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The Great Consumer Dispersion

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Alexandra Pastore
·4 min read
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From where we live to where we work, people globally have been experienced immense disruption in the last year — and for Americans, data shows disruption has largely led to “fleeing” from cities.

According to a new survey from Pitney Bowes, which aims to provide insights into changing consumer preferences and purchase decisions, one in three Americans either plan to move in the next 12 to 18 months or are undecided about staying in a current residence. Moreover, within the 42 percent of urbanites who said they are planning a move, 31 percent said they will go somewhere “less densely populated and likely with a lower cost of living.”

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Notably, Pitney Bowes survey reveals that Gen Z is leading the way to migration with 54 percent having made the decision to move or being open to it. Meanwhile, 20 percent of Baby Boomers, who are least likely to change behaviors according to the company, were likewise found to have made a decision to move or at least be open to it.

These moves, said the company, are due largely to an acceleration of trends caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which left Americans asking, “I could live anywhere…so why live here?” As remote work replaced office jobs, telemedicine replaced physical doctor visits and online degree programs replaced campus-based higher education, e-commerce also became more convenient. The company’s survey found that 42 percent of consumers plan to shop online more often after the pandemic.

In a recent report, Pitney Bowes found parcel shipping had reached 103 billion in volume globally and predicted seeing more than double by 2026.

While these consumer moves mean some good news for home furnishings, household supplies and home improvement segments as consumers set up new living spaces, these moves, may not be good news for retailers overall. Most notably, lower population density increases the cost of residential delivery, meanwhile, consumers who plan to move told Pitney Bowes they will expect greater convenience with home delivery and returns home pickup once in their new homes, compounding the cost to retailers.

“If enough people move far enough away, it will impact real estate markets, local budgets and schools,” said Vijay Ramachandran, vice president of marketing strategy and planning at Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce. “As for e-commerce logistics, we know that fast delivery is far more expensive in suburbs, rural and other ex-urban areas. As more people move to these areas, we will see increasing pressure on all retailers — including Amazon — to think about how their networks are structured.”

Moreover, Ramachandran told WWD that convenience may look different depending on where consumers are based, and the type of neighborhood a person lives in or has access to.

“We anticipate home-based services, such as home delivery, home returns pickup, white-glove services and value-added services in homes, to be more popular with consumers as their living situations change,” Ramachandran said. “Providing these services will only add convenience to consumer’s lives. More so for brick-and-mortar retailers, opening new stores will have to be rethought as population density changes, and certain locations that were once an obvious choice for a new store may no longer be the right fit.”

Meanwhile, Pitney Bowes said that while many pandemic-driven consumer behaviors are likely to “snap back” once quarantine structures and social distancing pressure has been removed, many behaviors will remain, including reliance on e-commerce.

“From an e-commerce perspective, all e-commerce retailers can benefit as moves to less densely populated areas will increase online purchasing as a permanent behavior, as opposed to reverting back to in-store shopping post-pandemic,” Ramachandran said. “Moving also brings an increased need for shopping for home goods, home improvement and electronics — retailers focused in those areas will particularly benefit as consumers move into larger homes where the cost of living is lower.”

The company’s survey data shows that consumers plan to “double down” on quarantine-induced habits when the pandemic ends including cooking at home, shopping online, consumer electronic media, working out at home and working from home. However, those likely to get vaccinated will also be more likely to engage in in-person activities.

For More WWD Business News:

E-commerce Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

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Drunk Shopping Spend Fell by 52 Percent in the Last Year