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New Study Reveals Consumer Confidence Is Surging—But Shopping Expectations Have Changed

By: Scott Moore, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Mood Media

As global pandemic measures ease and shoppers begin to return to stores in significant numbers, we are settling into a new “normal.” But what exactly does that mean? Are consumer behavior changes here to stay, or will people resume their post-Covid shopping patterns? With so much uncertainty still on the horizon, many are looking for answers. To help answer these questions, we at Mood Media conducted a June 2021 Shoppers Sentiment study, a follow-up to research we conducted in September 2020. We asked more than 8,000 consumers in the UK, U.S., France and China about their current shopping behaviors, habits and general feelings about returning to stores. The data reveals that 80% of consumers feel either “somewhat comfortable” or “very comfortable” visiting physical stores—up from 71% in September 2020.

These results aren’t entirely surprising, as we know consumers have felt pent-up for the last 15+ months. We also know from years of research that consumers value the unique benefits of brick-and-mortar shopping, including the ability to physically touch and try products, the potential for immediate gratification, the joy of discovery, and shopping as a leisure activity with friends. The desire to experience these benefits has only heightened after going so long without them.

But, for retailers and their sales teams, the pressure is on to make sure the actual shopping experience delivers or exceeds what shoppers have been missing and romanticizing about during the pandemic. Brands must also realize that although consumers are excited to shop in person, they are not about to forgo the ease and convenience afforded by digital services they adopted during the pandemic, begetting a need to master the “phygital” — experiences that blend in-person and online elements. Consumers expect their in-store experience to be as good as, or better than, the online experience they have grown accustomed to.

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Shopping feels good, but COVID-19-related anxieties persist

Nearly 90% of shoppers around the globe say it “feels good” or “feels really good” to return to physical stores and experience the things they have most missed about brick-and-mortar retail. But they still have residual fears, with 32% of respondents “somewhat” agreeing, and 16% “strongly agreeing” that they worry about catching COVID-19 when shopping in-store. Nearly half of consumers (46%) wish they didn’t have to wear a mask, but many (38%) hope stores will continue to offer hand sanitizers at entrances and many shoppers are still comforted seeing store employees wearing masks. While 65% of shoppers are not visiting stores as often as they did before the pandemic, 29% report spending more money per visit, which creates opportunities for stores. Consumers are laser-focused on what they are shopping for, retailers that can key into insights and reach those consumers before they enter the store, or hit them up with offers while in-store, will capitalize on this trend.  

Merging physical and digital experiences is key to nailing the “new normal”

We’ve known for years that consumers increasingly embrace and expect omnichannel experiences in which companies merge physical and digital worlds to create a seamless shopping journey. But the pandemic sped up this adoption rate for stores and for customers. While some may have been hesitant to try things like curbside pick-up, BOPIS, touchless screens, or virtual try-on options before the pandemic, the pandemic gave them no choice but to engage in those things. Perhaps some consumers thought they were for younger audiences, but what may have been “new” or “only for young people” pre-pandemic is now “normal” for a much broader audience. In the U.S., 38% of Americans say they enjoyed Click and Collect/BOPIS services and hope they are here to stay, compared to 33% globally. Americans also have an outsized appreciation for curbside pickup, with 33% rating it the most appreciated, compared to 19% globally.

Sixty percent of consumers expect their shopping habits to be back to pre-pandemic levels by or before the end of 2021. But expectations are forever changed. There’s no such thing as going “back to normal.” The behaviors and habits that shoppers learned during the pandemic are here to stay, including increased resourcefulness, heightened comfort levels with technology, and adoption of “phygital” elements. Meeting these needs and expectations is just the starting point. Retailers must keep up—or better yet, stay ahead of—the curve. This means exploring and testing new ideas, embracing change, and continually blending digital and physical components to create elevated customer experiences.

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