Big-Box Stores Will Win the Reopening, but Mask Expectations Are High

Share this:

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the retail industry, and businesses need to be staying on top of moment-to-moment consumer attitudes if they’re to successfully navigate the reopening of the U.S. economy in the coming weeks and months. Just because city and state officials relax certain local restrictions doesn’t necessarily mean that customers are eager to race back into all retail environments—especially without certain precautions in place. 

New consumer insights uncovered by Resonate are painting a picture for what to expect as lockdown restrictions start to lift. According to our latest wave of consumer sentiment research, shopping behaviors are already starting to shift dramatically. But that doesn’t mean consumers are fully ready to resume their previous daily lives, particularly when it comes to venturing into stores.  

In May, online grocery delivery saw a 12.1% drop in shoppers who are increasing usage of this option, and 19% of consumers are now increasing their visits to grocery stores and pharmacies. As economies reopen, big-box retailers stand to benefit the most, with 60% of consumers indicating they’ll return to big-box stores like Walmart, Target and Costco. However, they expect to see staff wearing masks and gloves (50%) and to be aware of nightly disinfection store protocols (48%).

Once shops open, consumers indicate they’ll return to physical stores at the following rates:

  • Grocers – 62.41%
  • General merchandise (e.g., Walmart, Target, Costco) – 60.46%
  • Restaurants – 51.52%
  • Clothing – 48.09%
  • Hardware and building supplies – 35.82%
  • Electronics – 24.53%
  • None of the above – 9.57%

The return to physical stores doesn’t come without expectations. Among precautionary measures, consumers say they value gloved and masked staff members above other measures. To return to physical stores, consumers said they consider the following to be required:

  • All staff wearing masks/gloves – 50%
  • Knowledge of nightly disinfecting of stores – 48%
  • Forced social distancing – 46%
  • All customers wearing masks/gloves – 46%
  • Reduced occupancy of shops – 42%
  • Ability to pay without contact – 31%
  • Curbside pick-up – 27%
  • Vaccines having become widely available – 45%
  • None of the above – 13.20%

The above stated requirements are telling, with a large portion of consumers indicating that nothing short of a Covid-19 vaccine will prompt a complete return to comfort within physical store environments. Likewise, some Covid-19 features like curbside pickup are becoming customer favorites and might need to remain to meet customer experience expectations as stores reopen.

In other cases, expectations around reduced occupancy and contactless payment could require significant changes to store policies and systems. Such changes must be prioritized not only in terms of execution, but also in terms of how they are actively communicated and promoted to worried patrons through signage and marketing communications. 

More broadly, Resonate’s latest survey found that 30% of consumers now think it will take more than a year before life returns to “normal.” That’s significantly up from 11% back in March, which tells retailers that the gravity of the pandemic has grown, rather than declined, in the minds of shoppers.

Overall, consumers say they are more worried about economic consequences than the health-related consequences of Covid-19. However, a full quarter of them don’t expect they’ll dine in at restaurants until 2021, and only a third of consumers expect to dine in at restaurants this summer or earlier. In other words, regardless of reported declines in health concerns, consumers are still taking the risk of certain activities seriously. 

Of course, geographical variations across the U.S., both in terms of local restrictions and consumer attitudes, will have significant implications for businesses’ reopening policies and protocols. In this regard, companies shouldn’t assume their instincts are sufficient to guide decision making around what consumers in each region are feeling.

For example, our latest data show that, while consumers across the country are continuing to lengthen their expectations on when their lives will return to normal, we see that consumers in the South and Midwest specifically are over-indexing in their belief that we are facing a more than seven-month recovery. Reopening plans need to be crafted with geographic variations and sentiments in mind.

Jeremie Vaught is Executive Director of Brand Partnerships at Resonate.