Nearly three-quarters (71%) of consumers say they will not feel comfortable shopping on their local high street until a number of conditions are met, according to a new research report published today by .IE, the company that manages Ireland’s country domain .ie, in partnership with Digital Business Ireland.
The .IE Tipping Point report was commissioned by .IE, in partnership with Digital Business Ireland, and carried out by Core Research. Research was carried out from 11–27 January 2021. A total of 1,000 consumers aged 18 and over were surveyed via online questionnaire. A total of 500 SMEs in the retail and customer-facing professional services sectors were interviewed via telephone.
Twenty eight percent will not feel comfortable until Covid cases are much lower than they are now and 27% not until vaccines are available to the general adult population, not just at-risk groups. Sixteen percent would prefer to wait until the government declares that social distancing and masks are no longer required, while 6% say they will never feel comfortable shopping in-store on their local high street ever again.
Overall, just 45% believe that life will return close or completely to pre-Covid normality by the end of 2021. The other 55% believe that life this year will be more or less the same as life in 2020, or even more restricted.
Sixty eight percent of consumers reported spending more online in 2020 than they did in 2019. Looking ahead, 58% will prioritise online shopping over in-store shopping in 2021, up from 52% last year. Forty two percent of consumers said they will do most of their shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores this year, down from 48% in 2020.
Among consumers who say they will do most of their shopping in physical stores in 2021, 61% said it is more convenient. 39% said they will shop mostly in physical stores because it is a chance for social interaction and to go outside; interestingly, this figure has dropped from 55% in 2020, presumably as cases have increased since Christmas.
For those consumers who said they would do most of their shopping online, social interaction had the exact opposite effect: 66% said shopping online is safer and means less social interaction. 52% say it is more convenient and 46% say it saves them time.
Almost a third (30%) of SMEs now claim to sell a product online in some way (either through a website or third-party platform), up from 25% in 2020. Almost 9 in 10 of that group say they have noticed an increase in their online sales numbers since the Covid pandemic began.
The number of SMEs that have invested in their online presence has increased dramatically since last year. Now more than half (55%, up from 21% in 2020) claim to have spent money on improving their digital platforms, with most either launching or improving their website. 78% of SMEs say that they are busier than or as busy as before the pandemic because of their online investment, up from 46% in 2020.
Sixty one percent of SMEs say their online services will be more important to their business in 2021 than they were in 2020, and 79% will continue to invest in them this year. It is clear that a greater number of Irish businesses accept that their business model is likely to be permanently changed by the pandemic.
Commenting on the research, Chief Executive of .IE, David Curtin said, "While vaccines offer Ireland a way out of lockdown, until a critical mass is reached and the population is immunised, our economy and society are set to remain in a state of flux. This flux is accelerating major trends in how consumers spend and how SMEs sell their goods and services."
He added, "Irish consumers want to support local businesses through a difficult period, but SMEs can’t expect that goodwill to last forever. A stable, long-term e-commerce strategy cannot be built on crisis solidarity alone. Irish SMEs have a number of unique, competitive advantages that consumers recognise and value, namely trustworthiness, reliability, and delivery speed. SMEs need to focus on these factors, on honing the customer experience online and off, rather than trying to undercut overseas retailers on price and range."