Survey: Consumers Want to Shop Local for the Holidays to Support Local Businesses But Are Hesitant Because of COVID-19

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Holiday shoppers who didn’t complete their shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are starting to scramble to make sure they have gifts ready in time for the fast-approaching holidays.

According to the National Retail Federation, sales in November and December account for 19% of total annual retail sales. And despite the number of COVID-19 cases reaching all-time highs in the past few weeks, total retail sales are expected to increase by around 3.6% to 5.2% compared to 2019.

Unfortunately, over 30,000 retail stores have either permanently or temporarily closed since the beginning of the pandemic, many of which consumers likely depended on for gifts during past holiday seasons. Tightening restrictions in some states have also limited the amount of in-person shopping that consumers are allowed to do.

Given this projected growth in retail sales and the worsening coronavirus pandemic, we were curious how consumers are shopping for the holidays this year and what their sentiment towards local small businesses is.

To gain more insight into these topics, we surveyed 1,000 U.S. residents ages 18 and up that are planning on shopping for the holidays in the coming weeks. On top of finding out how much consumers are spending on gifts this year, we also discovered that many people want to support local businesses impacted by COVID-19 but are hesitant to because of the pandemic.

Key Findings

  • Consumers are planning to spend $1,298 on gifts for the holidays this year. The median spending amount is $500.
  • 72.86% of consumers prefer to shop locally to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but…
  • 82.19% are either avoiding shopping locally in-person completely or are doing so less than they’d like to because of COVID-19.
  • 90.22% of consumers plan on making an effort to shop locally once a vaccine is widely available to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
  • 64.43% of consumers are willing to spend more for a product from a local store instead of online.
  • 64.9% of consumers have wanted to make a purchase online from a local small business but haven’t been able to because it didn’t have a website.

Consumers Spending An Average of $1,298 on Gifts This Year

We first wanted to get a baseline on how much consumers are planning to spend on holiday gifts this year.

As shown in the graphic above, the average amount is $1,297.95, while the median is $500.00.

To compare these numbers to past years, we also asked our respondents if they were spending more, less, or the same on gifts as in past years.

A little over half of consumers, 53.15%, are planning to spend the same amount in 2020 as past years. Many more are planning to spend less (35.02%) than those that are spending more (11.84%) this year, however.

Consumers Want to Support Local Businesses But Are Hesitant To Shop In-Person

Past surveys have shown that consumers were eager to support local businesses even at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now that the pandemic has lasted months longer than many people expected and with the widespread closures of stores, we wanted to see if consumers were still looking to support their local businesses.

We first gauged how worried respondents were about their local shops and restaurants going out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As shown by the chart above, 84.23% of respondents are concerned about local businesses closing. This didn’t come as too much of a surprise given how important small businesses are to the local economy and community.

Our next question reaffirmed consumers’ desire to support small businesses. We asked whether they would prefer shopping locally in-person for the holidays instead of online to support local businesses affected by the pandemic.

The majority of respondents, 72.86%, said they would prefer to shop local for holiday gifts instead of shopping online.

We also even found that consumers are willing to spend more on the same product if they could buy it locally instead of online.

How much does the concern for small businesses and desire to support them affect their own willingness to potentially put themselves at risk by shopping in-person at these stores, though?

We next asked respondents if they were avoiding shopping in-person for the holidays because of the pandemic.

As shown in the chart, 24.56% of all consumers are avoiding shopping locally in-person because of the pandemic. Another 57.63% are still doing some in-person shopping, but less than they would like to.

Even when looking specifically at those who prefer to support small businesses by shopping locally in-person, 15% still aren’t doing so because of the pandemic and 65.44% are doing less than they would like to.

Consumers in this position have a tough decision to make.

On one hand, they don’t want to see the local businesses run by members of their community shut down.

On the other, they don’t want to put themselves—and possibly their families—at risk for contracting the coronavirus by going out in public in a setting where people naturally touch a lot of products on display.

Suspecting that many consumers may be facing this predicament, we wanted to figure out if there was anything small businesses could do to make their customers feel safer.

There Are Things Small Businesses Can Do To Attract Weary Customers To Shop In-Person

Our next question asked consumers if a variety of safety measures would make them feel more comfortable with shopping in-person at their local businesses.

As shown in the graph, there are a number of things that small businesses can do to attract customers who may be worried about contracting COVID-19.

First and foremost, it’s clear that consumers expect businesses to follow all safety protocols such as having regular sanitation and requiring all customers and employees to wear masks.

Offering delivery and curbside pickup for online orders appears to be another way for businesses to sustain sales. Many consumers also like the idea of being able to see what’s in stock before going to the store.

All of these options allow customers to drastically reduce the amount of time they have to spend in stores, and therefore, their risk of contracting the coronavirus.

A later survey question found a major problem with the latter set of solutions, however. Many local businesses don’t have websites that make online ordering possible.

Just under 65% of respondents have wanted to shop online at a local small business but haven’t been able to because it didn’t have a website.

In a time where digital sales are expected to reach record highs, many small businesses are missing out by not offering an online option for customers to shop.

Offering Gift Cards Could Help Increase Sales This Holiday Season

Gift cards have historically been a savior for last-minute shoppers looking to find an easy gift for friends and family. In 2018, for example, gift card sales doubled each week of December until Christmas.

