Digital Transformation

A Survey of 3,500+ Consumers Shows How COVID-19 Will Transform Shopping For the Long Haul

Every two weeks, Salesforce Research is surveying the general population to discover how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re posting the insights we’ve found, and tips on what businesses can do in response. Click here to explore data across demographics and geographies.

No industry has escaped fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but few face as daunting of a recovery as retail. Already searching for footing as ecommerce and disruptive business models grew prior to the crisis, retailers must now reimagine their operations to engage economically shaken consumers that remain vulnerable to infection.

Salesforce surveyed over 3,500 consumers across the globe to understand how their shopping behaviors, needs, and expectations have been reshaped over the past several months and their outlooks for the future. Here are some key takeaways from our analysis of respondents in the United States.

Brick-and-mortar stores must earn shoppers trust before they return

States from coast to coast have begun to slowly loosen restrictions on movement and commerce, but shoppers are taking an even more cautious approach as they consider returning to downtowns and malls. 62% of U.S. respondents to our May 14–15 survey claimed to be conducting less in-store shopping than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a slight uptick from the 60% of respondents to our May 1–2 survey who said the same.

As it turns out, assurance from government officials — be they less stringent local stay at home orders or national guidelines — have less weight on a return to normal shopping behavior than do the actions of retailers themselves. More than anything, shoppers are looking for social distancing measures and required personal protection equipment (PPE) for themselves and employees.

By and large, shoppers aren’t waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, treatment, or even widespread testing before returning to their normal behaviors. Given their higher risk for severe illness if infected, baby boomers are more likely than their younger counterparts to seek such advancements.

The ecommerce bump will persist after the pandemic subsides

Regardless of whether or not they eventually return to brick-and-mortar stores for some or all of their needs, shoppers are increasingly turning to ecommerce. 44% of U.S. respondents to our May 14–15 survey said they are conducting more of their shopping online, an increase from 42% two weeks earlier.

There’s evidence to believe that the pivot towards online shopping will outlast the pandemic, and that it will encapsulate purchases long associated with a quick trip to the grocery store or big box outlet. Over two-thirds (68%) of U.S. shoppers expect to buy essential goods online after the health threats of COVID-19 have subsided. Millennials and Gen Z consumers are most likely to expect this trend to last, but a majority of older shoppers, including 57% of baby boomers, also foresee purchasing more of their staples from a desk, dining room table, or couch.

In addition to generations, the expected long-term shift to ecommerce spans socioeconomic groups. 71% of high income earners foresee more online shopping in their future, as well as 68% of middle income earners and 65% of low income earners.

Consumers are gravitating to alternative shopping methods

Whether in-person or online, shopping methods are shifting to a radical degree at a lightning pace, with methods that minimize or eliminate person-to-person contact surging.

Contactless delivery — be it of food from a local restaurant or merchandise from a mass retailer — is seeing a particularly large uptick in use, with 37% of U.S. consumers turning to it more than usual. The option to buy online and pick-up in store — once a niche offering of big box stores — is also seeing more interest as some jurisdictions move to allow curbside commerce prior to allowing customers indoors.

Contactless payments like Apple Pay, which have long experienced lackluster adoption in the U.S., are now seeing increased interest from virus-wary shoppers who are shunning cash and credit card terminals. Millennials, who popularized the use of peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and PayPal, are increasing their use of contactless payments the most (33%).

Softer back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons are expected

44% of U.S. shoppers in our most recent survey say they’ve decreased their discretionary spending, and the implications for the busy back-to-school and winter holiday shopping seasons are big.

With a lack of clarity on when — or whether — school districts will reopen, parents and guardians have little guidance on what materials their children will require in the first place.

Yet the overwhelming sentiment is that the value of whatever purchases do occur will be flat or smaller than last year. What’s more, retailers may not be able to rely on wealthier back-to-school shoppers — defined as those with annual household incomes over $100,000 — as a buffer to overall reduced spending.

Several months after the back-to-school season, retailers will likely contend with tighter pursestrings among winter holiday shoppers. Surprisingly, medium income (households earning between $40,000 and $100,000 annually) and high income shoppers are more likely to anticipate reduced spending — and less likely to anticipate increased spending — than low income shoppers (those with annual household incomes under $40,000).

For additional analysis on what these findings mean for retailers, see our blog post.

Methodology

Salesforce conducted a double-blind survey of adults in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. Data was collected between May 14 and May 15, 2020 and yielded 3,558 responses. Data is weighted to accurately represent the general population.