Will vaccine reluctant Americans slow the retail comeback from COVID-19?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jan 28, 2021
George Anderson

Getting back to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy in the U.S. is entirely dependent on the nation’s ability to get a handle on the coronavirus. Medical professionals and public policy experts have been pointing to individual and business safety measures as a means to tamp down the spread of the virus, but achieving herd immunity is the only currently viable path to that happening.

In order for the nation to reach herd immunity without the death toll stretching into the millions, the vast majority of the population will need to get vaccinated. The reality on the ground is that a large percentage of Americans, for a variety of reasons, are either reluctant, unwilling or, in a small percentage of cases, unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

An online poll of 5,537 Americans taken last month by Invisibly found that 47 percent were unlikely or very unlikely to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The biggest factor in the choice to be vaccinated or not was trustworthiness. Eighty percent who thought of the immunization as very untrustworthy were very unlikely to receive the vaccine.

Results from a CNN poll released last week paint a slightly more promising picture. Sixty-six percent of people it surveyed are now planning to get immunized as more pharmaceutical companies introduce vaccines. The most recent number is an improvement over the results from a previous poll that found only 51 percent were planning to get vaccinated.

Another survey from First Insight released yesterday finds that about a third of Americans are unsure as to whether they will be vaccinated or not, but that even with vaccines many people are not planning to suddenly go flocking to stores.

Forty-five percent of beauty product shoppers said they would either go to stores less or the same after being vaccinated. The same holds true for 44 percent looking to buy footwear, 43 percent of consumer electronics purchasers and 40 percent shopping for apparel.

If the vaccine does not prove to be the medicine that retailers are counting on to help them bring their businesses back, there is clearly more pain ahead for the industry. CNBC reports that Coresight Research is forecasting that up to 10,000 stores will be closed this year.

“The rollout of vaccination programs should result in a partial recovery in store-based sales,” Coresight CEO Deborah Weinswig said. “However, these programs may take many months to reach a wide base of consumers.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think currently reluctant Americans will get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is made available or will they continue to hold out, keeping the nation from reaching herd immunity? Are retailers prepared for a future in which the virus may remain a year-round fact of life because herd immunity is not reached?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"As for retail … it will never return to pre-pandemic levels. People have discovered too many alternatives to buy what they need or just better things to do than go shopping."
"With zero statistics on my side, I’m willing to be that a very high percentage of the vaccine reluctant never stopped going to stores/bars/restaurants except for shutdowns."
"I don’t believe that reluctant Americans will get the vaccine … but I do believe that if we can achieve 50-60% immunization, then we will have wide-scale protection."

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28 Comments on "Will vaccine reluctant Americans slow the retail comeback from COVID-19?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I believe that eventually even reluctant Americas will get the vaccine – but it will take time. Given all the misinformation about vaccines along with the poorly executed rollout, it’s understandable that people are reluctant. Ultimately, I think the impact on retailers is that this is going to be a much longer recovery time than first expected. This will be especially felt in apparel and other non-discretionary categories. With an effective vaccine now available, we are at the beginning of the end, but the end is still a way off.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I agree here. I have seen a lot of news reports where people are saying they will not take the vaccine now, but will probably later on after the initial vaccinations. They remain reluctant due to the various reports of possible medical issues from the current vaccinations. This will delay the full recovery of the economy for a long while.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

It is extremely difficult for people to predict what they will do once the pandemic is over, so I find some of these surveys a bit pointless. What we do know is that foot traffic at many physical locations remains very suppressed and will likely continue to be below par until the pandemic is totally under control. Getting it under control requires mass vaccination. In short, this will be a slow recovery for retail. We will not simply bounce back to “normal.”

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

To answer this question directly, yes. Reluctant Americans will not only slow down the retail recovery, but will, directly or indirectly, cause more deaths, protract the economic distress and will impact a number of other things in our daily lives. Words matter but actions matter more.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Retailers’ ability to recover depends on the speed of reaching “herd immunity,” but those who have been vaccinated will feel safe returning to stores, restaurants and hotels before that goal is achieved. So the recovery hinges on how quickly the vaccines can be administered to the people who want them, not necessarily those who are reluctant. The mismanagement of the program at the national, state and local levels is really what’s holding the economic recovery back.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Trend is that more and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of getting the vaccine. This is not surprising considering we have had a year of misinformation and contradictions being loudly communicated to us.

