Two primary worker groups emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic: those who prefer (or tolerate) commuting to an office, and those enjoying a “commute” to a home-based workspace. But how much do consumers’ work environment preferences affect their purchasing patterns?
According to a recent survey of 500 consumers by the Emodo Institute, The Psychology of Store Selection, retailers should care a lot about the answer to this question. Overall, shopping habits have shifted to include visits to fewer stores, faster purchasing decisions and less time spent at the locations where consumers are shopping. A key measure — how far shoppers travel to reach a store — shows that consumers leaving from an office location travel more than three miles further than those leaving from their homes. When leaving from home to shop, consumers are willing to travel 7.4 miles, compared to 10.5 miles from an office.
To deal with these changes, retailers must examine both the types of customers who are visiting their stores as well as when these shopping trips are taking place.
“Most people are [composed of] both work personality and the home personality,” said Jake Moskowitz, Head of the Emodo Institute, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s about hitting the right person at the right time, at the right moment. You target work locations in work hours, with messages that appeal to the mindset that this person is in at that particular moment. Then you target home locations during off hours, with messages that appeal to the mindset they’re in at that moment. You’ve got to do both.”
Moskowitz noted that office workers are accustomed to traveling in their cars and being out, so adding a few miles of driving is not as much of a concern for these commuter consumers, nearly 60% of whom prefer shopping at a brick-and-mortar store versus online.
For these shoppers, “it’s not about going to pick up one or two things that you just need to grab,” said Moskowitz. “It’s more about stocking up, so it makes sense [for retailers] to focus on things like bulk sizing and stocking up. The store is a destination as opposed to the quick convenience, in-and-out, grab-it-and-go. It’s really a different mindset.”
Work-Based Shoppers Likelier to Check a Store’s COVID Protocols
In-store priorities vary between the two groups as well: more than 50% of work shoppers prioritize vaccine mandates, and they are more likely to research the COVID-19 safety protocols of a store before visiting. Despite these cautious attitudes, nearly 50% of this group place value on whether a shop has a fun environment.
Shoppers traveling from their homes are typically looking for the most convenient store — approximately 70% prioritize a retailer’s location. Additionally, more than 70% of home shoppers value product selection and quality, and nearly 80% prioritize pricing.
“[Home shoppers value] convenience, quickness and closeness,” said Moskowitz. “For work shoppers, it’s much more destination, experience, bulk shopping and quality.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, home shoppers who choose the stores closest to their dwellings often have children, and they prioritize product selection, quality, brand reputation and safety guidelines within the store. To entice these shoppers to travel further, retailers need to be competitive in areas including pricing, loyalty programs, ease of parking, vaccine mandate enforcement and a fast experience.
Moving Beyond Demographics to Targeting Based on Attitudes
To remain relevant to multiple groups, Moskowitz recommended thinking about consumers in ways that go beyond traditional demographics.
“The most important characteristics in shopping behavior are completely unpredictable by age, gender and ethnicity,” said Moskowitz. “It’s things like economic optimism, which is something you can’t see on the surface.”
Two-thirds of consumers can be categorized as either optimistic or skeptical, and these attitudes affect their spending levels. The study discovered that work-based shoppers are more likely to be economically optimistic than home-based consumers.
Optimists were more likely to reduce online spending as stores reopened, although they are 50% more likely to have safety concerns when shopping on-site. They are also 200% more likely to visit different stores now as compared to their pre-COVID-19 habits.
The skeptics are more likely to report that recent retail conditions had no impact on their online purchasing, and they are 200% as likely to visit the same stores they frequented prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While retailers can’t easily change their store locations to reach a desired group of customers, they can adjust their messaging and priorities as more people return to offices and COVID-19 guidelines relax.
“The amount of change that is about to occur, and the fact that we know the activities that are going to change is the chance to steal, or protect, share,” said Moskowitz. “This chance to change habits comes around normally once a generation, [but] now it’s the second time in two years. This could be the last time in a long time.”