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covid-19 holiday shopping

Mall Shopping in a COVID-19 Holiday Season

Whether you enjoy it or absolutely dread it, shopping is a big part of the winter holiday season. Covid-19 concerns and restrictions have accelerated the shift to online retail that was already underway, and this year’s online purchases are on track to significantly outpace in-person holiday sales.

The current pandemic has changed when, where, and how we shop. Still, despite some consumer, hesitation to return to out-of-home activities, there are some excellent reasons that the traditional mall could still be a great place to shop this holiday season.

Smaller crowds

First off, we expect shoppers to be both fewer and more efficient this year. According to a survey by McKinsey, up to 60% of consumers planned to do their holiday shopping early and online, and mall traffic is forecasted to be down by 25%. 

Shoppers are also becoming more mission-oriented, leveraging online resources to reduce time spent in shops. More than 80% of shoppers research products online to buy offline (ROBO), so when they do come in person, they have a better idea of what they’re looking for. Along with physical distancing measures, this adds up to shorter lines, more elbow room, and more sales staff available per customer. 

Throughout the U.S., malls and shopping centers are taking extra precautions this season to protect the health and safety of both shoppers and employees. To put your mind at ease before venturing into your local mall, you can check their score on the Klēn app to make sure your local mall is following regulations and see exactly what protocols they’re taking to ensure a safe shopping environment.

In-store deals and help from sales associates

Brick-and-mortar retailers, who have been hard hit by pandemic restrictions, are offering in-store only deals to bring customers back in person, and with good reason. Purchases made in person have a much lower average return rate of 8.89% compared to 30% of online purchases. Being able to see and touch items can help with purchase decisions, and 62.4% of consumers report being more satisfied with purchases when assisted by a sales associate. 

Retailers also want to encourage in-person shopping because having a physical store drives online sales and vice versa. A seamless online shopping experience can encourage consumers to visit a physical store, and research has shown that opening a new store can increase website traffic by 37%.

Delivery services could get overwhelmed

In a September survey by RetailMeNot, of the 75% of customers that planned to shop online this holiday season, 40% said they would be shopping earlier than usual to avoid shipping delays. The National Retail Federation is also encouraging consumers to shop early to reduce crowds and increase total spending, and this year Amazon chose to hold their Prime Day sales in October instead of July to appeal to holiday shoppers.

Despite record online sales in October and the first half of November, a large number of shoppers will still make significant holiday purchases during the crunch time of late November and December, when delivery services already have to handle the increased demand.

This year, services will be coping with a higher-than-usual volume of new online orders and returns from early purchases, putting a strain on delivery networks and making it less certain whether orders will be shipped and received in time for the holidays. 

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Supporting local businesses

Supporting local independent businesses is a priority for 66% of customers, and despite the fact that malls are known for hosting large chain stores, small independent retailers also have their shops in malls and shopping centers. Vendors that are currently selling exclusively online have more opportunities to showcase their products in temporary pop-up shops this year, in part because of a higher than normal mall storefront vacancy rate (20% in 2020 versus 10.2% in 2019)

Retailers may even be able to offer lower prices in-store than online by avoiding shipping costs, higher return rates, and high online transaction fees.

To help retailers focus on offering a safe and memorable holiday shopping experience, Klēn for business leverages its unique machine-learning algorithms to keep shop owners, malls, and shopping centers up-to-date on all CDC recommendations and current state, local, and industry regulations.

A taste of the old normal

In previous years, the average shopper has taken about five trips to a mall during the holidays, braving crowds, frazzled staff, intense music, and other frantic shoppers. This year, though, will be different, as a majority of consumers have been shopping early for their holiday gifts, and plan to take far fewer shopping trips than in the past.

A September survey indicated that 71% of global consumers were ready to return to physical stores, and 80% were reassured by measures like mask-wearing, physical distancing, and increased sanitization. With fewer shoppers and tighter cleaning protocols, 2020 could be a much easier holiday season to shop at the mall, a tradition that could help bring a degree of normalcy to a very abnormal year.