Anecdotally, EVERYONE that I know personally is anxious to get it and most are working quite hard to get their appointments. Those that are not in the preferred groups are waiting, waiting, waiting for the go ahead.

As for retail … it will never return to pre-pandemic levels. People have discovered too many alternatives to buy what they need or just better things to do than go shopping.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 23 days ago

It is always interesting to be in a bubble with individuals who have similar mindsets, but I can assure you this is not representative of the population as a whole. In my work group (many in the 20-30 age range) there is little to no interest in the vaccine at all — largely indifference. In another group I am involved in of varying ages, there is an anti-vaccine mentality so no surprises there. In yet another smaller group I know of, primarily individuals in their 50s and 60s, they are all ready to get the vaccine ASAP and are actively trying to get it. So far I know one person who has gotten it; no side effects or other issues.

George Anderson
Staff

While anecdotal information may provide qualitative insights, it should never be substituted for or be given more weight based on quantitative findings – AKA facts.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

When one prefaces something “anecdotally,” one is saying specifically that is not based on data and should not be projected as fact. That is why you preface it as such.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

There is no doubt we all live in our bubbles. My bubble does not include many in the 20-30 age group. Nor does it include many minorities, which we know report discomfort with the vaccine. My bubble is mostly 50 plus, with a sprinkle of 30 plus.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

People are always hesitant of new drugs and their promises; no wonder we hear about the doubt and resistance of the current vaccine. I believe most people will come around in due time, after they see millions of people walking around with assured smiles.

Now retail. During the pandemic, we educated the consumer on different modes of shopping, while we closed and warned them to avoid crowds in stores. So obviously there will be mental stress about walking into a store instead of ordering from the couch. In our wanting to return to normal surveys with customers, we feel excitement from them wanting to return back to normal. Retailers are in a pinch: If they can make landlord arrangements, clean out dated product while receiving new, relaying stores to a brand new exciting look, this may create the renewed customer enthusiasm they must generate. It’s a big job.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Many of the doubters are taking a wait-and-see approach. As they realize that the vaccines are working, and side effects are minor they will be far more likely to seek vaccination. What this means for retailers is the current reality will be with us for some time.

As has been noted in other discussions, once customers found they could use alternative purchases process rather the going into the store, many are going to continue to do that even when they feel comfortable going back to shopping in stores. I expect it will be some time before “retail therapy” comes back.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

More reluctant people will get the vaccination in the future. They will watch their friends and neighbors be successfully vaccinated, and I believe there will become a point in time that proof of the vaccination will be required to enter certain venues — maybe flights, sporting events, and concerts. Retailers have done a good job of being open during the pandemic, and these lessons learned will continue as long as they need to be.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

I don’t believe that reluctant Americans will get the vaccine … but I do believe that if we can achieve 50-60% immunization, then we will have wide-scale protection. Not 100% perfect protection, of course, but better. I also understand that these kinds of viruses mutate, requiring our health care system to continually evolve the vaccines — just like they do for “ordinary” flu shots.

This pandemic is a wake-up call to a new level of consciousness about transmittable diseases. Life will go on, but look a little different.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Reluctance to get the vaccine isn’t the problem. Refusal may be. Consider that many people won’t even wear masks. All this means is that it will take longer to get back to a feeling of pre-pandemic normalcy. We are making progress. We are already seeing an increase in consumer spending in retail. It should continue to get better over the coming months.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Mass vaccinations? You can’t even get most people to wear masks! We live in a world where people prefer to eschew the evidence of their own eyes and ears and opt-in to their own realities. For example, a recent poll showed that 35% of registered Republicans still don’t believe Joe Biden really “won” the election. So, between the “normal” anti-vaccer crowd; those who still don’t believe COVID is real; the “wait and see” folks; the “vaccines are a Deep State plot” crowd; and all the other crazies out there, it is hard to imagine how we are going to quickly get to the 70-75% vaccination levels you need to achieve TRUE herd immunity. That also assumes the current vaccines will continue to be effective against the variant strains that are starting to pop up. At best, we may be looking at a flu-like situation where we will need boosters every year which may or may not make us immune to the latest strain. Are retailers prepared for a future of continuous pandemic? Not just “No”,… Read more »
Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Spot on, Ryan!

