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Shoppers go back to stores, but retailers face challenges
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Americans are going back to one of their favorite past times: store shopping.
With more people getting vaccinated and dropping their face masks, retailers from Walmart to Macy's are seeing an eager return to their stores after more than a year of their customers migrating online during the pandemic.
Marcia Williams, who lives in a Philadelphia suburb and who stuck to online shopping only during the height of COVID-19, went back to her local mall right after she was fully vaccinated last month. That was her first time in more than a year.
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"I am definitely getting out," said Williams, a hair and makeup artist who spent nearly $1,000 on clothing for herself and her three children during several buying trips. "I do feel more comfortable. I like the experience of trying on clothes. I love grocery shopping. It's my outlet."
The return to store shopping, highlighted in many retailers' earnings reports in recent days, offers a big relief in part because shoppers return less when they make their purchases at the store — 8% compared with 25% for online, according to Forrester Research. And store customers tend to do more impulse buying. For clothing, for instance, 25% of purchases are done on a whim versus 16% online, says market research firm NPD Group Inc.
"Retailers want you in the store," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry adviser. "They need you to be in the store so you generate more traffic. Crowds bring more crowds. (Shoppers) buy more product."
Still, retailers — particularly mall-based stores and other specialty stores that were struggling even before the pandemic — face plenty of challenges to keep customers coming back. They face stepped up competition online and from discounters that thrived in the last year. Experts also say that post-pandemic shoppers will be even more demanding: After being forced to stay close to home, they’re looking for better and convenient services and experiences.
Many retailers like Macy's are still recovering from the pandemic, which forced them to temporarily close early last year, driving more traffic to big box stores that were allowed to stay open. And overall store traffic, while rebounding, is still not back to where it was two years ago.