More Than 40% of Americans Say Shopping at Physical Retail Stores Is “Less Enjoyable” Than Before Covid, with Most Blaming Inadequate or Poorly Trained Staff, New Study Shows
Survey findings from Theatro reveal that while 63% of consumers are doing most of their shopping at in-store retail again, the recent holiday shopping season highlighted several key warning signs for retailers seeking to earn back customers.
Purpose of this Study
With consumers coming back to physical retail stores in full force in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, the Theatro team decided to survey U.S. consumers to ask them about their in-store experiences. We timed the study to take place in January 2023, with the most recent holiday shopping season still fresh in shoppers’ minds.
The survey found that many Americans believe the quality of the in-store experience has declined since 2019—the last year before the Covid lockdowns that began in March 2020. In the study, 41% of respondents said their shopping experiences are “less enjoyable” than they were prior to Covid, with 64% citing poorly trained or prepared retail staff and 60% blaming inadequate staffing levels.
The responses suggest that retailers still struggle with chronic staffing issues, as they have since emerging from the pandemic. But the results also indicate that customer expectations for speed, convenience and getting answers to their questions quickly have increased as a result of their increased use of e-commerce sites during the pandemic.
“Consumers prefer physical retail for a lot of reasons, such as the ability to see and feel products before buying them, and the immediate gratification of taking a product home. But they’ve also become more accustomed to the advantages of e-commerce, such as avoiding long lines and having an almost infinite amount of product information at their fingertips. This makes them more impatient with the in-store experience,” said Theatro CEO Chris Todd.
“The survey suggests that retailers must respond to these heightened expectations or suffer the consequences of decreased shopper satisfaction and, ultimately, sales.”
Working with the third-party survey platform Pollfish, we asked 600 U.S. adults to share their experiences and views on the current state of in-store retail. Here are the results of our retail customer experience survey.
- Americans prefer shopping in retail stores to shopping online, for reasons like being able to see and feel products before buying them.
- Retail shoppers don’t enjoy shopping as much as they did before Covid, for reasons like inadequate staffing and poorly trained staff.
Americans prefer shopping in retail stores to shopping online, for reasons like being able to see and feel products before buying them
While some predicted that Covid would permanently shift shoppers’ preferences to e-commerce, survey respondents expressed a strong preference for in-store retail over online shopping.
- 91% of consumers said they do at least half of all their shopping in physical retail stores compared to online, with nearly two-thirds saying they do most (37%) or all (27%) of their shopping in stores; 28% of respondents said they do about half of their shopping online and half at physical stores.
- 87% of consumers said they shop in retail stores at least once weekly, with nearly a third saying they shop in retail stores either once daily (19%) or multiple times per day (13%).
- Among those respondents who said they do most or all of their shopping at physical stores, 76% said they prefer in-store shopping because they like being able to see and touch the product; 44% said they like the immediate gratification of taking the products they buy home with them; 25% said they like the social aspect of shopping; 21% said they like being able to ask questions and get help with purchases from in-store employees; and 20% said that it’s easier to return items at a physical store.
- Among the 9% of respondents who said they do most or all of their shopping online, the majority (62%) cited convenience as a reason for this preference.
Retail shoppers don’t enjoy shopping as much as they did before Covid, for reasons like inadequate staffing and poorly trained staff
While the great majority of consumers have returned to in-store retail and prefer it over online shopping, the survey revealed that many aren’t shopping as much as they used to—and perhaps more concerningly, aren’t enjoying the retail experience as much as they did before Covid.
- When asked, “Do you shop at physical retail stores more often, less often, or about the same amount today as you did in 2019, before the Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021?,” 39% said they shop “less often” compared to only 24% who said they shop “more often.” The remaining respondents (38%) said they shopped in-store about the same amount today as before Covid.
- When they do go shopping, 41% said their experiences are “less enjoyable” today than before Covid, compared to 21% who said they are “more enjoyable” and 38% who say they are about the same.
- Among those who said their experiences are less enjoyable, fully 60% said that more retail stores had inadequate staffing levels than in 2019, compared to 24% who said staffing was better and 16% who said it was about the same.
- An even greater percentage of these shoppers (64%) said that more stores have “poorly trained or prepared staff” than in 2019, compared to 18% who said fewer stores had this problem and 18% who said the number of stores with training issues was about the same.
- Among retail categories, shoppers said they were most likely to have an unenjoyable experience at supermarkets (38%), followed by department stores (34%), and convenience stores (30%). Respondents said they were least likely to have an unenjoyable experience at clothing stores (16%), furniture stores (14%), and mattress stores (12%).
Consumers express a variety of frustrations with their experiences shopping at retail, some of which were magnified during the recent holiday shopping season
When asked about their frustrations when shopping retail, consumers expressed concerns with issues ranging from parking to store layout. They also revealed a number of common frustrations in their actions with retail employees.
- When asked, “What aspects of shopping at physical retail stores do you find most frustrating?,” 71% cited long lines and crowds, followed by 39% who cited high prices, and 32% who cited limited product availability. Nearly a third of respondents (29%) cited “difficult or rude staff,” and nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) complained of “unknowledgeable or unhelpful staff.”
- When asked, “What are the most common problems you encounter with the employees you interact with at physical retail stores?,” 41% complained about “lack of helpfulness or willingness to assist,” 41% cited “rude or unprofessional behavior,” 35% complained about “lack of product knowledge or expertise,” and 33% cited “lack of knowledge of where products are located in the store or whether they are in stock.”
- Frustrations with employees, the survey revealed, can cause shoppers to never come back. When asked, “Have you ever stopped shopping at a specific retail store because its employees were unknowledgeable or unhelpful?,” half of respondents (50%) said “yes,” compared to 45% who said “no,” and 5% who said they weren’t sure.
With the holiday shopping season fresh in respondents’ minds, the survey asked shoppers about their specific retail experiences during the 2022 holiday season.
- When asked, “What aspects of shopping at physical retail stores during the 2022 holiday shopping season did you find most frustrating?,” 62% cited long lines and crowds, followed by 50% who cited high prices, and 36% who cited limited product availability. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) cited “difficult or rude staff,” and 22% complained of “unknowledgeable or unhelpful staff.”
- When asked, “What were the most common problems you encountered with the employees you interacted with at physical retail stores during the 2022 holiday shopping season?,” 39% complained about “lack of helpfulness or willingness to assist,” 39% cited “rude or unprofessional behavior,” and 34% complained about “lack of product knowledge or expertise.”
“What retailers can learn from this survey is that consumers still love shopping in stores; they just expect more from the experience than they are currently getting in many cases—including from their encounters with store employees,” Todd said.
“With retailers struggling with trends like quiet quitting as well, it’s more important than ever to provide workers with the tools, training and encouragement they need to meet the heightened expectations of shoppers. Overall, this is an opportunity to look at a variety of solutions, including improvements in technology, to upgrade the in-store experience.”
Theatro used the third-party survey platform Pollfish to conduct an online retail customer experience survey of 600 U.S. adults on Jan. 9, 2023. Researchers reviewed all responses for quality control.