Shoppers still wary to return to malls, travel

Stephen J. Arias

A customer wearing a protective mask views sneakers displayed for sale at a store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 25, 2020.

Jayme Gershen | Bloomberg via Getty Images

As retailers take precautions to a new level to try to welcome shoppers safely back to stores, consumers are still wary of returning to bricks-and-mortar retail, a new survey says. 

Thirty-two percent of people feel unsafe or very unsafe visiting shopping malls, First Insight found in polling more than 1,200 people on July 10. That’s actually an uptick from 29%, the last time the firm surveyed consumers on April 30, the retail predictive analytics company said. 

That worsening sentiment follows a recent surge in coronavirus cases in Arizona, Florida and Texas. Fortunately, health officials are starting to see some leveling off in these hard-hit states, as people take precautions such as wearing facial coverings when they’re out and about. 

According to the survey, 80% of women are uncomfortable trying on makeup and other beauty products in stores, 68% feel unsafe trying on clothes in dressing rooms and 61% feel unsafe trying on shoes. 

Many retailers that rely heavily on their stores for sales are grappling with the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic, the consumer expectations that come with that and how to make ends meet. The pressures have pushed a number of companies, many of which were already teetering before the Covid-19 crisis hit, into bankruptcy. Some 40 retailers, including J.Crew, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers and Sur la Table, have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. 

“Retail needs to be aware that while people are shopping and there is definitely pent-up demand, many consumers are still very much afraid to be in-store and to try products, or use dressing rooms,” First Insight Chief Executive Greg Petro said.

Still, consumers appear to appreciate the safety measures that many companies are taking to make the shopping experience more secure and sanitized. 

A number of retailers including Walmart, Kroger, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney have recently started mandating some sort of facial covering be worn in their stores, as not all states have imposed their own overarching rules. 

Eighty-four percent of people told First Insight that a face mask policy makes them feel safe in stores, while 71% said they find temperature checks important. 

According to the survey, consumers are actually feeling more safe visiting grocery stores today versus in April. Only 11% said they feel unsafe visiting a grocer, down from 13%. And consumers also appear to favor shopping at small businesses over sprawling shopping malls. Seventeen percent said they feel unsafe shopping at a local retail boutique, down from 21% at the end of April, First Insight said. 

The fear is still rippling across the travel industry, too, which has its own implications for retail businesses located in airports or centered in densely populated tourist districts. 

Forty percent said in the poll that they would wait at least a year to travel on a domestic flight, up 30% from April. And 51% said they are waiting at least 12 months to travel overseas. Fifty-five percent of people said they are waiting more than a year to go on a cruise ship again. 

As of this past Friday, 5,439 permanent store closures have been announced by retailers in the U.S. so far this year, according to a tracking by Coresight Research. The firm is predicting that number could grow to 25,000 by the end of 2020.

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