Well at least it’s almost over, amiright? 2020, what a mess. It always had a new way to hurt us, only ever briefly pausing the pain to give us some good news (looking at you, MBJ), and felt gratuitously endless. You really do not need market research to tell you that 2020 was horrific, but through it all, we’ve been there with you, chronicling market research and the world that shapes it every week in this humble blog.
For reasons not worth getting into, my man and I drove from Long Beach all the way across southern California to San Bernardino, about a 60-mile trip due east. And, dear reader, let me tell you what I saw: Malls, both indoor and out, from the coast all the way to the mountains, with entirely full parking lots. Not just crowded...entirely full. People were driving around looking for parking.
Throw in the Wall Street Journal’s recent survey of malls in three states, which showed them to be similarly popping, and I think it’s safe to say that, last weekend at least, people were shopping like their life depended on it (when, sadly, it might depend on them NOT shopping).
How to explain these crowds, in a week where the United States surpassed 12 million active cases of COVID-19? Is this a sign of things to come, or an early blip in an abnormal shopping season? Well, we are putting in the retail market research to understand this in-store shopping surge and what retailers are already doing to keep the momentum going (it has to do with lobbying).
Retail Market Research: Why Consumers are Crowding Malls in a Pandemic
Despite the crowds, it is important to know that the majority of consumers are, by and large, migrating their purchases online. Indeed, the National Retail Federation says that online shopping this holiday season will increase by up to 30% over last year.
Yet, if my eyes and the Wall Street Journal are to be believed, this online surge has not curtailed in-store shopping. But there is some important context here that suggests this initial surge is a unique phenomenon in a unique year.
Indeed, it is likely that many of the people crowding malls are combining limited in-store shopping with their digital shopping plan. They would like to avoid stores as much as possible but also want to make sure they get what they want. often going for a “one-time-only” type of trip aimed at securing particularly hard to get items (read: PS5) or personally inspecting a big ticket item before purchase.
Other shoppers are following a similar one-and-done plan, but are hunting for more than just that one impossible-to-get item. According to one shopper in Michigan: “I’ll still do most of my shopping online this year. I’m trying really hard not to come out too much, and we almost didn’t do this shopping trip this year, but in the end we decided to do it and try our best to be safe about it.”
Beating the Crowds and Racing Against a Second Lockdown
With so many shoppers planning to limit their shopping, is it possible that last weekend was merely a temporary surge that will soon level out? Anecdotally, at least, it seems that consumers have a few reasons for a pre-Thanksgiving holiday shopping rush.
As we’ve learned through the pandemic, some things can be canceled and others can be postponed, but there are some events that simply cannot be moved. Think of it this way: Coachella 2020 was canceled, the NBA season was postponed, but the national election has to happen on November 3. Same with Easter and Commencement and the daily mail route. Unlike weddings or concerts, these things just can’t be moved.
We have previously described and lamented the politicization of face masks, our single greatest weapon against coronavirus this side of a vaccine, but, as coronavirus numbers reach previously unfathomable peaks seemingly every day, we have to talk about them again.
White Castle, purveyors of tiny burgers and stoner fantasies, is running a pilot program testing a kitchen robot called Flippy, which will take over some kitchen duties like running the fryer and grill. That’s right, before we get robot umpires to definitively call balls and strikes or robot lifeguards to keep our swimmers safe, we are getting an almost fully autonomous robot in a QSR kitchen. This is likely a sign of things to come, with automation and robotics assuming back-of-house tasks with increasing frequency and efficiency though this could lead to some serious Matrix-level dystopia.