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Consumer Preferences – Round 3.

Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | September 2, 2020
Emporia Main Street has obtained consumer preference information in relation to COVID response on three separate occasions. These responses can help business and organizations determine best practices as we continue to move through the pandemic. From Survey 1 (soon after the pandemic began) to Survey 3 (recently completed) some consumer trends and expectations have changed. Other preferences have remained consistent. Below you can view percentage respondents to a variety of questions in numerical and graphical formats, and some additional information based on text responses to each question.
Additionally, we asked some expansion questions in the third survey based on feedback from committees. If you would like access to the raw data for Survey 3, please contact the Emporia Main Street office.
Respondents to question one are either eating out (occasionally) or not at all (and won’t be for a long while). Restaurants should focus on catering to the market share willing to engage restaurants. The market looks like it may stay static for the foreseeable future, so making every customer count is key.
Over 24% of consumers were waiting to dine out, but only 8% of consumers are avoiding non-essential retail. Safety, flexibility, and an online presence count for retailers. There are some indications of price consciousness that may reflect the uncertainty that we are living in.
People miss dine in. As temperatures cool, finding ways to encourage outside dine in traffic and safer dine-in experiences can help you capitalize on local consumers. Curbside and traditional delivery are still critical to achieving the volume necessary to produce a profitable environment, but people still appreciate dine in options.
If you are a restaurant, you should plan on incorporating curbside delivery in your business model from this point forward. You need to make the process easy (simple to navigate online menus with online ordering options, or multiple order phone lines are important), but a lot of customers REALLY like the curbside option.
While not as popular as curbside meals, curbside alcohol deliveries have fans. Marketing the availability of curbside options, and specialties that people may not engage at home (cocktails, etc.) are important to growing curbside sales.
Some price consciousness may be impacting some food deliveries, but people are (on average) ordering out as much as they always have. Creating top of mind awareness and an easy delivery process can help you capture sales.
We saw a decline in heavy users of groceries delivered to the home, and an increase in the “much less” and “somewhat less” used crowd. However, we still have over 27% of the market that are engaging in online grocery shopping with at home delivery. This is a significant customer base that we anticipate will grow in the future, and may become more prevalent over the coming months with school and pandemic uncertainty.
Text based answers indicate an increasing comfort level with online shopping. As people become more accustomed to online portals, they may lean on online shopping conduits more (especially if in-store business is disrupted).
Many people indicated a preference for the in-store shopping experience. However, 28.3% of respondents answered that between 25% and 100% of their shopping would be completed online through the pandemic.
We saw a drop in on-line brand loyalists for local businesses during this survey. The “Very Likely” crowd shifted to “Somewhat Likely” or neutral. Businesses need to constantly market their online portals to keep customer awareness high. Some local websites function very well for online sales, and some need some work to make the experience easier for customers. Emporia Main Street can help audit the ease of your online sales process to improve customer purchase frequency. Contact Emporia Main Street to set a meeting.
Any amenity above “4” helps encourage customers to patronize your business. Amenities that scored in the “5” range fall into consumer expectations. Hand sanitizer available for general use, masks worn by ALL customers, limits on the amount of customers in a location at one time, and masks worn by ALL staff were highest scoring. Proper mask usage, and attention to safety details (according to this survey) have an impact on business patronage.
We saw a 9% drop in consumers willing to pay more to help businesses with safety precautions. We hypothesize that consumers are becoming more price conscious, and there is an assumption that “big ticket” purchases for customer safety have already been made. Even with the decline, 22.2% of consumers were willing to pay more for safety precautions at businesses.
We saw a bit of a shift in the comfort level for indoor activities from “Very uncomfortable” to “Somewhat uncomfortable. As safety protocols improve, comfort levels have increased, but 67.3% of consumers are still very or somewhat uncomfortable at large indoor events.
Consumers are essentially split on large outdoor events, with a single percentage point separating the “comfortable” from “uncomfortable”. This is an improvement from the first two surveys. Again, safety protocols in place are key to comfort. However, when we added context to questions concerning large outdoor events the answers changed.
When we asked about large outdoor athletic events, those answering “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable outpaced the “comfortable or “very comfortable” respondents by 3.1 percentage points, with “very uncomfortable” as the top ranked answer at 28.4%.
Holiday outdoor celebrations were more pronounced. The very or somewhat uncomfortable respondents had a 10.5% advantage over the very or somewhat comfortable respondents. If we consider this survey representative, outdoor holiday events are not in a great position at the moment.
We asked for additional clarification from those that have engaged in online shopping from local businesses that consumers usually shop “in-person”. Consumers surveyed indicated 31.5% had shopped online from a business that was available locally. Some respondents added statements that highlighted a desire to support locals, but disappointment in the ease of use among local websites, or a lack of understanding concerning which businesses had online purchase options.
Demographically, we had a good representation across many different age ranges. Over 80% of our respondents to the newest survey were female, and survey participants were mainly white. Over 50% of those that took the newest survey were full time employed, with over 23% retired.
So, what does all of this mean for local businesses? We can take a few pieces of information from the newest survey:
Local businesses need to improve their online sales portals to supplement customer experiences and enhance sales opportunities.Unless something drastically changes, holiday events that act as traffic drivers are probably off the table.Businesses need to continue to market how consumers can spend with them, and what sales portals are available. You may want to use an outside organization to provide some insight on the online or in-store shopping environment from a consumer perspective (contact Emporia Main Street for details.)If businesses want continued patronage, safety systems (mask usage, strict customer limits, cleaning, and sanitizer availability) are important.Remember that we are transitioning seasons, so businesses that have utilized outdoor areas need to think through how to keep customers comfortable as fall approaches.
We will run another consumer preferences survey starting the second week of October. This data will hopefully give all of you some additional consumer insights necessary to maximize sales opportunities through the pandemic.

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.