Has a new, hybrid shopper emerged out of the pandemic?

Discussion
Photo: Nordstrom
Feb 16, 2022

A study from IBM in partnership with the National Retail Federation (NRF) shows hybrid shopping — mixing physical and digital channels in shopping journeys — is on the rise as shopping habits adopted out of necessity during the pandemic become routine.

Some examples of hybrid shopping offered in the report include buying in-store and shipping/delivering to home, and buying online and picking items up curbside. The findings also reflect how the discovery process increasingly involves multiple digital, mobile and in-person touchpoints.

A global survey of more than 19,000 respondents across 28 countries in September

2021 as part of the study found hybrid shopping is the primary buying method for 27 percent of all consumers and 36 percent of Gen Z (more than any other generation).

The hybrid preference varies by product category. So far, the home category was found to be farthest along in the evolution to hybrid shopping, with 40 percent of survey respondents saying hybrid is their primary buying method. That compares to 25 percent for apparel and footwear, 22 percent for personal care and beauty, and 20 percent for grocery.

Hybrid shopping also depends on access and comfort with digital tools. Asked about digital tools they have used and plan to continue to use, the top answer in the global survey was self-checkout, cited by 58 percent; followed by restaurant delivery, 56 percent; order online, pick up at store, 50 percent; mobile payment, 47 percent; and grocery delivery, 44 percent.

In a keynote address at the recent NRF Big Show Mike George, departing NRF chairman and former CEO of Qurate Retail, said that “the older generation reports that they are more comfortable now with buy online, pick up in-store, or pick up at curbside. They are more comfortable with online grocery ordering. There’s no turning back to the way things were pre-pandemic.”

84.51°, Kroger’s data analytics subsidiary, has similarly found that hybrid shoppers and e-commerce have doubled within the grocery channel versus pre-pandemic level, opening up opportunities to target different segments of online consumers. Barbara Connors, VP, Commercial Insights, 84.51°, said on a recent Supermarket News podcast, “This trend will continue to grow as adoption and trial continues to expand across different customer groups.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways did the pandemic inspire the rise of hybrid shoppers, and what uniquely new habits do you see? How would you define today’s hybrid shopper and what opportunities and challenges does the trend present to retailers?

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Braintrust
"I expect to see many retailers adding in-store e-shopping, gamification interfaces, real-time customer service, and other new types of interactions."

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33 Comments on "Has a new, hybrid shopper emerged out of the pandemic?"


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David Weinand
BrainTrust

The hybrid shopping model was coming – the pandemic just accelerated it. As we say at Incisiv, “digital is the front door to the store.” Because of this, retailers have to understand that their digital presence will have a major effect on the way shoppers behave. They also need to train associates to understand that a shopper will likely come armed with a lot more information on what they want and need to react to that. I see this more as an opportunity than a challenge – retailers made good progress in reaction to the pandemic, they now have to tweak and adjust to ensure the experience is consistent.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Great comment! “digital is the front door to the store.” I will add that the store does not have to be a physical space.

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
9 months 17 days ago

The pandemic has been a large driver of changing shopper behavior and expectations, and has encouraged retailers to experiment with new tech-enabled shopping possibilities. Probably the biggest impact was increasing comfort with online search and research of products, but I expect to see many retailers adding in-store e-shopping, gamification interfaces, real-time customer service, and other new types of interactions that will give the lie to retail being a dead or boring industry.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

The term “rise of hybrid shoppers” is not accurate in my opinion. What the pandemic has caused is a simple acceleration of what was already underway. Forget about the division between offline and online. Everything will merge with endless, consumer-centric touchpoints and retailers need to re-adapt their model as soon as possible. Retail will transform into “consumer commerce.” This will be the future.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

I completely agree – this was well underway and many retailers were already changing their model to adapt. This will just accelerate as the blurring between physical and digital continues.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