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 23 days ago
Lots of good points here. As long as they keep discovering (or coming up with…) new COVID strains (all viruses have a lot of different strains, the flu shot is often not even 50% effective because of that…) it is going to decrease public confidence in this vaccine and give the “not getting the vaccine” group additional reasons to “not get it.” And at this point nobody knows exactly what is ahead here. Unemployment seems to keep doing a yo-yo (it should be showing an ongoing recovery), oil prices are going up for some mysterious reason the past few weeks despite demand falling (this is always awful news for retailers), and the bottom line is people are just consuming much less than before. I do think many of these habits of less consumption of goods will become ongoing and long-term retailers will be hurt badly from this and short of population growth based demand increases, things will never be the same again for retailers. At least the vaccine can make it so someone can’t sue… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Once upon a time there was a polio vaccine. It was dosed in school. Every student got it. I know. I was one.

But, that was once upon a time.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 23 days ago

Well, Merck just stopped developing a COVID-19 Vaccine due to a number of reasons. If you read the headlines, those say due to “poor results.” If you actually read the article text, what they are saying is after tests they determined someone is better off getting COVID-19 and recovering from it to have immunity from it, than the amount of immunity they would get from the vaccine. Cop out? Who knows?

And every headline of someone dying after getting a COVID-19 Vaccine like the X-Ray Technician in Orange County who was hospitalized 2.5 hours after getting the 2nd dose of the thing over the weekend, is not going to help make reluctant folks go running for this vaccine.

Hopefully the drug companies can address the safety issues with this vaccine, then reluctant folks may be more comfortable to go get it.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Wow! There are polls, bad polls, and outright lies. Some of the basis for this article border on at least 2 of these. Asking anyone questions “online” is restrictive (they need to have online or cellular access) as well as speculative (how do they get online names from a non restrictive source?) Asking people about vaccines is in itself difficult (most people have no idea what a virus is, let alone what a vaccine is or how it works). Attach some level of trust to the understanding (or lack thereof) and we can see where the distorted numbers come from. IMHO, retail will be changing to a more modern model that reflects omnichannel marketing and presence.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe many people still view the pandemic as a hoax. It is hard to believe, but that is the case. Science seems to be losing out to politics in this bizarro world we live in. We will almost certainly be living with masks for the foreseeable future. Many retailers believe this will pass and we will go back to pre-COVID shopping behavior, but I believe COVID-19 will change the way we shop forever much like the depression did for our grandparents.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

With zero statistics on my side, I’m willing to be that a very high percentage of the vaccine reluctant never stopped going to stores/bars/restaurants except for shutdowns. So this group will probably be out there shopping in any event. Probably also refusing to wear masks and taking other precautions mind you …. but still shopping nonetheless.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I think you are correct. I just wish I could give a 🙁 to your comment.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

There’s just really no way to know, though personally I think it’s indifference more than fear that will be the stumbling block. Which brings us to the next question(s): will incentives be necessary (and how far can they go [toward compulsion] before they become an issue on their own)?

W. Frank Dell II
BrainTrust

All retailers are not the same so the recovery will vary from quickly to never. The food retailer increase is from the decline in eating away from home. As lockdowns stop and vaccinations increase, retail sales will decline over 2 years as eating away from home increases. Other retailers will depend on their online sales factor. Over 50% today will not recover in-store. A lower percentage will achieve some in-store increases. Only 49.2% of the population gets flu shots each year. While the flu is not as deadly as COVID-19, achieving herd level immunity will require people who have had the virus and have become immune.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think the issue is less about whether or not people say they won’t take the vaccine. I think people will say they are reluctant, but when there are proof of safety and social/work pressure will drive people to vaccinate. I think whether or not people go to the mall to shop will depend on other factors such as convenience, price and availability. As much as people say they don’t like shopping, when you are NOT allowed to shop in person, people do enjoy going out to browse and meet people. Based on the number of violators of shelter in place, I’d say most people are more social than surveys lead you to believe.