During these times, window shopping means browsing the web for deals from apparel, gadgets and other items.
And that also goes for cutting grocery coupons as more and more people abiding by the stay at home measure have turned to online shopping for essential needs instead of going to stores.
The coronavirus pandemic indeed has wreaked havoc across the area, from forcing businesses to close and prompting layoffs to new social distancing measures.
Like similar businesses, stores with physical locations are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
With the state poised to reopen some businesses on May 15, the question remains: Will stores with physical locations win back their customers or will online shopping and the coronavirus be responsible for the retail shops untimely demise?
“I think that obviously even before all of this happened, online retailing was already taking over the retail spaces,” said Yuping Liu-Thompkins, a marketing professor and the director of the Loyalty Science Lab at Old Dominion University. “For example, in the grocery industry, we are seeing a whole lot of that happening…people have just changed their habits of how they buy from the same store.”
She noted while there is some competition as people buy from major online retailers like Amazon versus other businesses, not every “brick and mortar” store is affected the same way.
“The bigger stores, like Walmart or Target, I think their impact is somewhat less,” Liu-Thompkins said.
Smaller businesses are the most affected.
The tourism industry is a big part of Hampton Roads and the Peninsula and as the area enter the travel season, some businesses will definitely suffer, especially boutiques along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, she said.
While people are shopping locally or buying things online during this time, Liu-Thompkins said online shopping is not the main cause for physical retail stores’ declining revenue, and the pandemic, in general, could be at fault, too.
“I think that it’s a very habit-shaping time, in terms of people’s choices in channels of shopping,” she said. “Even people who were initially reluctant to do certain type of shopping online…these people are now kind of forced to try that online shopping mode.”
Online retail companies have an opportunity to provide good service to their customers and if they deliver, online shopping could continue to rise.
“We might see this trend of online shopping even after the coronavirus is over,” she said. “And I think that this is going to be a longer term impact on the brick and mortar businesses.”
While people continue to shop online during the pandemic, the items bought may vary.
“I think there’s no question that at least in the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of nervousness so people started doing online shopping,” said Gyan Pradhan, professor and chairman of the Economics Department at Christopher Newport University. “It’s probably continued but I think not as much lately.”
Pradhan said when the pandemic first hit, people were starting to stock up on necessary items such as food and toilet paper, but now that more time has passed shoppers are changing their spending habits.
A lot of which is related to unemployment. Thousands of people in Virginia have filed for unemployment which meant many had to reconsider what they are spending money on. This means a lot of people weren’t using online shopping to buy clothes or entertainment items, but rather only the necessities they could afford.
“We know [unemployment] is a huge issue as a lot of people have lost jobs and we know there aren’t a lot of places where they can physically shop,” he said. “Even if they were open, I don’t think a lot of people would be shopping anyways…consumers are nervous about what will happen in the future and there’s an indecision that the economy will pick up later on, but that’s not a consolation for those who have lost their jobs.”
And even those who haven’t lost their jobs still feel a level of uncertainty which has led them to control their spending. Pradhan said even when individuals received their stimulus checks, many weren’t necessarily spending the money right away but rather saving it for another time.
But even with the decrease in spending on entertainment items, Pradhan said people are still looking to online resources to make their purchases.
“I don’t think that means overall shopping has gone up, but [online shopping] just made up for what people would’ve bought in stores,” he said.
Pradhan said the growth in online shopping comes on the heels of an already growing trend occurring even before the pandemic came. As a result, the future of consumerism could continue to see an increase in online spending, especially if it takes a longer amount of time for people to feel comfortable going out in public again.
“Most Americans are still pretty nervous about opening the economy. It’s a tough trade-off and a hard situation to be in,” he said. “I think most people are concerned about their health more than the economy, even though both of those are critical.”
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