Are People Returning To In-Person Shopping?

Woman in mask browsing through clothing

Black Friday. Boxing Day.

What do they make you think of?

Likely crowds of people swarming shopping malls for deals. Sometimes even stepping on other shoppers to get them…ah, consumerism. One of the hallmarks of twenty-first century society. It’s kind of funny that it actually took a pandemic for us all to realize we don’t need to camp outside a Best Buy for twelve hours to get a decent price on a flatscreen. 

But this was the world before COVID-19. Huge line-ups of shoppers, barely an arms-length apart for every new release or big sale. Swathes of people hung out in malls on weekends no matter the season—before the pandemic, we were in-person shoppers.

Then online shopping took hold like a tropical storm. Those major sales became a lot easier to commit to when all it took was a few clicks—we didn’t even have to wake up early. Fast forward almost two years and now it seems like things are finally getting back to normal (sort of). But are we really going back to all of the hoopla associated with in-person shopping? 

What makes this archaic form of buying and selling so attractive? Is there something about it being so old that makes it distinctly human? Will it always be around?

I think it might. Even Amazon, the behemoth online retailer that dominated the pandemic (ICYMI their stock price doubled from March 2020 to March 2021) is opening two department stores in 2022. That’s right, California and Ohio will be home to two brick and mortar Amazon stores.

Now if that sounds like it’s some sort of bizarre marketing ploy; don’t cry foul just yet. Amazon actually says the stores make sense for them based on how people buy certain items (like clothes, for instance). So, it turns out you can buy anything online, but maybe you shouldn’t.

When you start taking a look at the data, too, Amazon’s choice makes sense:

  • A survey conducted by Power Review in June 2021 revealed that a whopping 70% of American shoppers have no concerns about returning to in-person shopping. So it seems like consumers are ready to get back into malls and department stores to start touching and feeling products, and trying things on again.
  • Forrester, a global market research firm predicted in July 2021 that up to 72% of retail sales will still take place in-person as far into the future as 2024.
  • On the retailer side, according to one Forbes article, customers typically spend more in store than they do online; presenting a good reason for businesses to keep their physical doors open and steer away from moving totally online—at least for now.

Even when the world was in the throes of the pandemic, people continued as they have for millennia to trade with each other when unable to visit physical stores (Facebook Marketplace hit 1 billion users in 2021). 

While in most cases, there was likely a contactless element to these transactions (and Facebook’s platform is undoubtedly an online platform), buying and selling second hand is a far cry from Amazon’s one click service where users can only physically inspect their purchase after it arrives on their doorstep.

So what do we make of all this? Apparently there’s just something to making purchases in-person that keeps us coming back. Well, it makes sense really, doesn’t it? For all of the great online shopping experiences countless consumers have had, we all have at least one story of when a purchase didn’t pan out the way we expected. 

There’s definitely something reassuring about holding a product in your hands, passing it across the checkout counter and then exchanging your money with the cashier at the same time they pass it back to you. It’s yours now. Now being the keyword—as there’s still nothing as instant as a good old-fashioned in-person purchase.

Online shopping isn’t a bad thing; of course, it’s made plenty of people’s lives easier, but as the internet continues to change our lives daily it seems that some things—however primitive and outdated they may seem—will never change completely. Stores are opening again, and we humans are coming back in droves.

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