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June 21, 2021

Are You Heading Back to the Grocery Store?

My mother-in-law has dropped online shopping like a hot potato. Perhaps you remember that back in November my favorite octogenarian was adjusting with equanimity to the ups and downs of grocery shopping online. Now, fully vaccinated, mom is back at the grocery store, picking every item and making her own on-the-spot decisions about out-of-stock substitutions.

For social science researchers and payments professionals, this is an important question about the past 18 months: Of the changes many of us made, how many were temporary? How many are truly new habits? You can ask this question about a wide range of activities such as hand washing, cooking at home, online shopping, etc. For today, let's ask about shopping in person.

New data from the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice, out last month, show that by September 2020, our collective reaction to the COVID-19 threat was easing. In September 2019, 95 percent of U.S. consumers reported shopping in person at least once in the prior 30 days. That percentage share was pretty much the same in September 2020: 93 percent, a statistically insignificant change.

Compare this to a couple of interim surveys conducted at the height of the COVID lockdowns. In April 2020, just 34 percent of consumers reported shopping in person at least once in the prior 30 to 60 days. By August, many of us had returned to the store: 60 percent of consumers said they shopped in person at least once in the past 30 days.

And as of fall 2020, this measure, at least, is "back to normal." Keep in mind that we're talking about shopping at least once, not the share of all shopping that happens in person. That did change from 2019 to 2020, when in-person purchases dropped from 88 percent of all purchases to 85 percent, a statistically significant change. To learn more about payments behavior in 2020, read the report, the 2020 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice: Summary Results.