Survey: Consumer Preferences for Returning to Stores

Survey: Consumer Preferences for Returning to Stores

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Updated February 3rd, 2023

After COVID-19 closed down stores and restaurants across the country, people adjusted by moving their shopping online. As vaccination rates rise and businesses are more or less back to normal, the online shopping trend hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, over half of all shopping is started online.

Still, many people are eager to return to pre-COVID life. Businesses must examine how to safely establish trends after COVID.

Understanding how customers feel about meeting in large groups or shopping in stores offers businesses insight into how to plan for reopening. How many staff should you hire? How should you implement contact tracing? What key points should you emphasize in your consumer messaging? This data provides context and helps answer those questions.

Key findings on trends after COVID:

  • Men from Mars, women from Venus: The data shows a definite division between men and women and their timelines for returning to large events. For example, a majority of men (29%) said they would feel comfortable attending a live sporting event in one to two months, whereas a majority of women (30%) prefer to wait at least six months.
  • New York vs California: The two coasts are split about when to return to air travel. California respondents (29.4%) said they already do feel comfortable with air travel, while a majority of New York respondents (25.44%) said the opposite— they won’t feel comfortable with air travel for more than six months. 
  • Tired of cooking at homeA majority (48.59%) of respondents said they have already dined at a restaurant. Only 10% of those surveyed plan on waiting six months or longer before they dine out. 
  • Increased safety, worth a bit more: While consumers disagree about their price pain point, 73% expressed tolerances of a 5% cost increase if the additional charge covered better cleaning or safety enhancements. Nearly 28% of respondents felt businesses need to up their enforcement of social distancing in stores; over 19% want more touchless payment options; and nearly 18% wished for better contact tracing.

Men and women are split on trends after COVID

We asked Americans how long before they would feel comfortable returning to various large group settings— live sports, concerts, places of worship, workout classes, and museums. In almost every instance men and women had different opinions on trends after COVID—with two exceptions. Both genders agreed that they’d feel comfortable visiting a museum or gallery within one to two months, and many have already resumed attending places of worship.

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Marketers in industries significantly impacted by the pandemic shutdowns should use this data to understand that their customers could have drastically different opinions about when to return to pre-pandemic activities. 

For establishments that cater specifically to women, consider going the extra mile to implement additional precautions that could help customers feel more comfortable in your environment,  since this population has indicated a more cautious approach to resuming in-person trends after COVID. 

But, it’s not just putting new safety measures in place that’s important: it’s communicating them as reopening strategies evolve. Avoid the trap of failing to spread the word about all of your changes as you welcome customers back to your event or store. If you’re putting in the extra effort, advertise it! At a minimum, here’s how you should communicate updates:

  • Send a text: Branded email open rates are down, and this is one message you need to make sure your customers see, since it could significantly impact when they return to your store or event. Because branded text messages have an open rate of 98%, we recommend sending a text that announces all of your safety updates and protocols. 
  • Put the information on your website: Customers who are particularly worried about health and safety concerns will expect that they can find your guidelines on your website— don’t make them work for this information! Highlight it someplace obvious place— like your landing page— in clear, easy-to-understand language. 
  • Use videos to show: Increase the sense of security and comfort your customers or event-goers feel by posting videos of your safety updates. Show how your store looks with social distancing implemented. Point out your increased signage, disinfecting protocols, or any other steps you’ve taken to ensure their safety.

New York and California at odds about when to fly again

Each state has chosen its unique path for dealing with the pandemic, and that holds true even as the country reopens and we examine trends after COVID. Here’s how respondents from New York, California, Florida, Texas, and Illinois differ in when they think they’ll feel comfortable returning to air travel:

  • A majority of respondents in Florida (33.33%), California (29.40%), and Texas (29.17%) said they already do feel comfortable returning to air travel. 
  • A majority of respondents in New York (25.44%) and Illinois (27.27%) said in more than six months from now.

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New York and Florida respondents miss live music shows the most. Survey participants from both states said they’d feel comfortable attending a concert in one to two months from now whereas other states plan to wait longer before gathering in large groups.

