In the Era of COVID, Why Mission-Driven Shopping Is the Next Big Retail Opportunity

In the era of COVID-19, where a trip to the shopping mall could be deemed high-risk — or, at the very least, highly-uncomfortable — consumers who do opt to make the trek to a store are doing so with solid intention.

In a new report this week from Placer.ai, researchers said so-called mission-driven shopping will be among the two key trends gaining steam during the upcoming holiday season (shopping for value is the other development).

Ethan Chernofsky, VP of marketing at Placer, said that while shopping malls have been faced with unique obstacles amid the global health crisis, their ability to “align with mission-driven shopping during a wintry holiday season” could be their saving grace as visitors look to accomplish more with each visit — a trend driven by COVID-induced fears — and find reprieve from icy temperatures.

“If these locations are only capable of maintaining their current pace of return while stealing some of the traffic currently heading to outlet centers, the high conversion rates being seen throughout the retail sector should translate to a positive end to an especially difficult year,” added Chernofsky, referencing the trend of people flocking to outdoor outlet centers in hopes of taking advantage of discount pricing and open-air environments, which health experts have indicated are generally lower risk when it comes to coronavirus transmission.

According to Placer, mission-driven shopping has already been a boon to big boxes like Walmart and Target, which in the summer were able to sidestep some competition from office supplies stores such as Staples and Office Depot during the back-to-school rush.

The consumer shift from browsing to buying is one that The NPD Group also tracked in late July and early August. Beth Goldstein, executive director and industry analyst for fashion footwear and accessories at NPD, told FN in August that those who do go into a store are less likely to peruse than they might have been prior to the pandemic, particularly since they may have to wait in line to get into the store in the first place, and — once inside — they need to be taking safety precautions. “It’s not the best experience,” she said. “So, they are more likely to have a purpose for going in, and as a result, retailers would be seeing higher conversion rates.”

Even smaller, independent players have logged the trend: Braden Parker, co-founder of direct-to-consumer shoe brand Casca, and Danny Wasserman, Lester Wasserman, president of Tip Top Shoes, New York, both told FN over the summer that they had observed a surge in “very serious buyers” visiting their stores.

Either way, this is welcome news for small and big firms alike amid a challenging retail environment where the path to recovery has so far been erratic if not concerning. However, insiders have cautioned, mission-driven shopping will only work for firms that actually have compelling and useful product offerings in the first place — and the right promotional and omnichannel strategies to build consumer awareness that translates into intention.

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