Off The Rack: In-Store Shopping Rebounds


Like zombies rising from their graves, malls and shopping centers are showing signs of life again after months of COVID-19 closures and stay-at-home orders. According to the latest report from Adobe, e-commerce showed slower growth in August, while foot traffic increased at brick-and-mortar stores. The research also found that more than a quarter of consumers said they felt more comfortable going to actual stores than a month ago.

One factor cited by Adobe is increased online prices, which is driving shoppers to more discount outlets.

This is good news for beleaguered stores and malls, but not necessarily the sign of a larger trend. "Obviously we have quarantine fatigue, so people are looking for an excuse to get out of the house," says Adam Hartung, business expert and CEO of Spark Partners. "But I always distinguish between a trend and a growth rate."

The overall trend still leans heavily toward online shopping. "We should expect we're gonna see e-commerce sales growing at 20 percent-plus per year, and we're gonna see in-store retail sales on an overall decline of about 7-9 percent per year," says Hartung.

In other words, don't expect the golden days of the mall or department store to return anytime soon. "In-store shopping will not be making a comeback," says Hartung. "It will never again reach the level of retail volume that it had in 2019."

Hartung likens the current rebound of in-store shopping to the comeback of vinyl records in recent years, driven by novelty and nostalgia. "Vinyl records are never gonna come back to where they were in the 1970s and 1980s, and that's what's happening in overall general retail today," he says. "In-store sales are never going to be eliminated, but that's going to become a much smaller segment of the overall retail market."