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Post-Pandemic Commerce Starts To Take Shape

As Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette told analysts on a Tuesday (May 18) conference call, “Clearly, our customer is ready to get on with life.” And the data proves it, with the rising number of people booking flights and accommodations, and the pickup in the number of drivers on the road. And as Gennette and others have pointed out, the progress of vaccinations is a big reason. Roughly half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, a proportion that swells to 70 percent for older adults (age 65 and up), and to 85 percent for older adults who have gotten at least one shot, according to The New York Times.

But what will consumers do once they are back out there? That is the $64,000 question at present, as consumers are redefining what their lives will be like after over a year away from their normal pre-pandemic routines. PYMNTS has some insight into what activities consumers are most likely to resume post-vaccine, care of our latest consumer survey.

Some 29.6 percent of consumers said they want to be able to freely see their family and friends without social distancing or having to wear masks, while 18.8 percent of consumers want to be able to engage in leisure activities like going to the movies or attending sporting events and concerts, and 15.5 percent noted that they are mostly looking forward to being able to travel freely within the country, followed closely by being able to go out and eat in restaurants (reported by 11.2 percent).

A significant sample share of consumers is not as stoked about going back to work in an office, traveling internationally or shopping in physical stores. In fact, in-store shopping had the ignominious distinction of bottoming out the list, with only 6.3 percent of consumers reporting that they are looking forward to it. Consumers’ lack of interest in going back into an office and shopping in physical stores indicates that most have become used to performing these tasks online, and prefer the ease or convenience of these tasks in a digital setting.

And yet, there may be a different way of looking at shopping in-store in the post-pandemic era, which could mean its future is perhaps a bit brighter than PYMNTS data suggests. In-store shopping is evolving into something other than an exercise in acquisition — particularly for younger consumers. The actual buying part of the experience is becoming more of an online experience, but the act of shopping is becoming distinctly social. Gen Zers and millennials may research online, but they view visiting stores as a social excursion: 81 percent of Gen Z prefers to shop in stores, and more than half do so because it allows them to disconnect from social media and the digital world for a while, according to a recent Kearney survey.

“There’s about to be this massive influx of sensory engagement in retail,” Ciara Larkin of Crowd DNA told Vogue Business. “People are craving tactile and immersive experiences as a push back against the excessive screen fatigue they experienced during the pandemic.”

Consumers suffering from a bad case of couch fatigue may be more motivated than ever to get back out to shops and malls — not necessarily because they are there to buy, but because they want to see and be seen by others. It’s an opinion that has been circulating more freely in physical retail circles in the last several weeks.

CEO David Simon told investors during the mall operator Simon’s earnings conference call last week that between being cooped up, locked down and getting the stimulus, there’s clearly some level of “euphoria” around getting back out into malls to do some shopping in the real world. How long that euphoria will last remains unknown, he noted, but for now, shopping has become a favored new shopping activity, particularly in some demographics.

“We are encouraged with what we are seeing in terms of sales traffic,” Simon noted. “Suburbia is hot, suburbia is the place to be … We plan to take advantage of what I don’t think will be a short-term scenario. I think this will play out for several years, and we’ve got some really good stuff in the redevelopment pipeline.”

As the data demonstrates, consumers aren’t terribly excited to get back to stores and go back to their old ways of weekend-dominated shopping. But they do want to see each other, and savvy physical retailers are figuring out how to convert that motivation into foot traffic — and are finding that a shopping trip might be able to scratch that itch.

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