Research: Shopping Way Less Fun Than It Was Pre-COVID

Remember when retail prognosticators kept talking about how happy people are to be shopping in person again? Not so much. Research is piling up that consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with retail in general -- and with grocery and department stores especially.

A new survey from Theatro finds that 41% of U.S. consumers say physical stores provide an experience that’s “less enjoyable” than they did in 2019. While 63% of the sample say they are now doing most of their shopping in physical retail, they often blame inadequate and poorly trained sales associates for sucking the fun out of their shopping.

And while those perceptions certainly jibe with widespread staffing woes at retailers, Theatro believes they are also the result of higher expectations.

“Consumers prefer physical retail for a lot of reasons, such as the ability to see and feel products before buying them, and the immediate gratification of taking a product home,” says Chris Todd, Theatro’s chief executive officer, in its announcement. “But they’ve also become more accustomed to the advantages of ecommerce, such as avoiding long lines and having an almost infinite amount of product information at their fingertips. This makes them more impatient with the in-store experience.”



Overwhelmingly, consumers want to shop in stores. The survey, based on 600 people, finds that 91% of consumers do at least half their shopping in physical retail locations versus online, and 87% buy from physical stores at least weekly. Nearly two-thirds say they do most (37%) or all (27%) of their shopping in stores.

Supermarkets were named most often as “less enjoyable,” at 38%, followed by department stores at 34%.

Clothing, furniture and mattress stores fared much better.

Long lines and crowds are also a bugaboo, named by 71%, as are high prices, mentioned by 39%.

Those price perceptions are causing a “cost of loyalty” problem at retailers, especially department stores, according to new research from Emarsys, an omnichannel customer engagement platform.

It finds that a third of consumers say they are no longer committed to their department store than before the cost-of-living crisis of the last year. And 60% have changed loyalties in the previous year, with 17% agreeing they “can no longer afford to be loyal.”

Perceptions about those prices are also the focus of a new report from Dunnhumby, which shows consumers are wildly off-base in their assessment of costs and who should take the blame. They think grocery store profits are 14 times higher than in reality, and 46% say grocery retailers have increased profits in the last year. And they believe inflation is twice as high as it is.

Based on some 6,000 adults, this study reveals that Americans believe grocery chains earn a 35.2% net profit margin compared to the actual margin of 2.5%. And they estimate food-at-home inflation at 24.3%, double the annual rate.

The study also finds that food insecurity continues to be a problem many face, with 31% of households saying they have skipped or reduced the size of a meal due to costs. That rises to 44% among consumers younger than 44. Those with kids at home are 8% more likely to have made those adjustments.


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