Understanding how consumers’ shopping habits have changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic is critical before starting to explore trust metrics.

Survey respondents were asked to reflect on their shopping habits now and prior to the pandemic, and the results show a drastic change in how consumers are purchasing products.

Shopping habits of U.S. adults, before the pandemic and now

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. adults said that before the pandemic they shopped mostly in person, and just 13 percent said they did most of their shopping online. Now, the share who say they do most of their shopping online has nearly doubled and sits at 24 percent. This matches reported growth in e-commerce sales, which made up 13.6 percent of all retail sales in the first quarter of 2021 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, a 39.1 percent increase since the first quarter of 2020.

Roughly half (52 percent) of the country said they still do their shopping at physical stores. The share who said they split their shopping evenly online and offline has grown from 16 percent to 22 percent.

That shift to online is reflected in various retail subcategories such as household and personal products, clothing, and grocery.

Shopping habits of U.S. adults in subindustries, before the pandemic and now


E-commerce was already growing fast prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic dramatically accelerated the digital transformation of retail. If they don’t already, retailers need a clear strategy for their online customers focused on building trust. Part of that could mean offering free shipping and returns, money-back guarantees and increasing security of consumers’ data.

Shopping habits of key demographics, before the pandemic and now

The May 12-15, 2021 survey was conducted among 4,400 U.S. adults and holds a margin of error of 1 percent.

Gen X, the often overlooked generation of U.S. adults born between 1965 and 1980, saw the most movement in their online shopping behaviors, doubling the 11 percent who said they did most or all of their shopping online prior to the pandemic to 22 percent today. But baby boomers aren’t far behind, seeing 80 percent growth in the share who said they do at least most of their shopping online.

To be sure, higher shares of Gen Z adults (17 percent) and millenials (21 percent) already did at least most of their shopping online prior to the pandemic.

Similarly, those in suburban communities doubled the share who said they do at least most of their shopping online, from 13 percent to 24 percent. Respondents earning more than $100,00 per year also nearly doubled that category, from 17 percent to 34 percent. Notably, these wealthier adults already lead their demographic group in the most online shopping pre-pandemic.


The pandemic changed the shopping behavior of every demographic -- young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural -- and shifted them more online. Now, even as millions of stores across the country have reopened, consumers say they are still shopping online more, meaning those pandemic-induced habits have stuck.

Share who said they've done the following

Buying online and picking up in a physical store, often called curbside pickup by many retailers, is also quite popular and a way to foster trust with many consumers. Half the public says they’ve done this, including 41 percent of those who say they do most of their shopping in physical stores.

Share of U.S. adults who trust the following types of retailers to act in the best interests of consumers

Some good news for retailers: More consumers tend to naturally trust retailers compared to companies overall. Retailers with physical storefronts have more consumer trust than those with just an online presence, and retailers that have both kinds of storefronts have the most trust among all U.S. adults.

Roughly one-third (34 percent) said they don’t trust retailers with just an online presence, and they have to do things to earn their trust.

Extent to which trust is a factor when purchasing from a retailer

Indeed, trust is more of a factor for online-only retailers than shops with just a physical storefront, albeit not by much: 40 percent of U.S. adults said trust is a major factor when shopping from an online brand, while 32 percent said the same of retailers with a physical store.

Notably, those who do at least most of their shopping online demand more trust from all retailers, regardless of whether they have physical or virtual storefronts.

Eighty-three percent of those who should mostly online said trust is at least a minor factor when purchasing from a store with just an online presence, compared with 72 percent of respondents who mostly do their shopping in person.

If a retailer you trust did something to break your trust, how would your loyalty be affected, if at all?

If trust is broken, online retailers also risk losing more customers compared to retailers with a physical store, although again, the differences are not vast. Forty-three percent of respondents would stop purchasing from an online-only retailer if it broke their trust, compared with 36 percent who said the same of a physical-only retailer.


More consumers have moved online to shop, but online retailers have a higher bar to clear when it comes to earning and maintaining the trust of consumers.

Up Next: Building and Breaking Trust in Retail and E-commerce

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