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Has the pandemic changed shopping behaviour?

by wrich

By Debbie Bowen –Heaton, Partner at Oliver Wight EAME

The impact of the pandemic on the way people shop is profound and we won’t be returning to 2019 when it is all over. Convenience, efficiency and health considerations have influenced consumer choices since March 2020 and habits have jumped five years forward in terms of how people shop. 

  • At the start of the pandemic, purchases centred on the basic needs – we all remember the sudden disappearance of pasta and toilet paper. Since March 2020 consumers have remained eager to source and shop locally and many producers have accelerated their direct to consumer strategies as a result. This has made it easier for people to continue shopping more consciously and buying local whilst embracing digital commerce. 
  • Online based experiences are here to stay – although there was a consumer shift to online purchases, the easing of restrictions and the opening of physical stores has not deterred consumers from continuing to shop online. The general move online is one that was already beginning to happen, merely accelerated by the pandemic, and due to convenience and speed one that is now set to stay
  • Consumer attitudes have shifted across demographics – while the younger end of the spectrum are still most likely to shop online our clients are seeing the biggest increase in those switching to online retail over in store is for consumers aged 35 and above
  • Consumers are forming new brand loyalties – we are seeing a trend towards discovery and trial during the pandemic with many of those researched saying they will continue to buy from these same new retailers over the next six months. Google research shows how In the past year, 1 in 4 clothing shoppers have bought from a new brand or retailer. In addition, 75% of womenswear and 82% of menswear shoppers said they will continue to buy from these same new retailers over the next six months.

The most significant change, that we have seen and is echoed in the research is the importance for customers of a more omni-channel shopping experience and how the strategic role of the store has evolved. 

The retailers that were successful in encouraging footfall and then sales, after the last lock down, were those that used insights on customer shopping habits to create a more ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to functional experience in-store and also one that respected consumer concerns about physical contact. We will likely see a continuation of the pre-crisis trend toward retail stores that create immersive experiences to drive foot traffic such as department stores who increased their café space and introduced beauticians in-store. Other retail innovations, driven by data on consumer habits and concerns for social distancing and super market queues resulted in the launch of Opentable’s grocery shopping reservation platform in May last year. Grocery stores and supermarket chains would be well placed to use these observations and examples to their benefit.

The savviest retailers have spent years creating omnichannel strategies that blend physical and online channels to engage consumers in the channel of their choosing and innovation needs to be across this mix. We can see the positive affect of ramping up online shopping capability and responding to consumer demand for products delivered quickly such as Amazon Prime Fresh or Morrisons on Amazon, which allowed customers to buy products online and receive them in a couple of hours. 

The corona virus is not going away anytime soon. Despite lock down restrictions easing and the positive vaccination programme in the UK, the world is still catching up. We are advising our clients to keep a very close eye on customer habits and the data that informs them. Any business that doesn’t will fall quickly behind.