Tullahomans are ready to get back out into the world to shop and eat, according to the Consumer Sentiment Survey released by city officials.

Last week Community Development Coordinator Winston Brooks put out a survey asking residents to give their opinions on dining out in restaurants again, shopping at local retail establishments and more.

According to Brooks, the purpose of the survey was to see how comfortable Tullahoma’s consumers are with relaxing restrictions on businesses and restarting the local economy.

Thursday morning Brooks released the results of that survey.

According to Brooks, the survey garnered a total of 1,013 responses and showed that attitudes generally favor relaxing business restrictions and getting back to “normal.”


Retail shopping

According to the survey, 61% of respondents answered that they were “likely” to shop inside a retail establishment, compared to 30% unlikely and 9% neutral.

Respondents were equally willing to shop at stores that implemented outdoor or sidewalk shopping, with the same 61%/30%/9% split between likely, unlikely and neutral.

Respondents also showed favorable opinions toward local retailers setting up e-commerce functions, with 62% likely to shop online from local retailers over global e-retailers such as Amazon or Walmart. Unlikely respondents made up 22% of answers while 16% of respondents were neutral.

Tullahoma shoppers also showed they were unwilling to wait to get back out into the community, with 71% of respondents saying they waited or were willing to wait less than a month before shopping for non-essential items. Those willing to wait more than a month to shop for non-essential items made up the remaining 29% of respondents.

Also of note in the survey, Brooks said, was the number of respondents willing to do their regular shopping through online retailers. More than half of respondents said they would do less than 50% of their shopping online, with 12% answering “none,” 30% answering “less than 25%” and a quarter of respondents answering “25 to 50%.”

Only 3% of respondents said they would do all their shopping online; 12% said they would do 75 to 100% of their shopping online; and 18% answered with 50 to 75% of their shopping to be online.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they had shifted “a lot” of their regular shopping online prior to the COVID-19 crisis, while 38% said they had shifted “a little” and 16% answered neutrally.


Dining out

When it comes to dining inside restaurants, 52% of respondents were “likely” to eat out in town. The number increased when restaurants offered outdoor seating, with 57% willing to eat out.

Conversely, 41% of respondents were willing to eat inside a restaurant, and 33% were willing to eat out if that restaurant offered outdoor seating options.

Neutral responses were at 7% and 10%, respectively, for those questions.

Survey respondents were slightly less antsy to get back inside restaurants, according to the results.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they were willing to wait or only waited less than a month before they ate out at open restaurants, and 37% said they were willing to wait or already waited more than a month before eating out.

Parents with young children were relatively evenly split on their comfort level bringing their children with them to dine in at restaurants, with 50% of respondents “likely” and 45% “unlikely.” Neutral answers took the remaining 5% of answers.

When it comes to preferred dining experiences, 51% of respondents said they preferred dining in at restaurants, while 30% said they would prefer to have reservations. Private dining experiences took the remaining 19% of answers.

Brooks said the finding that he noted as interesting for the restaurant questions was the number of people who said they liked an at-home-delivery option from local restaurants. According to the survey, 41% of respondents said they would “likely” have food delivered if it was available. Those “unlikely” to choose delivery made up 37% of respondents, and those neutral took 22%.


City considerations

According to Brooks, the survey confirmed that Tullahomans were willing and ready to get back out into the world, which helps the city figure out its next steps.

“People are ready to go back out relatively soon,” Brooks said of the overall results. “The city wants to move ahead and try to figure out how we can relax regulations to allow and encourage shopping and dining outdoors.”

Brooks added that some of the biggest takeaways from the survey were the validation of increased outdoor eating options for restaurants and the amount of people willing to shop local online.

“The biggest takeaway was the 62 percent of people would shop at a local retailer versus a large national retailer if they had an online presence,” he said.

“This validates what we can recommend businesses to do,” Brooks said of the results. “We have a few more details to work out on the legal side of that, but I think pretty soon we’ll be coming out with an announcement about that.”

The survey results can be viewed online at this link.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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