We wanted to see whether consumers are purchasing gift cards more often this year as a way to support local businesses without having to shop in stores for an extended period of time.

As shown, 62.82% of consumers are planning on purchasing gift cards this year; 30.41% of which are doing so specifically to support local businesses.

Businesses that haven’t already done so may be able to attract some customers by offering gift cards which can also help counteract some of the cash flow problems they are facing.

Consumers Ready To Support Small Businesses Once a Vaccine Comes Out

Despite a somewhat rocky start, our survey doesn’t reveal all bad news for small businesses during this unprecedented time.

With the recent announcements of three COVID-19 vaccines with over 90% efficacy each, consumers seem optimistic that they will be able to safely shop in-person once they are widely available.

The following chart compares how safe consumers felt at the beginning of the pandemic, how safe they feel now, and how safe they would feel if a vaccine was widely available.

As shown in the chart above, over 40% of consumers were uncomfortable with in-person shopping at the beginning of the pandemic and still are now.

Once a vaccine is widely available, that number plummets to 16.45%.

Just being comfortable with shopping in-person doesn’t mean that consumers are going to do it, however.

We wanted to see whether these people would make a concerted effort to get out and shop local to support small businesses in their area.

An overwhelming 90.22% of consumers plan on shopping locally in-person once a vaccine becomes widely available to support small businesses.

This is great news for small businesses and hopefully provides some light at the end of the tunnel for those fighting to make it through these difficult times.

Full Survey Results

  1. Would you prefer to shop locally in-person for the holidays instead of online to support local businesses impacted by COVID-19?
    a) Yes – 72.86%
    b) No – 27.14%
  2. Are you avoiding shopping locally in-person for the holidays because of COVID-19? (Numbers in parentheses are those who answered “Yes” to Question 1)
    a) Yes, I am completely avoiding shopping in-person – 24.56% (15.36%)
    b) I am still shopping in-person but less than I’d like to – 57.63% (65.44%)
    c) No, I am not avoiding shopping in-person at all – 17.80% (19.20%)
  3. Which of the following would encourage you to shop locally in-person this year for the holidays?
    a) Delivery of online orders – 39.24%
    b) Curbside pickup of online orders – 40.87%
    c) If stores limited the number of customers in the store at a time – 38.46%
    d) Knowing the store follows all safety protocols such as regular sanitation and requiring all customers and staff to wear masks – 51.58%
    e) Contactless payment options – 24.99%
    f) Being able to see what’s in stock before going to the store – 42.03%
    g) Availability of outdoor shopping – 15.74%
    h) None of the above – 7.50%
  4. Would you spend more to shop locally instead of shopping online?
    a) Yes – 64.43%
    b) No – 35.57%
  5. Since the pandemic started, have you wanted to shop online at a local small business but haven’t been able to because it didn’t have a website?
    a) Yes – 64.90%
    b) No – 35.10%
  6. How comfortable were you with shopping in-person at the start of the pandemic in late-March and April?
    a) Very comfortable – 23.14%
    b) Somewhat comfortable – 32.98%
    c) Somewhat uncomfortable – 22.99%
    d) Very uncomfortable – 20.90%
  7. How comfortable are you with shopping in-person now?
    a) Very comfortable – 21.18%
    b) Somewhat comfortable – 35.22%
    c) Somewhat uncomfortable – 27.25%
    d) Very uncomfortable – 16.35%
  8. How comfortable will you be when a vaccine is out and widely available?
    a) Very comfortable – 37.42%
    b) Somewhat comfortable – 46.13%
    c) Somewhat uncomfortable – 12.41%
    d) Very uncomfortable – 4.04%
  9. Once a vaccine is widely available, will you make an effort to shop local to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
    a) Yes – 90.22%
    b) No – 9.78%
  10. How much do you plan on spending in total on gifts this year?
    a) Average – $1,297.95
    b) Median – $500.00
  11. How will your spending on gifts this year compare to previous years?
    a) I’ll be spending less – 35.02%
    b) I’ll be spending about the same – 53.15%
    c) I’ll be spending more – 11.84%
  12. Would you shop locally more if there weren’t big sales online during days like Cyber Monday and Black Friday?
    a) Yes – 56.85%
    b) No – 43.15%
  13. Are you worried about your favorite local shops and restaurants going out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
    a) Yes – 84.23%
    b) No – 15.77%
  14. Do you plan on buying gift cards from local businesses to support them during the pandemic?
    a) Yes, I am specifically looking to buy gift cards this year to support local businesses during the pandemic – 30.41%
    b) Yes, but I often buy gift cards from local businesses for the holidays – 32.41%
    c) No, I am not planning on buying gift cards this year because I don’t want to go into stores – 10.97%
    d) No, I typically do not buy gift cards for the holidays – 26.21%

Methodology

This survey was commissioned by Digital.com and ran by Pollfish from December 3, 2020, to December 4, 2020. In total, 1,000 U.S. residents ages 18 and up were surveyed. We used a screener question to ensure all respondents were planning on shopping for the holidays in the next three weeks. Results were post-stratified by gender and age to achieve a closer distribution to that of the nation.