By Sara Korab

Last Updated: March 22, 2021

Key Findings

  • Of survey respondents who stopped shopping with a company in 2020 due to poor online user experience, 61% indicated that convenient payment options are more important to their online shopping experience than they were a year ago.
  • Overall, women feel more strongly than men about which aspects of the online shopping experience are more important now than they were a year ago. For example, 50% of women responded that an easy-to-navigate website is a more important part of the shopping experience than it was a year ago as opposed to only 36% of men.
  • “Quick check-out" and “Quality of customer service" have seen the largest increase in importance as parts of the in-person shopping experience over the past year: each option was selected by 46% of respondents.

Shopping Preferences in 2021

The conflux of disruptive political, social, and economic circumstances that was 2020 forced business to adapt to consumers’ shifting wants and needs. As 2021 continues, consumers will continue to look for ways to maximize their shopping experience. Despite the explosive growth of ecommerce in 2020, our new research shows that consumers are still interested in in-person shopping experiences. What’s more, research from a study conducted by Google, Ipsos Media CT, and Sterling Brands reported three out of four shoppers who find local information in search results helpful are more likely to visit stores, debunking the common myth that search results only send consumers to e-commerce sites.

We will be taking a closer look at what aspects of shopping online and in-person matter more to consumers in a post-2020 world, both on a general scale and more specifically between genders and generations. Whether walking down the aisles of a store or surfing the web, what matters most to shoppers; and how have, should, and will companies react to their demands?

One Year Later

A year can make a big difference in people’s shopping preferences, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. According to a survey of over 1,000 American shoppers, more than 40% of consumers deemed fast shipping options, simple return processes, easy-to-navigate websites, and convenient payment methods such as Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, and third-party financing plans more important to their online shopping experience than they were one year ago. The U.S. alone is expected to hit 300 million online shoppers by 2023, which is more than 90% of the country’s entire population. With consumers spending more time than ever shopping online, now is the time for businesses to identify their customers’ pain points with the online shopping experience.

online shopping experience chart

“Convenient payment options" in online shopping have increased the most in importance among online shoppers over the past year: Nearly 50% of shoppers agreed. Notably, convenient payment options were also selected by 61% of respondents who have stopped shopping at one of their favorite stores due to dissatisfaction with the online user experience. Clearly, this is a pain point that online retailers must address in order to attract and develop loyal customers.

The Online Landscape

When taking a closer look at online shopping factors, some noticeable differences appeared among generations and genders. For example, 50% of millennials prioritized convenient payment options, while Gen Xers were most concerned with a simple return process, and baby boomers were interested in easy-to-navigate sites. Baby boomers were also less forgiving of sparse supply: 43% of baby boomers indicated that stores being “rarely out of stock" is more important to them now than it was a year ago. That’s roughly 10 percentage points higher than Gen X or millennial responses.

online shopping factors chart

Our results show that for the most part, women have much higher expectations in 2021 for the online shopping experience than men do. The most noticeable difference had to do with easy-to-navigate websites, which 50% of women deemed more important. That was 14 percentage points higher than men’s responses. Seeing as 72% of women shop online as opposed to 68% of men, retailers who want to boost their online shopping traffic should take note of their target audience’s preferences: men tended to feel more strongly about building a relationship with shopping sites on their own terms, preferring aspects like personalized product suggestions, customer accounts, and FAQ boards more strongly than women.

The Retail Landscape

Despite the relative dominance of ecommerce growth over the past year, our research plainly shows that shoppers have clear thoughts about the most important parts of the in-person shopping experience in 2021. 46% of Americans said that a quick checkout and the quality of customer service are more important now than they were a year ago, and these two responses remained at or near the top of the rankings among all demographic breakdowns.

in-person shopping experience chart

Companies know the average customer values efficiency – many stores have rolled out new ways for customers to get their shopping done as fast as possible. A major addition to retail stores has been self-service kiosks, where customers can scan and pay for their items independent of a cashier. Amazon decided to take this one step further, having launched their Amazon Go shopping experience. Upon entering an Amazon Go store, customers scan their Amazon Go app. Using advanced technology, the store tracks what items you choose to leave the store with, and later charges your account. No checkout lines or self-service kiosks are needed.

Regarding quality of customer service, companies have stepped up to the plate by being as accommodating as possible in order to boost the online user experience. For example, the introduction of omnichannels allows users to connect with support teams in many ways, including by phone, e-mail, live chat, and social media.

Genders and Generations

As mentioned, quick checkout and quality of service remained the top two priorities regardless of respondent gender or generation. Gen Xers, though, were slightly more interested in a quick checkout, while baby boomers turned their attention to the quality of customer service the most. Perhaps unsurprisingly, being able to shop with friends was one of the more important factors for millennials, compared to other generations.

in-person shopping factors chart

Between men and women, men showed a clear preference for face-to-face interactions with employees, rating face-to-face customer service and employee recommendations more highly than women did.

Looking Forward

As always, companies will continue to learn about consumer preferences and cater to them. Even when splitting hairs between generations and genders, the majority of the public seems to be on the same page in terms of what they want – both online interfaces and brick-and-mortar stores need to offer customers increasingly higher levels of convenience.

In 2021 and beyond, the shopping landscape will continue to evolve. Seeing as e-commerce underwent explosive growth in 2020 and will continue to impact retail sales into 2021, the future of retail might be trending in the opposite direction. We’ll keep an eye on major retailers like Macy's and Home Depot to see what happens next and what consumers might desire a year from now to satisfy their shopping needs.

Our Data

All data analyzed in this study came from a survey of 1,008 consumers in the United States. Fifty-one percent of respondents were female, 48.7% were female, and less than 1% were nonbinary or reported an unlisted gender identity. The average age of respondents was 40 with a standard deviation of 12.7 years. The average income of respondents was $58,000/year with a median of $50,000/year. All respondents included in the analysis passed an attention-check question.

The main limitation of this survey is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues including, but not limited to, attribution, exaggeration, and recency bias.