Even When Stores Reopen, Shopping Is Going to Look A Lot Different

New data from Fast shows that COVID-19 is permanently changing the way people think about getting what they need and want

By Allison Barr Allen, Co-founder and COO of Fast

While some states are beginning to reopen non-essential stores in hopes of reinvigorating their stalled economies, American shoppers are making clear that they have significant hesitations about going back into shops.

In a new nationwide survey commissioned by Fast and conducted April 28-30, we found that Americans are deeply worried about shopping in physical stores and have several specific concerns about their personal safety – indicating that retail businesses will have to address multiple issues before people are ready to consider returning.

Fast’s survey found 89% of shoppers currently have concerns about shopping in physical stores, with just 11% unconcerned. The #1 worry for shoppers is being too close to other people, with 63% of worried respondents citing that as a top concern. In addition, how regularly the store is cleaned was the #2 fear, with 40% of people listing it as a problem. Long lines – seen to enter many stores and at checkout – troubles 39% of our respondents. Americans' wariness about being in stores also extends to how they pay, with 34% uneasy about touching credit card terminals and 32% concerned about passing cash back and forth at the register. 

There was no significant gender difference, with 88% of men saying they were worried about shopping in stores, compared with 90% of women expressing concern.

Contrary to some public narratives suggesting that younger people are less worried about being in public during the pandemic, our survey found that all age groups have significant concerns about returning to stores. Eighty-nine percent of 18-34 year olds were worried, compared to 91% for those 35-44, 86% for people 45-54, 87% for 55-64 and 90% for seniors 65 years old and up.  

Americans also aren’t as regionally polarized on this issue, with our survey revealing similar fear across the country. In the hard hit Northeastern states, 91% of people are anxious about shopping in person. But so are 88% of people in Southern states, along with 91% in the Midwest and 87% in the West. 

The rate of e-commerce purchases had already been steadily rising before this crisis hit, but shelter-in-place orders, limited brick-and-mortar stock and fears about exposure to illness are driving people to e-commerce alternatives that will shape their shopping into the future. 

At Fast, we wanted to research this behavior because our mission is to improve the customer experience everywhere people shop online, and this mission becomes even more important as people’s awareness and preferences shift away from physical stores. What this new data tells us is that retailers who have developed a loyal customer following through in-person experiences are going to have to give that same focus and attention to their online presence.

In this rapidly changing environment, smaller, independent and local businesses are rightly fearing for their livelihood; nobody wants a future where retail is dominated by a few major players because they had the tools and resources to capitalize on a crisis. Businesses who embrace digital and focus on the customer experience online will be in a better position to rebound and thrive when we come out on the other side of COVID-19 and its immediate impact. The key is to meet customers where they are by understanding their pain points, anxieties and new ways of thinking, and be willing to be creative and flexible in the process.

As more and more shopping activity is concentrated online, Fast wants to ensure a level playing field for all merchants and make customer experience as quick, easy and safe as it can be. Visit our sellers page to learn more, and read up on our company and vision in our Newsroom

Fast’s survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll from April 28-30, 2020 among 2,048 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.