Consumers Return to Shopping in Stores With More Digital Support

Increasing comfort in stores leads to more channel mixing for holiday shoppers, notes retail and e-commerce analyst Claire Tassin

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Ashley Berry

Consumers are returning to stores this holiday shopping season, but they’re bringing their pandemic-induced digital shopping habits with them. Shoppers are blending in-store browsing and discovery with the convenience of online shopping. In another extraordinary holiday shopping season, retailers must ensure that digital and physical shopping experiences are closely coordinated. 

Casual browsing is back: Morning Consult’s weekly research reveals consumers are becoming more comfortable with in-store shopping this holiday season. At the same time, consumers still enjoy the convenience of the digital channels they’ve learned to love since the start of the pandemic, leading to a more mixed approach to holiday shopping relative to 2020’s reliance on e-commerce. Retailers who have invested in unified commerce are well-positioned to support this blended shopping style, while those that are not may struggle for a competitive advantage. 

Consumers are increasingly blending holiday shopping across online and offline channels

While 2020 saw consumers largely choose e-commerce for safety reasons, 2021 will see a drop in online-first shopping and an increase in those mixing online and offline to check off their holiday shopping lists, particularly among Gen X and Gen Z consumers. Retailers hoping to capture the loyalty of new and new-to-channel customers need to support these blended shopping styles. For example, keeping online product availability indicators up to date and highly visible is critical for assisting both at-home shoppers and those planning a trip to the store.

Consumer Shopping Increasingly Mixes Online and Offline Channels

Respondents were asked which of the following best described their holiday shopping plans:

Polls conducted Oct. 15-17, 2020, and Oct. 15-19, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults each, with overall margins of error of +/-2%.

Consumer comfort with in-store shopping gradually grows

Consumers are slowly becoming more comfortable shopping in stores after a plateau created by the delta variant. As holiday shopping picks up and delays and inventory issues persist, it’s likely that more consumers will head to stores, where inventory is visible and fulfillment just means carrying bags home. Factors such as booster shots and vaccine availability for kids will likely drive in-store comfort higher, and retailers should feel more confident about encouraging customers to spend time in stores with holiday-themed experiences.

Comfort With In-Person Shopping Inches Upward After Delta-Driven Plateau

Share of respondents who said they currently feel “very” or “somewhat” comfortable in the following shopping scenarios:

Weekly surveys are conducted among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults each, with margins of error of +/-2%.

To earn shopper loyalty, retailers must deliver on consumer expectations

Consumers who shop online are largely doing so for convenience, but those coming to stores also want the opportunity to leisurely browse — an element that’s hard to replicate online despite retailers’ best digital efforts. Gen Z and millennial consumers are more likely to see stores as a convenient channel, and are substantially more likely to leverage click-and-collect fulfillment. Supporting a quality in-store experience amid staffing constraints while managing both BOPIS fulfillment and in-person shopping support is a tall order, customer loyalty is at stake. Retailers will need to maintain experience quality even as they manage consumers’ expectations amid supply chain and labor challenges.

In-Store Browsing Is Back

Respondents were asked why they plan to do most of their shopping in stores this holiday season

Poll conducted Oct. 16-19, 2021, among 534 U.S. adults who said they plan to do the majority of their holiday shopping in stores, with a margin of error of +/- 4%.
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