New research reveals how consumer preferences have changed and how retailers can adapt.

As Stores Reopen, Which Customers Are Most Likely to Return?

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns throughout the U.S. have dramatically affected shopping behavior and shifted priorities for retail customers. While the pandemic has resulted in revenue declines for the majority of businesses, some brand owners and retailers have seen significant growth by adapting their offerings and communication to capitalize on new customer needs and behaviors.

We investigated the scale and variation of the lockdown’s impact on shopping behaviors across a number of product categories, fielding three surveys (in late March, late April, and late May 2020) among a representative sample of more than 5,000 U.S. households. The key findings of our March survey formed the basis of our article “Growth Opportunities for Brands During the COVID-19 Crisis.”

As it became clear that the reopening of the economy would be phased, we extended the focus of our April and May research to identify a new spectrum of customer segments and the factors influencing their likelihood to return to inperson shopping. This article draws on these findings to identify how retail stores and brand owners that rely significantly on physical retail can reengage with former customers or tailor their offerings and communication to appeal to these new customer segments.

What We Found

Our research (see “The Research”) shows that, as the lockdown eased, retail shoppers could be grouped into five segments, each of relatively equal size, based on their motivations for in-person shopping—for example, whether shopping is an activity that they enjoy in its own right, as part of a sociable lifestyle, or simply as a means to an end.

In order to understand the factors that might motivate each customer segment to return to in-person shopping, we also asked respondents about their quarantine experience and associated emotions and attitudes. This revealed wide variability in these situational factors that greatly exceeded the differences observed on traditional demographic factors.

Studying the situational, attitudinal, and behavioral factors at play (more than 60 in total) has allowed us to develop detailed and actionable customer segment profiles, together with recommendations for how retailers and brand owners can appeal to each segment in a relevant and emotionally compelling way.

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