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The Summer of the Road Trip?

Vaccine optimism and still-cautious consumers could lead to breakout year for summer car travel.

It’s been more than a year since consumers worldwide have been forced to change their shopping habits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we pass the one-year anniversary of economic lockdowns caused by the pandemic, there’s no shortage of talk about how consumer shopping habits have changed, and how many of these changes will persist after the pandemic is over.

Let’s look at some of the post-pandemic trends being talked about at this time.

Deloitte noted that pandemic-related anxiety levels in the U.S. have dropped by 10 percent and that worldwide anxiety is at its lowest level since April 2020. Despite the increase in safety perception, financial stress and employment continue to be the second and third leading drivers of anxiety in most countries.

Deloitte’s research also found that discretionary spending is on the rise, with three in four U.S. consumers planning to spend the same or more on apparel and restaurants in the coming weeks, while also expecting to avoid congregating with strangers and continuing to consume at home and shop online.

A recent study by Toluna reports that two-thirds of respondents plan to return to their in-store shopping habits because half of them feel they have more control over what they buy, and 41 percent think in-store is easier and more convenient.

One out of two consumers say their buying habits have been permanently changed by the pandemic, according to a new study by AlixPartners, an international consulting firm. The study also found that internationally, consumer concerns about health (both mental and physical) and finance are key drivers of these permanently changed purchasing habits.

The AlixPartners study points out that the pandemic accelerated existing trends — such as digitization and channel-shifting but it also has led to new habits, such as more local travel by consumers. And the research notes that while some online purchasing habits developed during the pandemic will remain very strong, such as shopping for beauty products, clothing and footwear, some are likely to “snap back to store,” such as for grocery shopping.

I sense there’s a lot of consumer optimism about the vaccines, and I think c-store retailers will enjoy a significant boost to store traffic and sales this summer, especially from summer family road trips. U.S. consumers are likely to eschew international travel for summer vacations closer to home. 

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