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Study: Customers return to stores, remain wary of COVID-19

Customers are shopping in-store again, but have some new behaviors and concerns.

Consumers increasingly are ready to shop in-store, but they are not abandoning habits formed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two-thirds of surveyed shoppers plan to return to brick-and-mortar locations in the coming months, but 73% want to get in and out of stores quickly, according to the 14th Annual Global Shoppers Study from Zebra Technologies. Sixty-five percent are still worried about exposure to others, and not as many trust retailers to adhere to health and safety mandates or protocols in stores as they did in 2020.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers would prefer to have items delivered to them rather than pick up orders at the store or other location. And 77% say they have placed a mobile order, including more than half of boomers. Thirty-five percent of boomers also say they have used mobile apps for grocery or food delivery specifically.

Half of shoppers are also researching product pricing online before they leave home. And nearly one-third are checking store inventory before they leave home, while only 19% were doing so in 2019.

About one-third of consumers say they use their mobile devices to look up competitive prices or browse online websites for products during shopping trips. More than 70% confirm they have recently left stores without all the items they wanted, with nearly half citing out-of-stocks as the reason for not making an in-store purchase.

Consequently, 58% of shoppers say it’s faster to look up information on their smartphones than ask associates for help, and almost two-thirds (64%) of surveyed store associates (64%) agree. More than 25% of surveyed shoppers have placed click-and-collect m-commerce orders while out shopping, with some even completing mobile orders for home delivery.

More than six in 10 shoppers say they would be willing to purchase out-of-stock items before leaving the store if they could pick those items up at another one of the retailer’s nearby stores or the items could be shipped to their homes.

[Read more: Study: Supply chain, shipping issues could boost in-store holiday shopping]

Breaking out results specifically according to North American consumers and associates, the study revealed more shoppers are using mobile ordering year-over-year (68% in 2021 versus 58% in 2020), but the region still ranks last in mobile ordering. More North American shoppers also said they used mobile apps for grocery or food delivery (51% in 2021 versus 36% in 2020).

Eight in 10 North American shoppers prefer retailers that offer easy returns. However, only six in 10 retail associates in the region say their companies are highly experienced with online returns and believe their process is very streamlined.

The study also examined attitudes of retail decision-makers. More than half of decision-makers surveyed (55%) believe they are completely trusted to fulfill online orders as promised, but only 38% of shoppers indicate complete trust in retailers.

Even retail associates are wary of their employers’ capabilities, with only 51% completely trusting their employer’s ability to deliver or fulfill customers’ online/mobile orders as promised.

Over three-quarters of decision-makers say increasing the efficiency of online order processing and fulfillment is a priority. Nearly 90% of decision-makers say their company is now looking at ways to improve in-store pick and pack as well as warehouse fulfillment. And over one-third of decision-makers are now converting store space into designated pickup and returns locations.

Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study surveyed over 5,000 shoppers, store associates and retail decision-makers globally in June – July 2021 by Azure Knowledge Corporation.

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