Consumers Are Still Afraid to Shop in Stores — Here’s What Retailers Can Do

As retailers begin to reopen their doors, an increasing number of consumers are returning to public spaces — but many of them are still wary of the possibility of contracting the novel coronavirus in stores.

According to a new survey by First Insight, most female shoppers feel unsafe trying on apparel (68%) and footwear (61%). The figures represented an uptick from the analytics firm’s study in April, when it reported that 65% of women did not feel safe trying on clothing. On the other hand, 46% of male shoppers feel unsafe trying on apparel, compared with April’s 54%, while 46% of them don’t feel safe trying on shoes. (It did not have corresponding percentages for the shoe category in April.)

The study added that, across generations, Baby Boomers still felt uncomfortable returning to the shopping environment: About 73% of respondents who were part of this demographic deemed it unsafe to try on clothes in dressing rooms, compared with 71% in April. Separately, about 45% of millennials don’t feel safe trying on apparel, versus April’s 49%.

“Retailers need to be aware that while people are shopping and there is definitely pent-up demand, many consumers are still very much afraid to be in-store and to try products or use dressing rooms,” CEO Greg Petro said. “As stores continue to operate during the pandemic, it is critical that retailers communicate with their customers, understand expectations when it comes to safety and simultaneously offer the products they need. Those that do will have the greatest chance of success in this difficult environment.”

First Insight also uncovered that consumers at shopping malls, warehouse clubs and big-box chains feel even more vulnerable now than they did in April — a respective 32% versus 29%, 20% versus 18% and 18% versus 17%. Separately, the firm’s report showed that respondents felt more safe stopping at essential retail chains like grocery stores (only 11% feel unsafe now versus 13% in April) and local small businesses (about 17% feel unsafe today versus the last study’s 21%).

What’s more, a recent surge in coronavirus infections has led major nationwide retailers like Walmart and Target, department stores such Kohl’s and Nordstrom, and specialty chains including American Eagle and Gap to implement requirements for face masks at their units. Many companies have also established proactive cleaning protocols, such as wiping down common areas and surfaces, enforcing temperature checks at theirs doors and providing personal protective equipment to staff and shoppers.

In its report, First Insight shared that the number of respondents who said a face covering policy makes them feel most safe shopping in stores has increased from 79% in April to 84% today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, face masks can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 4.39 million people in the United States and led to at least 149,900 deaths.

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