You’re right, Chris. Movement was clearly in motion prior to the pandemic, but everything was accelerated. The leap to digital was made far more quickly by consumers than most retailers imagined leaving some flat-footed. Everything is merging into a seamless, frictionless experience … and consumer commerce is arriving quickly.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Hybrid, AKA omnichannel, shopping was on the rise prior to the pandemic that accelerated these shopping journeys. The pandemic spurred the greatest acceleration of hybrid shopping in the grocery segment, which lagged other segments. Hybrid shopping will continue to increase as retailers improve the seamless integration of digital and physical shopping journeys and more consumers appreciate the conveniences it brings.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The hybrid shopper is not a new phenomenon. For a long time, most consumers have blended physical and digital on their shopping journeys. The pandemic likely strengthened this, but the real thing it propelled was the response and innovation of retailers. 2020 and 2021 saw a flurry of activity as retailers offered more omnichannel services, such as curbside, and improved technologies and systems to cope with the integration. The challenge is that, for most retailers, things are not yet fully optimized. Automation, systems, customer services, store designs and so forth are all still catching up with the reality of how consumers shop.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust

The hybrid shopper has existed for a long time and has been steadily growing. I have written and spoken about this for many years now. And the retailers that embraced the blur of modern retail have done far better than those that haven’t. The pandemic absolutely accelerated this phenomenon, but the real lesson for retailers is the need to pay closer attention to evolving customer behavior and be proactive, not react when it becomes painfully obvious and you find yourself playing catch-up.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

The pandemic just accelerated this trend, it was already there. Consumers showed us in studies in 2015 that BOPAS was a preferred method of shopping the digital and physical combo. The issue has been the slow motion with which most (not Walmart) retailers reacted to the consumer, waiting for a pandemic to make it a “have to have” vs. a “nice to have.” It would be great to finally see retailers (like Nike) try harder to get out in front of consumers for a change, like with work from home for example: how do you best service this new lifestyle other than with sweatpants?

Shawn Harris
BrainTrust
Shawn Harris
Board Advisor, Light Line Delivery
9 months 17 days ago

Is “hybrid shopper” a new marketing term for omnichannel? IBM did bring us the marketing term “cognitive computing” to refer to artificial intelligence. Maybe this piece should be a question on whether we should move away from the label “omnichannel,” instead referring to it as “hybrid shopping.” Thanks for the comedy this morning.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Grocery shopping has forever changed and why not. Digital grocery has leaped ahead at least five years as has BOPIS, BOPAC and BOSFS. Getting customers in the store to shop is the challenge we all face going forward but, if you get them in, they will buy.

As far as in-store shopping goes, shoppers have become more self-aware about the social aspects of in-store shopping. Before COVID-19 started, who paid much attention to other shoppers except for making sure they didn’t grab that last bagel before you got to it? Now, anyone who believes there’s still a pandemic will likely notice if employees are masked, and the same for other shoppers. Masked shoppers have learned to avoid “unmasked” stores, and probably the reverse is true for the anti-mask minded.

David Spear
BrainTrust

The stats clearly highlight an interesting pattern, for instance, the less commoditized a product/category is, the more hybrid shopping will be involved. The pandemic forced people to work from home, which triggered a flurry of home improvement and home furnishing purchases. This activity inspired tons of hybrid shopping, as I can attest to doing this myself. Logically speaking, if someone is going to plunk down thousands of dollars on renovation or new furniture, they’ll want to conduct a lot more due diligence on product research in and out of the store vs. ordering groceries or sneakers online. This makes complete sense. Does this mean grocery retailers don’t have to invest as much on omni-experiences as a high-end home goods store? Clearly not, but WFH is here to stay and without those long commutes anymore, consumers are spending more time shopping in a hybrid fashion. Word of advice to all retailers, especially higher-end home product/category ones — always look for ways to improve and differentiate your omni-experiences.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Those retailers who spent years developing their omnichannel strategies — everything from more robust e-commerce sites to delivery options like BOPIS — were more prepared for the sudden disruptions of the pandemic. The other retailers who didn’t already adapt to a hybrid model were caught flat-footed.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The hybrid and digital-first customer movements gained momentum well before the pandemic. As we have witnessed, the pandemic served as a significant acceleration of emerging digital, social commerce, touchless, QR codes, microfulfillment, BOPIS, curbside, and same-day delivery solutions. A hybrid customer experience may be perceived as a challenge for retailers or brands. However this is a paradigm shift and a significant opportunity to shift a company’s operating models to a digital-first strategy.

