Canadian Consumers Eager to Visit Stores & Restaurants Again: Study

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Canadians are ready and eager to visit stores again as retailers across the country reopen their places of business amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it’s obvious they have missed certain popular destinations over the spring when businesses were shut down due to fears that the coronavirus would spread.

Canadians Ranked Restaurants and Bars Above all other Retail Sectors in Terms of ‘Most Missed’

A consumer survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that restaurants, bars, or other eating places were the top venues missed during lockdown by 68 percent of consumers followed by shopping centres (54 percent), physical stores to buy goods (51 percent), personal services (40 percent), and movie theatres (36 percent).

“As businesses begin to slowly reopen after closing due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the reality about the “next normal” for consumer spaces is emerging. Following the pandemic, the retail real estate industry should expect consumers to visit physical establishments again, but take a slightly more cautious approach,” said the Industry Insights report.

Other key findings include:

  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of consumers would feel comfortable visiting brick-and-mortar stores within two months or sooner once the immediate crisis is over;

  • The majority of adults (66 percent) say they will make the purchases they had planned but could not because of the pandemic;

  • As of now, 55 percent of Canadian consumers say they have no plans to cut back on spending, or will do so for only five months or less;

  • About four-fifths (78 percent) of consumers say this crisis made them more aware of the importance of small businesses in their communities and will likely support them more in the future;

  • Over two-thirds (69 percent) of consumers will limit direct contact with other people as much as possible;

  • Consumers are most interested in seeing frequent cleaning/ sanitizing (67 percent), more hand sanitizer and disinfecting cloths (57 percent), measures facilitating social distancing (57 percent), staff training on hygienic protocols (50 percent) and occupancy limits (50 percent); and

  • Less than one-third (32 percent) of Canadians believe economic conditions will improve over the next 12 months.

The Survey Showed a Correlation Between Demographics and Retail Sectors

Michael Kehoe, Lead Ambassador in Canada for the New-York based ICSC, said the survey highlights several important factors in Canada related to an economic recovery and anticipated consumer shopping preferences and behaviour as many economies across the country reopen.

“The generations in Canada are clearly split with Baby Boomers having missed going to restaurants and personal service establishments more than Millennials and Generation X. The Millennials missed the gym and movie theatres more than other generations and Gen Xers missed being able to stay in hotels and visit tourist sites. ICSC confirms that Canadian consumers remain cautious about venturing out but a high number plan to visit bricks and mortar stores for non-essential purchases as soon as possible, in fact that is their top priority,” said Kehoe, a veteran of more than 40 years in the industry and broker/owner of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary.

“Additional ICSC Insights indicate that 51 percent of Canadians believe that economic conditions 12 months from now will be worse with only 23 percent of those in the Prairie Provinces believing that economic conditions will have improved 12 months from now. Such low levels of consumer confidence are a concern in consumer real estate circles where the recovery is expected to see a gradual improvement over time. Millennials and Gen X will lead the way in spending with physical stores, restaurants, and bars according to the ICSC.

“Bricks and mortar stores rated high on the ‘Comfortable to visit’ scale. Malls and open-air shopping centres also scored high on preferred shopping venues to frequent after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. Consumer sentiment at 78 percent being more aware of the importance of small business in Canadian communities is a positive sign as small business will lead the way within any post lockdown recovery.”

Kehoe said the importance for retailers, brands, shopping centres and their owners to have a social conscience with actual related programs and activities is highlighted within the ICSC Insights where 73 percent of consumers will be more likely to purchase from firms that acted responsibly and helped comminutes and first responders during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I have stated throughout the crisis that in the court of public opinion, consumers will vote with their feet and their wallets where they will shop and that socially conscious brands will benefit,” added Kehoe.

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