Survey finds consumers still prefer in-store shopping

Carson College of Business survey finds 43% of Pacific Northwest consumers shop in-store

Esther Short Park
Courtesy of Visit Vancouver USA

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business recently conducted its third annual holiday retail survey and found that nearly half of Pacific Northwest consumers do most or all of their shopping in-store, demonstrating the staying power of brick-and-mortar stores in the region.

“Our research shows that consumers across the Pacific Northwest value the excellent customer service they find in stores, especially in smaller retailers over big-box stores,” said Eric Hollenbeck, research communications manager at the WSU Carson College of Business. “PNW consumers are values-driven shoppers and brick-and-mortar stores can benefit when their operations align with customer values. When it comes to benefits of in-store shopping, we saw that Gen Z shoppers like being able to try on items in stores while Baby Boomers prefer being able to see and feel products in person before they buy.”

According to the survey, 43% of consumers in the region prefer to do their shopping in-store, while only 17% prefer to shop mostly online. However, most consumers think Cyber Monday is the best day to find great deals.

“Although consumers feel they get a better deal online, the rate they are shopping in stores is remaining steady, supporting the value of brick-and-mortar stores,” said Joan Giese, WSU clinical associate professor of marketing. “We’ve found shoppers often find inspiration for gifts while perusing the aisles and value in-person customer service and the ability to see and feel the products.”

The survey examined more than 1,700 PNW consumers’ perceptions and attitudes toward the holiday shopping season and aimed to understand how and where consumers are planning to do their shopping this year.

According to the survey, some of the key findings include:

  • PNW consumers continue to turn toward Cyber Monday to catch the best deals, while Black Friday continues to lose its allure.
  • 76% of PNW consumers plan to shop on Cyber Monday, while slightly less (56%) plan to shop on Black Friday.
  • 63% agree Black Friday sales and promotions are overwhelming, and 58% agree there are better deals after Black Friday.
  • Sentiment varies across generations, however, as only 49% of Baby Boomers think the best deals can be found during Cyber Monday, while 73% of Gen Z are excited for Cyber Monday deals.

PNW consumers continue to prioritize spending time with family on Thanksgiving over shopping.

Only 26% of consumers are likely to shop on Thanksgiving.

57% of those who plan to shop on Thanksgiving say they will shop online, rather than in-store.

The survey also found that PNW residents are thrifty and budget-conscious, but may splurge more for the holidays.

  • While post PNW consumers shop discount retailers (81%) and thrift stores (42%), they majority (51%) will likely go beyond their budget for holiday gifts.
  • 90% of consumers think you don’t need to spend a lot on holidays, but only 49% have a strict budget.
  • Despite the desire to be thrifty, 54% of PNW shoppers say you can’t put a price on holiday happiness.

So, how can retailers edge out the competition this holiday season?

“Smaller retailers can edge out competition this holiday season by continuing to provide excellent customer service, which most consumers say impacts their shopping decisions,” Hollenbeck said. “Retailers should also put focus on creating eye-catching window displays, since nearly half of PNW shoppers say they find inspiration for gift buying by walking around a store or mall.”

The survey also found that although Small Business Saturday receives less attention from consumers, small businesses may benefit from shoppers’ appreciation for the perks of supporting local businesses and a positive in-store experience.

81% of PNW residents say local and small businesses provide better service than big-box retailers.

However, Small Business Saturday lacks awareness on the West side of the state, as 72% of Eastern Washington is familiar with Small Business Saturday compared to only 61% of Western Washington.

Gen Z are least knowledgeable about Small Business Saturday – only 38% are aware, in comparison to 62% of all PNW consumers who are familiar with it.

Hollenbeck pointed out that Small Business Saturday has only been around for 10 years, so it takes time to generate buzz, but it is happening. He said they believe awareness for Small Business Saturday will continue to grow because consumers across the PNW are more inclined to support local businesses.

“Smaller businesses can attract for attention for Small Business Saturday through social media engagement, local and targeted advertising and word-of-mouth marketing from local customers,” Hollenbeck said. “In addition, businesses can drive traffic to their stores by offering unique in-store experiences that consumers cannot find at larger stores or online.”

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.