by Stephen Garner

holiday spendingThe National Retail Federation (NRF) today launched Consumer View, a new quarterly report designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to stores, online channels, customer loyalty, technology and other issues.

“The retail industry is changing more rapidly than ever before, and this new vehicle will help us continue to regularly track those changes,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF. “Solid research is the basis of informed decisions, and we want to be sure the industry has the best information available as it seeks to meet consumers’ needs. That applies whether people are shopping in-store, online, on smartphones and tablets or with whatever innovation tomorrow brings.”

NRF is working with Toluna Analytics to produce the report. Toluna surveyed 3,002 consumers for NRF between July 20-25 to produce the initial edition. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

The inaugural report finds that despite the growth of ecommerce, only about a fifth of U.S. consumers are primarily online shoppers; more than three-quarters are shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores just as much as or more than they did a year ago.

“This report shows that the bricks-and-mortar store is still the cornerstone of American retail and likely will be for many years to come, as consumers seek authentic interaction and experiences with retailers,” added Shay. “Despite the changes in our industry, there is an appeal to seeing and touching merchandise in person and being able to engage with fellow human beings that has yet to go away. Even younger shoppers see the value of the store.”

According to the report, only 21 percent of consumers surveyed are primarily online shoppers, defined as those who purchase more than half of their items online. By contrast, 79 percent said they purchase half or less of their items online. Among Millennials and Generation Z, 34 percent are primarily online shoppers, but the majority still make most of their purchases in stores.

Demographically, those who shop primarily online are younger, wealthier and more likely to live in a larger city. The survey found 49 percent are aged 18-34 compared with 72 percent of in-store shoppers aged 35 or older, while 53 percent of the online shoppers make $75,000 a year or more and 71 percent of in-store shoppers make less. And 53 percent of online shoppers live in a city of 50,000 people or more while 63 percent of store shoppers live in a smaller community.

Of those surveyed, 86 percent buy their groceries mostly or entirely in-store, as do 65 percent for home improvement items/tools, 64 percent for personal care/beauty products and 57 percent for home décor/furnishings. Clothing is split with 49 percent shopping in stores, 13 percent shopping online and 38 percent shopping equally in stores and online, with consumer electronics largely the same (43 percent in stores, 18 percent online and 39 percent shopping equally in stores and online). Books, music and video games were the only category where consumers purchase the majority or all their items online (37 percent), with 27 percent shopping mostly or entirely in stores and 36 percent split.

Among shoppers overall, 69 percent said they go to a store because they need something right away and 65 percent wanted to see an item before purchasing. Among Millennials, 55 percent go to stores as a social activity, 50 percent to pick up an item bought online and 44 percent to talk to a sales associate. In both groups, 66 percent said they go to stores simply because they prefer to shop in stores.

Compared with a year ago, 50 percent of all consumers said they shop in stores about the same amount, while 28 percent said they do so more often, for a total of 78 percent. Only 22 percent shopped in stores less often. Among Millennials, 34 percent are shopping in stores about the same but 49 percent are doing so more often and only 17 percent less often. Millennials said they go to stores more often because a new store had opened, for entertainment or food options or because they are picking up items bought online.

The survey found that consumers like technologies that transform the store experience. For consumers who had tried buy online, pick up in store, 68 percent said it improved their shopping experience. Similarly, 66 percent of those who had tried in-app store navigation and 65 percent of those who had used mobile payment while shopping said it had a positive impact. Other innovations have made less of an impression, with 44 percent saying in-store digital displays had no impact on their shopping experience and 43 percent saying the same about the use of tablets of smartphones by store associates; the same number dismissed messaging apps.