Are Consumers Ready to Return to Physical Stores? That Depends on What They’re Buying

As COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted across the United States, will consumers return to in-person shopping? The answer might depend on what kind of shopping consumers are doing.

Lucidworks, a San Francisco-based provider of software and cloud technology, recently surveyed 800 consumers in the United States and U.K. about their shopping behavior. The survey results indicate that the pandemic might have given online shopping yet another boost.

According to the survey, a third of U.S. respondents said that they plan to avoid in-person shopping as much as possible, even as pandemic-related restrictions are lifted. An additional 31 percent of U.S. respondents said that they plan to visit in-person stores less often than they did before COVID-19.

There are certain types of shopping, though, that consumers are more likely to do in-person. Lucidworks said that while 65 percent of shoppers across the United States and U.K. currently buy at least some of their groceries online to have them delivered, 63 percent said that they plan to primarily buy their groceries in person as restrictions lift.

Compare that, though, to the electronics category. Lucidworks found that more than one-half of respondents said they currently order electronics online, and only 35 percent plan to purchase electronics primarily in-person as COVID restrictions are dropped.

But how can retailers best convince shoppers to make a purchase, whether these consumers are buying online or in-person? According to the survey, product recommendations — positive reviews posted on a company’s website or on sites such as Amazon or Walmart — are key.

Lucidworks’ survey says that 85 percent of U.S. shoppers interact with product recommendations always or often. Even more impressive, two-thirds of U.S. respondents said that either every visit to an e-commerce site or often they buy recommended items that they didn’t initially plan to purchase.

A total of 68 percent of U.S. shoppers said they prefer to do research on products by reading reviews on a company’s website. Almost half of all U.S. shoppers said they research by reading reviews at third-party marketplaces like Amazon, Google Shopping and eBay.

And what about safety measures? Do consumers want COVID-era protocols to remain in place as the pandemic eases?

Again, that depends. According to the Lucidworks survey, most shoppers in the United States and U.K. want stores to operate largely as they did before the pandemic hit. But they also want retailers to retain some COVID safety measures, including physically distanced lines and contactless payments.

“The shopper inhabits multiple personas,” said Peter Curran, general manager of digital commerce for Lucidworks, in a written statement. “To create a great customer experience, you have to understand the consumer’s goal in the moment. The ability to harness first-party data and in-session inferences are the keys to delivering a great experience. Brands must connect the dots between all of the actions a shopper takes to understand their goal and deliver the most relevant experience from research, to purchase, to support and back.”