Holiday Trend 1: Shoppers Return — and So Do Safety Concerns
We are almost two years into the global pandemic, and stores in most regions have reopened, with retailers banking on a strong holiday season to help recoup some of the losses they experienced because of earlier lockdowns. However, there are several questions on the minds of retailers. Are shoppers today any less concerned about health and safety? Do they plan on flocking to stores en masse ths holiday season? And if not, what would encourage them to do so?
To find out, Sensormatic Solutions commissioned a global survey of consumers in 13 countries. What we discovered provides insights into what to expect this year and guides retailers on how to focus on the right priorities to meet consumer expectations and create a safe and seamless shopping experience.
The pandemic is still in play…
With vaccinations more widely available and new cases slowing in many parts of the world, consumers are eager to return to a sense of normalcy — and in some regions, they already have. However, our research found that how we defined ‘normal’ pre-pandemic has changed significantly. Today, we must look at the ‘new normal.’
Take safety, for starters. Our research found that consumers still have levels of concern about shopping in-store, but how concerned seems to mirror the availability and adoption of COVID-19 vaccines.
In Latin America, for example, concern over in-store safety is highest: 55% of LATAM shoppers said they were worried about health and safety this holiday season, likely a reflection of the fact that vaccination rates in Mexico and Colombia trail many other countries in the Western hemisphere. In the U.S., meanwhile, 53% of consumers said the same — down from 65% last holiday season.
By the same token, European shoppers appear to be much less concerned— likely due to more widespread vaccine availability. In fact, France, Spain, Germany, and the U.K., where our European survey was conducted, have significantly higher vaccination rates than most countries in North America or Latin America, even though infection rates are rising in each country. Perhaps this explains why just 42% of European consumers said they were at least somewhat concerned about safety protocols in stores during the run-up to Christmas.
…but many shoppers are eager to return to stores
Despite lingering health and safety concerns, many shoppers around the world are ready to return to brick-and-mortar retail. Seventy percent of European shoppers said they plan to shop in stores this holiday season. Fifty-one percent of North American shoppers and 47% of Latin American consumers said the same.
It’s important to note that the 2021 holiday season won't just see an uptick in in-store traffic. It'll also see consumers return — at least in part — to the longtime tradition of Black Friday shopping.
Last year, just 30% of North American shoppers said they shopped in stores during the Black Friday event, but 45% said they plan to this year. Likewise, in EMEA, just 24% of shoppers went to physical stores during last year's Black Friday, but 50% say they plan to this year.
On the other hand, Black Friday is much less of an institution in Latin America, but retailers often run comparable end-of-year sales, and our research suggests those retailers may want to consider optimizing their in store fulfilment options and ship-to-home solutions. That’s because only 42% of Latin American respondents told us they plan to return to physical stores this year, down from 51% who said they shopped in-store last year.
So, what types of stores are shoppers most likely to return to? North American shoppers are most likely to return to free-standing stores or strip centers (62%) and enclosed malls (60%). In Europe, 55% of shoppers prefer enclosed malls, while 56% prefer high-street retail chains. Latin American shoppers, on the other hand, are most likely (41%) to shop in stores in commercial zones. Interestingly, online shopping surged in Latin America, replacing malls as the second most popular destination for shoppers.
However, the situation is somewhat different in Asia. While 38% of Singaporean consumers said they prefer to shop in stores versus online, just 19% of Chinese consumers agreed. Most Chinese consumers (53%) still prefer online shopping. Yet, shoppers in both countries largely feel that in-store shopping is irreplaceable despite the pandemic. Fifty-nine percent of consumers in Singapore said that the in-store shopping experience is still a must, and 49% in China agreed. So, while they may no longer prefer it, Asian consumers still recognize the importance of brick-and-mortar retail.
What's bringing shoppers back?
Why are so many shoppers so eager to return to stores? The answers vary from region to region, but globally, the desire to browse for gift ideas and the need to see and touch merchandise prior to purchase were the most common reasons shoppers want to return to stores.
It's also worth noting that in Latin America, a sizable portion of shoppers don't plan to return to in-store shopping. In Brazil, 28% said they would do all their shopping online. 23% of Chileans and 19% of Mexican consumers said the same. Meanwhile, more than half (59%) of Singaporean consumers surveyed feel that the in-store experience cannot be replaced by online shopping, and almost a third (30%) said they miss shopping in stores. In China, 49% said online shopping can’t replace the in-store experience, but just 27% miss shopping in stores. This may be due in part to China’s rapid adoption of e-commerce for almost every type of retail. In fact, more than 52% of the nation’s total retail commerce is forecast to be digital by the end of 2021.
The health and safety measures shoppers want most
When asked to select the safety measures that would make them feel more at ease while shopping during the holidays, consumers in North America roundly approve of extended hours to prevent overcrowding and occupancy limits. In Europe, however, mask requirements were most popular.
Likewise, over half of Singaporean consumers (54%) indicated that they expect the post-pandemic shopping experience to be vastly different. About half (55%) of the respondents expect retailers to leverage technology for a better in-store shopping experience. Health and safety concerns continue to be a top priority for Singaporean shoppers, with 41% believing that efficient management of in-store traffic to prevent overcrowding will contribute to a better shopping experience.
Singaporean consumers’ expectation for a better shopping experience includes stores ensuring that products are well-stocked (50%), having the ability to check physical stock online in real-time before heading to the store (49%), and having a self-checkout option (36%).
While Asian consumers weren’t asked about improving health and safety, they were asked about what improvements retailers could make to improve their in-store experience. Their concerns primarily revolved around promotions, inventory availability, and staffing.
Shoppers may still be concerned about health and safety while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, but many are eager to return just the same. While shopper traffic may not return to pre-pandemic levels this year, an increase is expected, meaning retailers should consider taking steps to ensure they have accurate inventory counts, appealing merchandising strategies, and the most-wanted health and safety strategies in place — all while still optimizing the omnichannel experience. Below are a few resources to help retailers plan their strategies forward include how to:
- Schedule smartly: download our global guide to the 2021 holiday season's busiest shopping days.
- Understand your store traffic and how to optimize your locations for in-store shopping and omnichannel: get your copy of our 2021 Holiday Guide to In-Store Success.
- Protect your merchandise and your bottom line: review our 2021 Loss Prevention Checklist.
In the coming days, check back to read the rest of our 2021 Global Holiday Retail series, featuring insights into how omnichannel will impact this year's holiday shopping, as well as when consumers plan to start their shopping in earnest.