How online and in-store shopping habits have changed as a result of the pandemic 

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Non-essential physical retail suffered the most during the pandemic, but stores can welcome back footfall if they address ongoing customer concerns. 

With all bar three states (Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming) having restricted or closed access to non-essential retail stores during the past 16 months, it’s no surprise to see online retailers fare best from the pandemic with the biggest rise of online retail traffic in 13 years (+36% in 2020) mirrored by huge year-on-year falls of footfall traffic. It’s why online companies like Amazon have made record profits, while the oldest clothing retailer in the US, Brooks Brothers, filed for bankruptcy. 

However, with the vaccine roll-out gradually reducing the rate of infection and opening up the country, the big question remains: will these shopping habits stick or will customers return in-store?


Non-essential retail: pandemic loser, post-pandemic winner?

Non-essential retail has been the hardest hit during the pandemic, according to Qudini’s May 2021 survey on retail habits. Not only were more Americans likely to purchase essential products online (49%) rather than non-essential products (45%), but the public were much more likely to visit essential stores during the pandemic (46%) than visit non-essential stores (34%), while a quarter (27%) of consumers said they are less likely to visit essential stores when they are open.

Online shopping looks here to stay with one in four (41%) consumers more likely to shop online for essential and non-essential products post-pandemic (when compared to before the pandemic), but there are signs that non-essential stores, such as fashion, jewelry, luxury, telecoms and electronics stores, could stand to benefit (beyond even non-essential stores) as COVID-19 becomes less of an issue. That’s because those likely to walk into essential stores during the pandemic compared to post-pandemic is reduced (46% to 36%), whereas 43% are more likely to visit non-essential stores after the pandemic (up from 34% during the pandemic).




How can non-essential stores prepare?

After over a year of lagging physical sales, non-essential retail stores need to address customer concerns in order to hit the ground running post-pandemic. Almost half (46%) of people that believe in Covid-19 are still concerned about shopping in stores. Meanwhile 50% of all consumers are expecting to be concerned for the next 12 months and almost a third (29%) believe they’ll be worried for the next 1-5 years. 

Brands should therefore look to deploy long-term strategies in order to get ahead. First off, that means tackling the perception that stores are not safe. Four in five (81%) respondents to Qudini’s October 2020 survey noted safety as their biggest concern about returning to stores in-person and therefore stores are encouraged to implement social distancing, mask wearing and hand santization in-store to keep people safe. With 51% of Americans now using contactless card payments thanks to a combination of tech advancements and Covid-19 fears, non-essential retail should also enable contactless payments across their store portfolio. 

What’s more, our recent survey found 42% of Americans are more concerned about queuing post-pandemic than before the coronavirus struck. This is especially prevalent among younger shoppers – perhaps due to less access to vaccines at the time of asking – so introducing measures to minimise queues should also be welcomed. From scheduling home visits or out of hours appointments when stores are empty to arranging curbside visits (no need to enter store) and controlling the numbers of in-store guests, offering solutions to avoid queuing will help stores welcome back footfall. 

To find out more…


To find out more, download the full report on how the pandemic has changed consumer shopping habits here:


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