Consumers and Their 2021 Shopping Behaviors: What to Expect

Published Jan 22, 2021

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Ahead of the National Retail Federation (NRF) 2021 Big Show — an industry-leading event gathering experts to discuss tech, trends, and the future of retail — we surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers on the Toluna Start platform for a clearer picture of their shopping preferences and evolution over the course of 2020.

What purchases are they making most often, and mostly online or in-person? What trends are we seeing that can help businesses understand the 2021 consumer’s ever-changing behavior, and make sure they’re marketing to them in a way that’s meaningful and connected? Here’s what they told us.

Consumers are prioritizing the essentials.

When asked which types of purchases they’re making most often, consumers are putting essential items at the top of their lists, followed by self-care and home improvement items. Eighty-four percent of respondents say they’re shopping for groceries, with 80% listing clothing and 77% saying personal care items are on their list.

From there, electronics are the next most popular purchases at 66%, and continuing with the popularity of self-care items over the past year, beauty products came in at 59%. Forty-nine percent of 2021 consumers have furniture on their lists, with 44% shopping for home improvement tools, and 33% for sporting equipment.

Shopping small is big again.

The 2021 consumer is shopping local when possible in an effort to support local and independent brands — and not just in person. Even online, nearly half of survey respondents are prioritizing buying from small, independent brands, and this can largely be attributed to COVID-19.

In fact, fifty-eight percent of local shoppers share that they’re shopping local more than they did before the pandemic. This includes 57% of respondents who say they sometimes consciously shop local, 40% who always do, and 3% who never do.

So why are shoppers increasingly showing support for small businesses? Fifty-two percent want to support local, independent brands, while 42% say it’s about convenience for them. Forty percent share that local, independent brands were there for them at the height of the pandemic when others weren’t, and 31% feel they offer better service.

They miss shopping in person!

COVID-19 changed the way we live our lives, and that includes how we shop. Forty-four percent of consumers say they miss shopping in person, whereas 40% say it depends, and 16% don’t miss it. Unsurprisingly, half of respondents say it’s very likely they’ll return to in-person shopping after the pandemic. Thirty-nine percent say it’s quite likely they will, and just 9% says it’s not likely and 2% say it’s very unlikely.

Of the people who miss shopping in person, they list hand-picking items (27%); trying retail items on (19%); in-person customer service (17%); and testing items before purchasing (15%). Thirteen percent miss the store atmosphere — down to smells and music — and 9% miss retail window displays.

But online shopping has its perks.

Online shopping’s popularity isn’t expected to drop off anytime soon, with the majority of respondents — 58% — say they enjoy online shopping, while 35% say it depends. What do they cite as the perks of shopping digitally? Sixty-six percent enjoy the convenience, where 57% says it saves time, and 51% like that it’s easy to price-compare. Fast shipping is another perk that 45% of respondents appreciate, followed by the ease of ordering from multiple places (43%) and online offering more stock than stores (37%).

So now we know the 2021 consumer plans to shop online, but what determines where they’ll shop and what can entice them to make a purchase? When asked, 70% of respondents listed price as a factor for where they’ll shop, and 60% base the decision on whether they like their products. Forty-two percent consider the company’s reputation, 25% are driven by search engine marketing, 20% list social media ads, and 19% say that social media influencers inspire them to shop where they do.

In terms of motivation for making a purchase, several factors play into this decision. Sixty percent of consumers are influenced by sale prices, and 56% by the quality of the brand or item. Delivery date is important for 49% of shoppers, and 45% look to item reviews to guide their potential purchase. Other factors that come into play for the 2021 consumer are original price (38%) and the website’s ease of use (33%).

Future trends

Consumers are telling us that they’re shopping online and will continue to do so, but they’re also missing many aspects of that familiar, in-store experience. They put the essentials first when it comes to what they’re actually buying, and are more inclined to shop local and support small, independent businesses — both in-person and online — which is heavily motivated by COVID-19. The 2021 consumer is highly motivated by price, quality, and convenience. Keep these reliable insights in mind as NRF revealed the bigger retail picture for 2021 and beyond!

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