Retailers and brands have become far more agile to accelerate their customer experience strategies across platforms. This has required an acceleration in shifting their operating models to meet the evolving and shifting consumer landscape. Time is of the essence, and business and digital transformations have become the top imperative to compete in the new landscape.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

The hybrid shopping model has been here since the first time a shopper checked online for a price comparison in a store.

COVID-19 was the great accelerant. Especially for grocers. But this has been coming and actually present for a long time.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

A long time? I have told the story before. Back in the 1950s, my aunt would order her weekly groceries by phone during the week. Every Saturday morning John Standard would come, from his grocery store, to her kitchen and unload the order on her kitchen table. (He would also have a cup of coffee.)

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

As with so many things in retail and otherwise, the pandemic has just accelerated what would be happening anyway. Without the pandemic, it would have developed slowly. The pandemic compressed that development and discovery for the shopper.

The trend is not necessarily BOPIS. The trend is time-saving and convenience. Anything to avoid going into the store. The retailers who recognize that will be the retailers of the future.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

The pandemic inspired hybrid shoppers which was the catalyst that forced retailers of all sizes to take e-commerce seriously. In March 2020, my home wasn’t in Walmart’s delivery zone for e-grocery. Now Walmart and Instacart often save my caboose with same-day service.

Uniquely new habits include expecting more companies to cater to our instant needs. Food apps and now rapid delivery players shrink the gap between placing online orders and the arrival of goods at our doorsteps.

Hybrid shoppers are empowered to get what they want, when they want it and wherever they want it. Retail power has shifted to consumers.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

The pandemic didn’t give rise to the hybrid shopper as much as it gave rise to retailers waking up to the fact that in order to remain relevant, they had to decisively up their game with frictionless e-commerce capabilities, delivery and curbside or in-store pick-up options, with each element intentionally designed around an optimal customer experience.

Matthew Pavich
BrainTrust

As many others have noted, the pandemic simply accelerated the trend that was already happening. It did, however, change some channel behaviors more than others – curbside being a good example of something that exploded with the pandemic and completely transformed the ways that a lot of retailers operated. It also impacted different retail verticals differently. One good example is grocery where people rarely compared prices online — now people can easily shop two grocers at once from the comfort of their homes and always select the better price. In all cases, the rise of the hybrid shopper offers greater flexibility for consumers and better opportunities for retailers to meet their needs. With the right analytics and strategies that better understand their evolving customer base across multiple channels, retailers have a greater opportunity to gain share and meet the challenges of this new reality.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

Two years is a long time in retail. In such a dynamic area of business, many things change in that time. It is also a long time in terms of consumer behavior patterns. People may try something once and either like it or not. But after two years of having to buy in a different way, habits form and people get used to the new way of shopping be that online, buy online pick up in-store or curbside.

It is not great surprise therefore that these new hybrid shoppers have formed. Will their numbers continue to grow? That is a different matter. Certainly will they grow as fast as the last two years. We are now getting to a level where the ones not engaged in hybrid shopping are the diehards who will take a lot of convincing. That will change over time as a new generation grows up with it but that will not happen in the immediate future.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The pandemic didn’t “inspire” the rise of hybrid shoppers. It forced people to become hybrid shoppers. Consumers that had never bought “local” online started using their computers to order groceries, dinners, etc. This was going to happen eventually, but the pandemic forced early adoption of the concept that was already trending.

The opportunity for retailers in the hybrid world is to find ways to connect both in-person and online for the hybrid shopper. Data on these hybrid consumers will become more important than ever, and the technology that delivers that data is getting better.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Hybrid shopping was already on the rise pre-pandemic. The pandemic didn’t really accelerate much – outside of preventing customers from going to “non-essential” stores, forcing retailers to offer customers online options more substantively. Some shoppers bit. I expect to see a slight dip in online shopping rates – but still higher than pre-pandemic and a continued increase in hybrid shopping. Customers have been buying in-store after visiting a website for years now. Grocery and specific segments are where there may be some new shopping options. For instance limited-e-commerce focused categories such as jewelry might find new options where shoppers would be more open to influence from online – making the shopping experience more of a hybrid one.