Less Than Half of Consumers Would Feel Safe Shopping at Big-Box Retailers, Malls

Women more concerned with safety of brick-and-mortars than men
Lines to go shopping

With some states allowing nonessential businesses to reopen, consumers will have more shopping options available. However, a new survey suggests that fears of COVID-19 exposure could keep some customers away.

Throughout the regional shutdowns and stay-at-home orders that have characterized the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have been able to continue to shop at essential businesses, such as supermarkets and drugstores. While more than half of consumers in an April 20 survey by retail analytics firm First Insight said they feel safe at grocery stores, less than half said the same about shopping at other types of retailers.

As the pandemic’s impact on the nation continues to drag, some consumers have expressed a desire to return to their pre-coronavirus routines — yet First Insight’s data suggests that nothing will be routine about the reopening of certain stores.

Safety concerns weigh on consumers

Consumers may long for the days of carefree shopping and trips to the mall, but safety concerns remain top of mind for many.

Of the store formats in the survey, consumers feel most safe about shopping in grocery stores, with 54% of respondents feeling that way. Half of consumers (50%) said they would feel safe patronizing drugstores.

However, other types of retailers don’t meet the safety threshold for most consumers, the survey found. When asked about shopping with different types of brick-and-mortar retailers, the following percentage of respondents said they would feel safe shopping:

  • 45% at big-box stores
  • 43% at local small businesses
  • 43% at warehouse clubs
  • 37% at department stores
  • 33% at shopping malls

Women appear to be more wary than men, as 49% of women feel safe shopping at the grocery store, compared with 58% of men. Along the same lines:

  • 43% of women would feel comfortable shopping with big-box retailers, compared with 48% of men
  • 39% of women would feel comfortable shopping with local small businesses, compared with 47% of men

4 in 5 prefer their own masks over store-provided ones

Some stores are attempting to alleviate consumer fears by providing items, such as masks and gloves, believed to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

However, most consumers would rather depend on themselves, with 80% preferring to wear their own masks and 75% preferring to use their own gloves when shopping.

Women respondents were more cautious than men, with 87% of women preferring to wear their own masks rather than one given to them by a retailer, compared with 76% of men. Likewise, 81% of women would prefer to wear their own gloves, compared with 73% of men.

Overall fears may be subsiding

Despite fears about in-store safety, overall concern about the COVID-19 crisis may be starting to subside. An earlier First Insight survey conducted April 3 found that 60% of consumers believed stores should reopen by the end of May. That same survey showed that 87% of respondents were worried about the pandemic. However, the April 20 survey saw the percentage of concerned consumers drop to 82%.

There was also a decline from April 3 to April 20 in the percentage of consumers who said the pandemic was impacting the way they shop. On April 20, 80% of respondents said COVID-19 had an impact on their purchasing decisions, down from 89% on April 3.

However, a majority of consumers are continuing to keep a tight rein on their spending. In both the April 3 and April 20 surveys, nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents said they’ve been cutting back on what they buy.

Methodology: First Insight surveyed more than 500 consumers on April 20, 2020. The data is part of a series of surveys about how COVID-19 is impacting shopping decisions and behaviors over time. Previous surveys have been conducted on Feb. 28, March 17 and April 3.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.