survey analyzes consumer shopping preferences

Report highlights areas of opportunity for retailers looking to improve in-store experience

HIGH POINT — A recent survey by sheds light on consumer attitudes toward the retail experience. And, as expected, the results have some good news and bad news for brick-and-mortar stores.

First the good news. Americans prefer doing their shopping in a physical store, with 91% saying they do at least half their shopping there compared to online. Between 37% and 27% do most or all of their shopping in stores, respectively, while 28% said they do about half their shopping in physical stores and half online. Of the total 600 consumers surveyed earlier this year, 87% said they shop in physical stores at least once a week while nearly a third said they shop in physical stores once a day.

A key reason? Most like the ability to be able to see and touch the products, while 44% like the immediate gratification of shopping and taking items home with them. Another 25% said they like the social aspect of shopping and 21% said they like to be able to ask questions of a store associate and get help from those same employees. And 20% said they like being able to return items to a physical store location.

These are some of the results of the Theatro consumer survey.

Now for the bad news. Some 39% said they are shopping in a physical store less often than in 2019, compared to 24% who said they shop in physical stores more often. The remaining 38% said they shop in stores about the same. A big reason could be that many consumers surveyed said they don’t enjoy the retail experience as much as they did pre-pandemic. Forty-one percent described their experiences as less enjoyable compared to 21% who said they were more enjoyable, with 38% saying the experience is about the same.

The main reason people are dissatisfied? Inadequate staffing and poorly trained staff. Sixty percent said that staffing levels are less than they were in 2019 compared to 24% who said they were better and 16% who described them as the same. And 64% said that more stores had poorly trained staff compared to 2019, with 18% saying fewer stores had this issue and 18% who said the number of stores with training issues was the same.

The good news for furniture and mattress stores is that they had the lowest percentages of dissatisfied customers at 14%  and 12% respectively, compared to supermarkets (38%), convenience stores (30%) and clothing stores (16%). Still, we can assume that many of the issues or problems experienced by shoppers are similar across the board, with 71% saying long lines or crowds (perhaps not as big an issue for furniture stores as supermarkets or wholesale clubs); followed by 39% who said high prices (definitely an issue for furniture stores during periods of inflation during the pandemic); 32% saying limited product availability (another issue furniture stores experienced during the pandemic); 29% who said difficult or rude staff; and 24% complaining of unknowledgeable or unhelpful staff.

The most common problems experienced by consumers? Lack of helpfulness or willingness to assist and rude or unprofessional behavior (41% respectively) and lack of product knowledge or expertise (39%). And when asked have you ever stopped shopping at a particular store because its employees were unknowledgeable or unhelpful, 50% said yes, and 45% said no.

Not surprisingly, many of the key issues identified in the Theatro survey were among the ones identified in our Consumer Insights Now research fielded and released at roughly the same time.

Here’s some of what consumers told us can be improved about the in-store buying experience.

+ A knowledgeable salesperson who can lead me to what I want.

This image, which Theatro used for its study, shows the disinterested nature of some retail associates.

+ Stores hire salespeople who have never worked in a furniture store before, so they have no idea how to answer any questions. It would be nice if stores educated each of their new hires as to what types of furniture are sold there.

+ A more welcoming staff. With random hires, some people are just not nice to customers.

+ Actually have someone interested in helping, not haggling.

+ Be approachable, kind and knowledgeable of the items for sale.

In full disclosure we held off reporting the results of the Theatro survey released in early March to first publish each of our six consumer surveys in full succession. Plus, we didn’t want to have its research lost in the mix and be overlooked.

But the results of this survey are still timely in that consumers would likely share some of the same responses today as they did a few months ago. We just hope that retailers of all sorts — furniture and bedding included — pay close attention and find ways to improve the buying experience if they haven’t done so already.

Theatro CEO Chris Todd summarizes the data with these comments:

“Consumers prefer physical retail for a lot of reasons, such as the ability to see and feel products before buying them, and in the immediate gratification of taking a product home,” he said. “But they’ve also become more accustomed to the advantage of e-commerce such as avoiding long lines and having an almost infinite amount of product information at their fingertips. This makes them more inpatient with the in-store experience. The survey suggests that retailers must respond to these heightened expectations or suffer the consequences of decreased shopper satisfaction and, ultimately, sales.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at and at 336-508-4616.

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