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IBM: Nearly 3 in 4 Mall-goers Eager to Return to Brick-and-Mortar

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Adriana Lee
·3 min read
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On Thursday, IBM’s latest global consumer report revealed that a large majority of mall-goers simply can’t wait to hit the aisles.

After polling more than 15,000 adults across nine countries, the technology giant’s Institute for Business Value found that consumers around the world are eager to return to brick-and-mortar locations, thanks to broader vaccine rollouts, drops in COVID-19-related mortalities and a strong desire for “normalcy.”

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Among participants who frequented shopping centers and malls before the pandemic, 73 percent intend to beat down those doors again once they’re vaccinated. One of the biggest shifts noted in the report is aimed at fashion, which clocks in at more than 76 percent. The only other category likely to see more activity would be toys, games and hobbies, at more than 121 percent — though that could be great news for apparel and footwear, too, if activities fuel demand for related attire and gear.

The report also indicated that the upticks in both categories were larger among Millennials, Gen X and those over 55, rather than Gen Z. Researchers theorized that the reason is because Gen Z was already purchasing more of these items online before the pandemic.

While these results bode well for physical stores overall, e-commerce purveyors know that consumers aren’t going to unlearn the buying behaviors established over the past year. So even those who can’t wait to go to the mall will likely continue leaning on social and other e-commerce or hybrid services like buy online, pick up in store.

There are also others who remain nervous about venturing out: Nearly one in four shoppers in the U.S. and U.K. still feel unsafe about visiting stores and don’t find the experience enjoyable anymore. That puts the onus on retailers to emphasize safety and customer experience as top priorities in the post-pandemic era, IBM said.

“Habits formed during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised consumers’ expectations of digital engagement, especially in service industries like retail, travel and transportation,” said Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner at IBM Global Business Services. “As we anticipate the ‘post-COVID-19 pandemic normal,’ businesses should accelerate their digital evolution with AI and cloud-based solutions to help remain competitive. Investing in hybrid physical and digital experiences can help provide a more personalized experience.”

Even so, the signs of a coming post-pandemic boom in physical retail are mounting.

According to Wells Fargo, investors are gaining confidence in the retail recovery, especially after March stimulus payments landed in people’s bank accounts and triggered accelerated spending. Another key part of the catalyst, the company figured, is the change in seasons, anticipation for more in-person social events and the start of a new fashion cycle. In fact, early reads on spring fashion assortments stoked optimism last month.

“Notably, the dress category is beginning to show signs of life again (a promising harbinger of going-out intentions), and management is seeing new trends emerge,” a team led by analyst Ike Boruchow wrote in an industry update this week. “Historically, new fashion cycles are powerful catalysts to fashion spending, as they provide the fashion consumer with a reason to make incremental purchases.”

This week, the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates’ Global Port Tracker also predicted that the surge of imports at retail container ports, which began last summer, will remain strong through the coming summer, as retailers race to gear up for the shopping bonanza.

“We’ve never seen imports at this high a level for such an extended period of time,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “Records have been broken multiple times and near-record numbers are happening almost every month.

“Between federal stimulus checks and money saved by staying home for the better part of a year, consumers have money in their pockets and they’re spending it with retailers as fast as retailers can stock their shelves,” he said.