Brick-and-Mortar Purchasing Surges, but E-Commerce Reigns Supreme in 2021

Consumer shopping trends have felt like a soap opera for the past year. Q1 of 2020 remained fairly steady with the previous year’s trends, but everything changed from 2020 Q2 forward. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Statistics, total retail sales rose around 7 percent from Q4 2019 to Q4 2020. But it’s the sales breakdown that gives many pause: E-commerce sales rose a staggering 32.1 percent from Q4 2019 to Q4 2020. This means that, if Americans needed to buy something in 2020, they were more likely to go online than to a store.

This makes sense, given the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on U.S. shopping trends. With more people hesitant to enter brick-and-mortar retail spaces, and to spend a lot of time there, the growth of the e-commerce sector felt inevitable. Even neighborhood retailers and boutiques began selling their products online, launching websites and exploring curbside pick-up options.

But now that the first year of the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, many Americans are looking to return to life as it was before. As of July 2021, 56 percent of the U.S. population had received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As we inch ever closer toward herd immunity, Americans are spending more time in stores and making more brick-and-mortar purchases.

That said, the recent surge in in-person spending is not, and will not be, enough to surmount the lead e-commerce has taken in the past 16 months. According to the EY Future Consumer Index, 60 percent of U.S. consumers are still visiting brick-and-mortar stores less than they did before the pandemic. Additionally, 43 percent report shopping online for products they would have previously purchased at a store.

Still, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying to get smart with how they tailor in-store experiences. Many are beginning to use planogram software tools, which can help shepherd customers through a space and past the top-selling products. Adding this convenience and tailored merchandising can help customers enjoy their shopping experience while still reducing time spend inside a store. Other retailers are spending time advertising in-store specials, like free exercise classes at apparel stores.

But even with the creativity we’re seeing from retailers, e-commerce is continuing to surge ahead. 60 percent of our interactions with companies are now online, and now that we have an enhanced delivery infrastructure in place, it will be hard to turn back. Some consumers may continue to seek out in-person shopping experiences for certain goods, like clothing and luxury items, but the future appears to be online.