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Shopper Trends|June 10, 2020

Will Shoppers Surge to Re-opened Retail? Probably Not

Sales signs may not be enough to bring shoppers into reopened stores. Two mighty forces are working against a resurgence of store traffic: One is the risk of contracting COVID-19, which will keep many shoppers away; the second will be how shoppers rethink spending after being unemployed or furloughed for months. Our Retail Safari® scouts visited shopping centers and stores around the world to help you understand what shoppers want.

What Shoppers Say Isn’t Always What They Do

Back in March, 53% of shoppers told us they would rather be buying their basics at the store, and 60% said they wanted to get back to browsing and shopping in brick stores “as fast as they can.”

But now that they can, are they?

Our shopper surveys and in-the-field research show a sizable group of consumers who are holding off on venturing into the store – even when stores have taken noticeable safety precautions.

Many Shoppers Are Lingering at the Doors  

There is so much focus on when and how stores will reopen, but at WSL we watch the shoppers, and they will decide for themselves when to re-enter. Here is what we are seeing to guide your expectations for reopened retail.

  • What global retail experienced when it reopened. In China, many merchants, including Walmart, reported “less than half the usual levels” of shoppers in mid-April, after stores there re-opened. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, store owners reported no crowds nor lines after opening doors in mid-April. In Israel, stores opened but few came.
     
  • Lose the “quarantine 15.” Based on our Retail Safari® trips to shopping centers across Texas and Florida, we counted fewer than five people in most stores. In some cases, our scout was the only customer. There were, however, two exceptions that provide clues to what shoppers want: Athleta in Austin exceeded its capacity of 15 shoppers; and in Dallas, we spotted the highest number of customers at shoe shops that carried sneakers. We suspect customers were seeking new workout gear to lose some of those “quarantine 15” pounds.
     
  • The lines followed luxury. While shoppers eschewed most mainstream stores, those who apparently have money to spend lined up at Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores in Dallas. We saw lines ranging from 10 to 30 people. Non-luxury stores may have similar luck if they entice shoppers with exclusive, limited-time products or services.
     
  • The beauty counter is a lonely place. The beauty departments in Macy’s and Dillard’s were for the most part empty. This may be due to more women buying beauty online for the first time – we reported 28% of women did so in our April study. The takeaway: Beauty brands will have to reach out to women to restore interest in services that take place best at the counter like invitation-only events, such as self-makeovers.

What Shoppers Want

Most shoppers will not arrive at reopened stores automatically. The trip needs to be worth the inconvenience of donning a safety mask.

Remember, many shoppers who venture out do so to escape the stress of the crisis and to simply have someplace to go. They are seeking a little delight from the uncertainty, boredom and loneliness of quarantine. Retailers have an opportunity is to make the store “my” space.

You can read our firsthand accounts of Reopened Retail in our latest Retail Safari® series, here.

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