E-commerce retailers that rode a surge of online purchases in 2020 are now grappling with the fact that some customers have returned to stores
“We’ve got over 100 years as a society of going into a store to buy something,” Bernstein Research analyst Mark Shmulik said. “That muscle memory doesn’t just switch off because you were forced to buy things online a couple of times during a pandemic.”
When millions of locked-down Americans went online during the Covid-19 pandemic, it looked like the possible start of a permanent shift in consumer behavior.
Just like working and watching movies at home, shopping at home was a faster, safer and easier alternative to trekking to an actual store. Companies like Amazon.com Inc., AMZN -0.28% ▼ PayPal Holdings Inc., PYPL -0.11% ▼ Shopify Inc. SHOP -0.62% ▼ and Wayfair Inc. W -5.76% ▼ and others notched record profits, as their stock prices hit all-time highs in 2020 or 2021.
But hold off on those obituaries. Even as pandemic restrictions end, and many people continue working and watching movies at home, stores are mounting a comeback. E-commerce companies that were counting on a broad secular shift are now facing slowdowns, and the prospect of expensive investments in bricks-and-mortar retailing while speeding up delivery times.
It turns out there are limits to buying stuff on screens. Foot traffic to malls and bricks-and-mortar stores has rebounded since vaccines and booster shots became widely available and the worst waves of the virus receded. Sales slowed at many digital storefronts specializing in apparel, home furnishings and other categories where many consumers prefer to see in-person and touch what they are buying.
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