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Are Retail Consumers Ready to Return? New Study Says They Feel ‘Safer’ at Local Stores Than Malls

Retailers are preparing to reopen their stores. But what if consumer behaviors have drastically changed?

A survey by retail predictive analytics platform First Insight found that only half of consumers feel comfortable returning to stores — and malls and department stores, in particular, were deemed the least safe.

Although men consistently reported being more at ease with returning to stores than women, the numbers for non-essential stores never went higher than 49% for either demographic. Department stores were viewed as safe by 37% of respondents, while visiting malls was supported by only 33% of consumers.

“As retail visits expand past essential places like grocery and drug stores, other retailers, and malls in particular, need to be thinking of ways to inspire a sense of safety for consumers, and it will need to go beyond offering gloves and masks at the door,” said Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight.

Local independent retailers were more popular, however, with both men and women favoring them over their larger competitors; 47% of men and 39% of women described them as “safe” or “very safe” to visit. Combined with the House of Representatives recent passing of the $484 billion coronavirus relief package, which includes $321 billion for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, this suggests a more optimistic future for the smaller businesses that are able to stay afloat until stores reopen.

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“Over 40% of respondents in all generations say they will feel safe shopping at smaller, local stores, with millennials the highest at 46%,” said Petro. “Men report feeling safer than women shopping in local stores, making them a logical target for marketing and promotions as stores reopen.”

In addition to targeting men, Petro observed that there were also regional differences in attitudes that retailers could use to their advantage.

For instance, consumers in the Northeast, including New York City, reported higher levels of comfort in returning to stores than the national average, with a large difference for malls (45% versus 33% nationally). Retailers with multiple stores around the country may therefore want to open those first, once stay-at-home restrictions are eased.

The most recent survey results are part of First Insight’s ongoing series of consumer sentiment studies, “The Impact of Coronavirus on Consumer Purchase Decisions and Behaviors.” Comparisons to earlier surveys also found positive steps in consumer attitudes. For the first time since February, there was a 6% decrease in respondents being worried about the coronavirus. There was also a 10% drop in respondents reporting that coronavirus had impacted their purchasing decisions.

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