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Is in-store buying making a comeback?

Two people stand in a home kitchen looking at a shopping website on a laptop computer.

It’s no surprise the holidays looked different last year due to COVID-19. We saw online shopping spike with stay-at-home orders, and users adapting to shopping from the comfort of their own homes. As a result, brick-and-mortar stores suffered. Now, with fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place this year, Microsoft Advertising explored whether in-store shopping will return to “normal” levels.

Consumers are warming up to the idea of shopping in-store again

According to a Civic Science report, the number of people comfortable shopping in stores is growing year over year (YoY)—58% comfortability in Sept. 2020 vs. 67% in Sept. 2021. Shopping is now also apparently perceived to be safer than traveling, going to a major public event (such as a concert or sporting event), or even going out to eat.   With holiday shopping in full swing, this is good news for retail brick and mortar stores, and we expect to see upticks in traffic continue through the end of the year.

Pro Tip: Increase your in-store foot traffic with Location Extensions. By including an address or phone number directly in your ads, you can help local searchers, who may be right around the corner, find your business.

A graph showing how in-store shopping is now perceived to be safer than other activities.

Search behavior demonstrates in-store shopping interest

We wanted to see how this trend manifested across the Microsoft Search Network, so we looked at the top queries from September and October of the past three years and compared activity. In 2020, there was a decrease in searches and clicks related to “in-store” queries. In 2021, we’re seeing significant growth (+30% YoY in searches, +119% YoY in clicks). Some of this year’s top in-store related queries include:

  • store near me
  • mall near me
  • mall hours
  • mall open time

Pro Tip: With Broad Match keywords, you can track new and emerging search queries in a hard-to-predict landscape. Take advantage of this tool and watch your campaigns reach a more comprehensive range of queries and a much bigger audience.

A chart showing how in-store related searches and clicks are growing.

Alternate payment solutions are gaining popularity

In addition to in-store shopping, we see peaks in alternative payment methods (gift cards, BNPL solutions, and curbside pickup). Searches containing “gift cards” are trending up YoY, with 23% of holiday gift shoppers visiting at least one gift card purchase page. “Buy now, pay later” solutions have also gained significant popularity lately, especially with supply chain and manufacturing issues.

This payment method is most popular with Gen Zs and millennials and is currently the fastest-growing e-commerce payment method globally. Consumers are often given interest-free options so retailers can drive incremental sales.

Lastly, we’re seeing digital and physical shopping lines blurred due to the growing popularity of curbside pickup and/or BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store) purchases. These are especially prevalent in consumer packaged goods (CPG) categories (such as grocery stores) or big-box retailers. Salesforce estimates that companies that explored one of these options in 2020 experienced an average of 76% revenue growth compared to the previous year.

Pro Tip: You can save time using Responsive Search Ads. By providing up to 15 headlines and four descriptions, Microsoft Advertising can optimize ad copy. This creates the most effective ads to reach potential customers who may be looking for alternative payment solutions.

A graph showing how shoppers will increase using Buy Now, Pay Later solutions.

Are retail trends back to “normal?”

While we do see retail trends inch back toward in-store shopping, conditions continue to rapidly change. We are definitely not back to shopping patterns circa 2019. In fact, due to the intense amount of retail growth we’ve seen in online shopping in the past two years, we’ll likely notice that continue to rise for years to come, regardless of how COVID-19 restrictions play out. The possibilities are endless, and Microsoft Advertising will be here along the way to help you plan your campaigns accordingly.

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