Shopping has always had a rhythm and each season has a cadence. But so much has changed so quickly. Here's a quick look at some of the reasons why shopping seems to be on hold.

Shopping time is standing still. As an avid shopper, I feel lost, I’m not sure even what day it is and I’ve lost track of time—as I’m sure many of us have.

Shopping has always had a rhythm and each season has a cadence. Every year, post-December holiday purchases come January sales, replete with household goods and significant apparel markdowns. With the winter doldrums part of our lives in some locales, we are then teased with clothes for February vacations and the upcoming spring warm-up, along with ways to take advantage of spring cleaning and ideas to upgrade our homes to the latest looks. From there, it’s all about our kids as school begins its wind-down. There are the prom dresses, the graduation outfits and then getting ready for summer camp.

So much has changed so quickly. We all need something to look forward to and shopping is a big part of the feel-good factor. We are mostly stopped in our tracks, and our appetite for buying seems to be taking a respite. A quick look at some of the reasons for being on hold is explored in the context of one woman’s shopping trips.

There is no “need” beyond the essential

A Digital Commerce 360 April survey of 107 retailers suggests that 97% of retailers report declining consumer confidence and the majority (54%) see COVID-19 causing a significant decline in consumer confidence.

When these retailers were asked about the biggest issue their company faces, 44% cited encouraging shoppers to buy online.

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Despite fluctuating circumstances, online is seeing growth as 55% of online shoppers have placed more digital orders as a result of the coronavirus. In our Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights’ April 2020 coronavirus survey of 1,064 shoppers, 22% of online shoppers indicate that they had placed significantly more orders online. While essentials still dominated purchase behavior, replenishment products, including health and beauty, were purchased by 45% of those surveyed while pet purchases saw a healthy 28% buy rate. Unfortunately, apparel and home goods did not fare as well, failing to see their usual robust consumption rates for this time of year, with 30% and 24% online buy rates, respectively.

A quick review of some of my purchases over the past month sheds light on the likely behavior of others. While it’s only a sample size of one, it still can be instructive.

Health and beauty is holding its own. Like many of us, I make my hair purchases at my salon. The owner has graciously extended me a carte blanche 20% off year-round so there is never a need to hunt around. I tend to pick up what I need during my monthly visits. Of course, during the coronavirus, I am running low and most salons are closed. Conditioned not to pay full price, I nonetheless am still on the hunt for a bargain. The best I can find online is 10% off and the retailer Allbeauty appears to be reputable, according to reviews. It’s a low-risk purchase at $30, so I take my chances and pray it comes. This is the new normal. One week after placing my order, I’ve yet to see a shipment notification.

The impulse-buy seems like a relic of the past

Perhaps there’s an opportunity to all do our part if we commit to making an impulse-buy each week. Here are a few of the possibilities that may make the cut on my end.

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Prom and graduation dresses see possibilities. We are still in flux at my daughter’s small school as to potential activities and, in particular, if they will be virtual or live. As I have plenty of time on my hands, I can’t help but look at the styles across a range of retailers. In the past, I might have spent hours perusing the selections, but after just a few minutes, I return to my standard “wait-and-see” mindset. There’s simply no sense of urgency pushing me to place an order.

Of course, I never miss an opportunity to take a look for myself as shopping is my hobby. I happened to see a dress for that same graduation, and I made the purchase, knowing the retailer’s return policy would not be an issue. Despite not knowing if I would actually need it, it hangs in my closet and speaks to the hope I have to return to normal. If everything fails to materialize, I will box it up and send it back to the retailer. As far as other personal purchases, I have no imminent plans and plan to continue shopping my closet.

Sometimes I just like to go to the store and sadly there’s no touch and feel of the spring merchandise as it languishes in shuttered retail stores. I yearn to be inside a physical store beyond my local grocery store. This activity is inspiring and part of the rhythm of a real shopper’s behavior. It doesn’t require a lot of time, but typically happens as you are picking up a gallon of milk or even returning a household item. Not only is that restricted, but also if I should find the perfect item and subsequently change my mind, it could be 2 months before stores like Target allow me to make a return. Retailers may need to address this in short order to amp up purchasing.

Home decor is also an area where I find myself on hold along with many others. I tend to do a mix of online and offline and could use some organizational items, but I need help visualizing. I admire the companies that are putting visualization tools into place such as augmented reality to encourage consumption during these challenging times. But I still need a little something more tangible. I have to sit on that expensive sofa or get a sense of how a love seat might look in my living room. Many of the smaller items or other potential purchases are inspired by design and that too is amplified in the store setting.

Shipping and delivery is no longer business as usual. We all have purchasing patterns that have been honed over time. Additionally, we are conditioned to placing an order and receiving it within a few days. 79% of online shoppers in our Click Ship Return March survey were satisfied with their deliveries. I now find myself wondering if in fact I did place the order and whether it’s on the way. All of this is a time sink and it adds to the work I need to do in what otherwise was a seamless one-trip shopping experience that took place in a matter of moments.

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Deliveries are slower, which means getting the product loses its wow factor. Almost half of shoppers encountered out-of-stocks (47%) and the same number reported shipping delays.

For the orders I have placed, longer lead times appear to be the norm. I managed to muster up my enthusiasm as I perused a sale on Nordstrom. I noticed that they had curbside pickup available though I stuck with delivery as I was not in a hurry. When I went to place my order, they told me that my delivery would be 14 days, which was unprecedented. Lo and behold, it came the next day from one of the local stores, as many locations have been transitioned to fulfillment centers.

The return conundrum

If I do make a purchase online, those convenient in-store returns with an immediate credit are no longer possible. The bigger challenge that I found myself facing was that a month went by and products that had been returned by mail were not credited to one’s account. It’s already problematic that funds are tight, but the inability to process orders over that period of time was not acceptable and could have ripple effects as social distancing remains in place over an extended period. A similar experience happened to me at Athleta where I received my order in a slightly delayed fashion. I placed an order for a different size and returned to them twice with no return funds forthcoming.

Research from our Click, Ship, Return research in March already suggested that 25% of online shoppers were frustrated with retailers taking more than a week to receive a credit on their order. One can only imagine how they will feel when it takes months. I already know—it equals frustration.

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Reflections

Despite all of these crazy circumstances, which we hope never to see again, the good news is that 58% of online shoppers expect to order more online in the next few months. We will need all of their purchases from the replenishment to the impulse buy to power up the economy once again.

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