With 2023 now in the rear-view mirror, retail prognosticators expect some consumer behaviors to return to the pre-COVID era and continue embracing newer trends such as immersive shopping experiences, suburban living or preference for used items.
“We view 2023 as another tumultuous year as inflation, rising interest rates and general economic headwinds constrained consumer behavior. Still, there were many bright spots across various consumer-facing sectors, from retail to entertainment. And many of these developments will likely shape the wider consumer landscape in 2024,” noted a recent report from location analytics company Placer.ai.
Experiential retail has been on the rise. As consumers continue looking for opportunities to socialize and interact with others in a post-COVID world, experiential components are now being added to movie theaters, restaurants, and other consumer businesses, according to the Placer.ai report.
From the box office hits “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” to “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” consumers lined up for movie tickets, dressed in character and returned to theaters in droves this past summer. Time magazine reported that more than 200,000 people watched “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on the same day. Friends and families attended in groups to experience the movies, spurring retail sales.
Hot Topic, Bloomingdales, Fossil, Gap, Forever 21 and other retailers jumped on the Barbie bandwagon with partnerships with the brand. Jewelry company Alex and Ani released a Barbie collection of charm bracelets, and Primark offered a 73-piece Barbie apparel collection that included womenswear, menswear, pajamas and accessories. Mattel’s official “Barbie” movie doll collection, inspired by the cast members Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, sold out at Walmart, Amazon and Mattel’s website.
After the movie release, U.S. Barbie toy sales increased 25% for the July-August combined months compared to the same two-month period a year ago, according to data from market research firm Circana, which tracks retailers’ point-of-sale data.
Mattel also partnered with Bucket Listers to launch pop-up cafes in New York City and Chicago modeled after the Malibu Barbie Cafe. Mattel said the pop-up cafe tickets sold out with high demand from adults and kids.
“We are thrilled to see how much love and excitement ‘Barbie’ the movie has already sparked among fans,” said Lisa McKnight, chief brand officer at Mattel. “With the latest editions to the collection, we are offering even more ways for fans to immerse themselves in Barbie Land and celebrate the characters and stories they see on screen. ‘Barbie’ continues to be the cultural event of 2023. As we chart Mattel’s path forward, she will continue to serve as an icon of empowerment and inspiration for generations to come.”
Placer.ai said the most recent example of the movie as an event trend is when fans came out for the release of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which turned movie theaters into concert venues by singing and dancing along with the recorded on-stage Swift.
“Experience-driven theater requires more than just great films. The movies need to be able to lend themselves to being experienced by viewers as more than just scenes on a screen, and movie theaters need to go along with the fans and create the space that allows groups and individuals to fully engage with the content being presented. The success of “Barbie” and “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” likely means that many more movie studios — and movie theaters — will look to lean into this trend of experience-driven theater in 2024,” Placer.ai noted in the report.
McKinsey reports several factors have helped second-hand retailers gain popularity in recent years, with consumers looking to purchase unique, affordable and planet-friendly clothes. Following a strong 2022, the category continued to grow in 2023 and is likely to strengthen further in 2024 as interest in sustainability and frugality intensifies.
Walmart and Amazon are just two retailers embracing the buy-used trend. On its website, Walmart partnered with ThredUp to sell used apparel, and Amazon routinely sells “used” items at a discounted price.
According to Nielsen, the rise of marketplace opportunities for sellers such as Facebook and eBay has taken market share in categories such as furniture, patio and other general merchandise.
Placer.ai also reports that second-hand retailers have seen increased foot traffic and sales since the pandemic began, and the category is gaining ground among younger consumers. Placer.ai reports that young singles starting to form households helped seven leading second-hand chains grow market share between 2019 and 2023.
While consumer behavior in some sectors appears to be returning to pre-COVID patterns, other areas remain impacted by the pandemic, including suburban markets. Small but significant migration since the start of the pandemic, along with the shift toward hybrid work, have led to a suburban resurgence impacting everything from retail to dining, Placer.ai reports.
Fast-food retailer Shake Shack is one company focusing on suburban markets with the expansion of its new drive-thru format. Shake Shack reports that average suburban visits in the third quarter increased by 42.5%, while average visits per venue in the brand’s urban locations declined by 3.8%. The company reported that the suburban Shake Shacks in Dallas-Fort Worth also drew visitors from higher-income households compared to the brand’s urban restaurants.
Retailers like Warby Parker and Target announced plans to add more stores in suburban areas during 2023.
“A retailer has an interest in opening a store wherever there’s consumer demand. With remote work, there are a lot more consumers who are sticking close to home in the suburbs during the day,” said Andrew Lipsman, an analyst at Insider Intelligence.
Target opened about 30 suburban stores in late 2022 and 2023 and reported that traffic in these smaller stores surpassed expectations. Warby Parker opened stores in Rogers, Ardmore, Penn., Marietta, Ga., and 35 other locations, mostly in suburban cities, in 2023, with plans for 60 new stores in 2024.
Tractor Supply subsidiary Petsense operates 192 small-box pet specialty shops in 23 states, mainly in rural and suburban areas such as Searcy, Tahlequah, Okla., and Marshall, Texas. Tractor Supply acquired 136 Petsense stores for $116 million in 2016 and has since rebranded and expanded the retail banner, which reported net sales growth of 4.3% in the third quarter ending Oct. 1. Tractor Supply also intends to open 70 new stores in 2024 under its flagship banner.
RETURN TO NORMAL
Some pandemic-era changes predicted as permanent, such as the demise of the gym, quickly receded in 2023 as the infection risks waned. However, the report noted that other shifts have proven more resilient and are only now returning to their pre-COVID norms.
Placer.ai reports that weekend grocery visits dropped at the height of the pandemic, as newly flexible schedules enabled many consumers to do their grocery shopping in the midst of what had previously been a busy workweek. But as workers return to offices and weekly schedules, weekend grocery shopping has returned.
Aldi and Trader Joe’s saw a larger share of weekend visits in the third quarter of 2023 than in the same period of 2019, indicating that some consumer behavior is still in flux and that additional pre-pandemic consumer habits may come back in 2024.
Walmart also reported busier stores on the weekend during the back half of 2023. The retailer also reports steady growth in its online grocery pickup throughout the week and weekend.
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