Canadians are shopping less frequently in-store than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to a new Yahoo/Maru Public Opinion poll, although most still prefer brick-and-mortar to online shopping.
The survey of more than 3,000 Canadians found that 67 per cent say they are shopping less in-store than they were before March 2020, when the pandemic struck. Of that group of Canadians, the least likely to shop in-store post-pandemic are older consumers, with 81 per cent of those over the age of 55 saying they are shopping less in-person than before the pandemic, compared to 68 per cent of people between the ages of 35 and 54, and 52 per cent of those between the ages of 18 and 34.
While shopping habits may have changed through the pandemic, most Canadians still prefer to do their shopping in-person, the poll found. Two-thirds of those surveyed (65 per cent) say they prefer shopping in a store than online. That echoes the results of an Adyen survey released in August which found that 67 per cent of Canadian consumers prefer to shop in-store, and 64 per cent saying physical stores are an important touchpoint for the overall shopping experience.
Maru executive vice-president John Wright says the polling data suggests that shoppers are still in a transition period to the new, post-pandemic reality.
"What is noticeable is that younger, lower-income Canadians are out and about but those who are middle-aged, and especially those who are older, are not making the return to the aisles and shelves in retail shopping that was there previously," Wright said.
"It's likely that the concern about catching COVID in contained places is still hanging over the heads of older shoppers... But it's equally as likely that the ramping up of online capacity and interaction has created a new high-touch consumer that is staying the course on how they want to shop."
The pandemic fuelled an e-commerce boom, as lockdowns, restrictions and COVID-19 kept consumers from shopping in-store and forced many retailers to pivot online. While the post-pandemic recovery has brought about the return of in-store shopping, many businesses say e-commerce is more important than ever.
According to the Canadian Federation Of Independent Business (CFIB)'s latest poll of its members, two in five business owners say online sales are very important to their business. For businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors, that figure jumps to 50 per cent, CFIB's director of research Marvin Cruz said in an interview.
"The need for e-commerce is still there," Cruz said. "We're still seeing that about 54 per cent of businesses are making less-than-normal revenues, which goes to show that yes, the pandemic is receding but there are still many businesses feeling the effects of it."
However, some retailers are seeing a return to pre-pandemic shopping levels.
While Canadians say they are shopping less frequently in-store, Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen says many retailers aren't seeing that reflected in store traffic. Wasylyshen says pent-up demand that followed the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in regions across the country led a flood of in-store shopping in 2021, and that activity has been sustained through 2022.
"Consumers did rush back to stores, there was a lot of pent-up demand," she said.
"Some retailers, particularly those in downtown locations, are still not back to pre-pandemic levels simply because of the changes in terms of where people are working... so we're still not at a steady state, but there's definitely reason to be optimistic that people will continue to shop in stores."
The Yahoo/Maru Public Opinion survey found that older Canadians are more likely to prefer in-store shopping to online (77 per cent), followed by middle-aged shoppers (64 per cent) and the youngest cohort (51 per cent). The 31 per cent who say they prefer to shop mostly online are largely younger Canadians (45 per cent) between the ages of 18 and 35.
The survey of 3,025 Canadian adults was conducted between Sept. 9 and Sept. 11 and has an estimated margin of error of +/- 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.