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The states also show a split when surveyed about the “best” time to return to places of worship. Here’s the breakdown by state on when survey respondents will feel comfortable joining together for religious purposes. 

  • 28.43% of Californians plan to wait at least six months.
  • 29.57% of New Yorkers will return in one to two months.
  • 25.80% of Floridians, 31.82% of Illinois respondents, and 31.94% of Texans have already resumed in-person worship.

1 in 2 people nationwide have already returned to restaurants

What unites men and women across the country? Eating in restaurants. No matter which way we segmented results— by gender or state— a majority (almost 50% in each segment) said they had already dined at a restaurant.

 The rest of the country responded that enhanced cleaning measures could help them feel safer (more on that below). If you’re wondering how to entice patrons back to your establishment, don’t shy away from communicating your safety measures, updates, and changes you’ve made to protect customers and employees.

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More than 73% will pay for increased safety

Survey respondents identified continued mask-wearing as the most important safety measure for them to feel comfortable gathering in large groups. Respondents also named enhanced disinfecting and fewer possibilities to contact others. Businesses can integrate touchless ticketing and purchases and limit lineups to reduce undesired contact. 

People also identified contact tracing as one of the top five safety enhancements necessary to allow them to feel comfortable attending large gatherings, which is unique to trends after COVID. A text alert system makes contact tracing easier and more cost-effective to implement. 

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These extra safety measures will come at a cost to businesses and a majority of patrons are willing to tolerate at least a 5% price increase to cover the cost. Here’s the national total:

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Tolerance for price increases varies by state. Here’s what the results look like in Texas, Florida, New York, California, and Illinois.

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1 in 2 say they want touch-free payment options

It’s no surprise about the trend toward touch-free options— most customers prefer a text over a pamphlet and a mobile payment solution rather than punching buttons on a point-of-sale system. Results from our survey show more than 50% of respondents want touch-free payment options after COVID. 

If you’re not particularly tech-savvy as a business owner, this could sound like a daunting task. But a range of easily implemented mobile payment solutions now exists. At the most basic level, you can simply send a text message— with a professional text messaging platform—  that includes a link to your online store. It’s really easy to integrate texting with Shopify directly, or other ecommerce platforms using Zapier. This method includes a handy bonus: it enables you to collect and store your customer contact information for future engagement, a perk of in-person trends after COVID. 

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Expect contact tracing to grow in importance

Many states’ key reopening strategies include a smooth system for contact tracing. Typically this strategy involves patrons leaving their cell numbers with the business, so the business can send a text alert notifying them of potential COVID-19 exposure. While contact tracing is becoming more important for businesses across all sectors, consumers say it is most important at sporting events and restaurants.

Keep in mind that although our findings indicate customer preferences, local health ordinances do— in some cases— also require contact tracing as a condition for reopening establishments.

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It’s no surprise that survey respondents named contact tracing as one of their top three answers to  “What do you feel businesses are not doing well enough as they reopen?” It’s a major in-person trend after COVID. Many businesses lack standard protocols for contact tracing. Some companies may only ask an employee to physically write down phone numbers on a sheet of paper— a haphazard contact tracing process at best and inefficient and inaccurate at worst. 

While it might feel intimidating at first, it’s not difficult to implement a more professional system— such as a text messaging platform— that leaves little room for error. Text messaging platforms can collect customer phone numbers either by asking customers to complete a web form or to opt-in using their phones and follow an automated text journey. 

As a bonus, this approach gives customers the opportunity to opt into further texts from you. Contact tracing provides businesses with the opportunity to collect contact information from potentially every customer who walks through the door. While you’ll need explicit permission to contact these customers with SMS marketing measures, you can do so simply by asking them to opt into future messages.

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Bottom line on in-person trends after COVID

Consumer sentiments continue to evolve rapidly as the nation reopens, and those opinions vary by state and even gender. Conducting customer surveys to understand their needs and invite their input has become even more critical to understanding trends after COVID. This approach helps businesses to strategize the most effective use of their resources to ensure that customers feel comfortable and safe during the post-pandemic reopening phase. 


Survey methodology:

Results for this survey were conducted online, collecting 1,100 responses on March 30, 2021. Respondents were based in the United States and aged 18 to 54+.