The Pandemic E-Commerce Bump Notwithstanding, People Still Prefer Shopping In Stores

March 18, 2022

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Demographics & Audiences | Household Income | Industries | Retail & E-Commerce | Youth & Gen X

E-commerce sales were delivered a jolt by the pandemic, with one forecast suggesting that 1 in every 6 retail dollars in the US would be spent online last year. And while people around the world indicated that buying more through digital channels would be a buying behavior likely to stick, new research from Morning Consult [download page] also finds that as the pandemic subsides, in-store shopping remains the preferred method.

The report indicates that almost two-thirds of US adults surveyed in early February would be either “very” (31%) or “somewhat” (33%) comfortable going to a shopping mall. A majority of adults across generations, household incomes and community types concurred with this sentiment, with comfort highest among younger adults, urban residents, and those with higher household incomes.

Separate results from surveys of more than 4,000 US adults conducted in late December 2021 and January 2022 reveal that more adults typically prefer to shop in stores (41%) than online (29%). Once again this was consistent across generations and household incomes, though in this case the sentiment was greater among older adults and those with lower household income.

Interestingly, the preference for in-store over online shopping was greater in a variety of other countries – including France, Australia, Mexico, Germany and the UK – than in the US. The only country of the 8 analyzed in which preference was higher for online than in-store shopping was China.

Main Reasons for Shopping Online and In-Store Differ

Although in-store tends to be preferred over online shopping, consumers turn to each for different reasons. The primary reason given for shopping online is convenience (cited by 79% of shoppers); elsewhere, respondents have stated that convenience matters more for them in discovering products and brands than in the transaction phase of the shopping journey.

A closely related leading reason for shopping online is to save time, as noted by roughly two-thirds (68%) of the US adults surveyed.

By contrast, the top 3 reasons given for shopping in stores are for enjoyment (59%), product comparisons (50%) and product details (46%). Each of these was cited by more respondents as a reason for shopping in-store than online.

The report also finds that shoppers’ priorities are different depending on what category they’re considering making a purchase in. When making a purchase in the apparel, shoes and accessories category, for example, a flexible return policy has an outsized impact compared to its role in other areas (though it also has an outsized impact in the personal electronics category). Sustainability, meanwhile, is of outsized importance in the beauty and personal care products category, while reasonable prices have an above-average importance for people when shopping for groceries and household goods.

In highlighting various takeaways, Morning Consult notes that “online shopping’s pandemic bump is over,” and that “the next phase of e-commerce growth depends on improving product discovery and exploration.” As for in-store shopping? According to the report, offline shopping may bifurcate, with the analysts forecasting that “the future of physical retail is in high-end and discount stores.”


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