-19, but it has become an even more essential need for consumers that have been confined to their home. Seventy-five percent of all consumers surveyed indicated that they are spending more time online since being impacted by the coronavirus, with only 3.4 percent saying that they are spending less time. That near-term change in internet consumption is to be expected, but the longer-term implications have only just begun to be felt.”

The front end of the pandemic saw more shoppers opt not to purchase non-essential products, with 54.6 percent saying as much on April 9, but the pendulum has since swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, which is a positive sign for apparel retailers. On May 7, 75.9 percent of shoppers said they were purchasing non-essential goods, a 30.5 percentage point increase, the Izea study said.

Fewer shoppers are requiring discounts as an incentive to shop for discretionary items as well. On April 9, just 7.8 percent were willing to buy goods that didn’t carry a discount, but that number has jumped substantially to 18.9 percent one month later.

A fair share of this non-essential spending increase has likely come in the apparel sector, especially when considering recent data from Klarna―Gen Z and millennial shoppers using the buy now, pay later app increased their share of spending on apparel, footwear and accessories for the third week in a row, with women’s ready-to-wear clothing seeing a 20 percent week-over-week rise in average daily transactions from April 25 to May 2.

If anything, the stay-at-home dynamic may be beneficial to a wider set of businesses overall, especially apparel retailers, according to a survey by Ware2Go. More than half (55 percent) of consumers say they’re purchasing from online retailers they’ve never shopped with before and buying a broader range of products, with 45 percent acquiring clothing.

Ware2Go revealed that 58 percent of the 1,000+ U.S. consumers it surveyed browse online retailers daily, and 39 percent plan to continue online shopping to avoid visiting stores. The survey even indicated that clothing is “the most popular” item for shoppers to buy, ahead of skincare products, cooking supplies and pet supplies.