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Poll highlights deep e-commerce age gap

71% of those 55 and over prefer to buy things in person, compared with only 39% of Canada’s youngest adults.
E-commerce-Oscar Wong-Moment-Getty
While a slim majority of Canadians prefer to shop at bricks-and-mortar stores, a new poll suggests that the pandemic has accelerated a move toward online shopping
Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, British Columbians were looking at this holiday season with caution.

Last week we reported on how 56% of the province’s residents had no plans to travel at all in the next three months, reducing many families to virtual get-togethers.

Life may be returning to normal in some parts of the province, but many British Columbians continue to work from home. The absence of commuters is affecting many businesses that remained afloat in the early months of the pandemic with the support of government subsidies, but that now find themselves trying to figure out what’s next.

One of the evident side effects of the pandemic has been the closure of businesses. We have all seen how coffee shops – of all sizes and ownership structures – have ceased operating in downtown areas. Venues that used to hold small restaurants that depended heavily on foot traffic have been abandoned.

The simple act of buying a beverage or snack to go at a coffee shop is no longer what it used to be. In the latest survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media, 40% of British Columbians say they are partaking in this activity less often than before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Larger proportions of the province’s residents say they are no longer frequenting coffee shops to have a beverage or snack inside (59%) or having a drink at a bar or pub (64%) as much as they did in February 2020.

Earlier this year, we reported that 36% of British Columbians were ordering food delivery through an app. Technology has provided a way for businesses to make up some of the lost revenue from dine-in customers. Our survey shows that majorities of the province’s residents are not visiting restaurants for breakfast (60%), lunch (62%) or dinner (65%) as much as they did before the pandemic reached our shores.

On the topic of food and drink, the fluctuations are not particularly dramatic when we look at household income. The pandemic seems to be affecting British Columbians equally, both in terms of spending power and on the level of care they are observing to avoid becoming infected.

The notion of purchasing everything from home has gained prominence over the past couple of years. In our survey, 27% of British Columbians say they are buying groceries in person less often than they did before the pandemic, while 22% are relying on online orders more now than in early 2020.

The change is even more dramatic when it comes to buying items for the home or family, with almost two in five British Columbians (38%) saying they go inside a store less often and the same proportion (38%) relying on online platforms more now than before.

Buying gifts – a key component of the holiday season –is also remarkably different now than two years ago. More than two in five British Columbians (42%) say they are visiting stores less often now, with 36% relying on the internet and home delivery more often to select what to give to family and friends.

The pandemic may have expedited the move to online sales. We continue to see a majority of Canadians (56%) who say they prefer to buy things in person and not online. However, this group of committed store visitors includes 71% of those aged 55 and over, but only 46% of those aged 35 to 54 and just 39% of those aged 18 to 34.

There are also some interesting trends on ethnicity. Sizable majorities of British Columbians of East Asian and South Asian descent prefer to shop in person (59% and 56% respectively). The numbers are lower for residents of Indigenous (43%) or European (41%) heritage.

A year ago, we may have expected the holiday season to be the last one where our minds were preoccupied with the pandemic. This year, in spite of high vaccination rates, we remain careful and vigilant. The current state of affairs has changed how we eat and how we shop.

The adoption of online platforms has been easier for the youngest generation. There is plenty of appetite from older British Columbians to visit stores, if the right opportunity comes along. Still, the numbers outline a challenge for business owners aiming to keep a happy clientele now and in the future – how to recreate the experience of an in-person visit with the functionality of a sleek e-commerce application.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from November 15 to November 17, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.