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The changing landscape of shopper behaviour during Covid-19 and beyond

17 July 2020

Life during Covid-19 has seen a lot of change, but for changes in behaviour to become ingrained, there must be value attached for the shopper

The memory remains of that ‘sigh of relief’ as we got back into our house after the grocery shopping, while busily removing footwear, scrubbing hands, disposing of masks/gloves, wiping down all purchases, washing door handles, banisters, mobile phone cases, the list could go on ad infinitum. It is true that since the country began to ease restrictions that many of these habits have also been eased, but what shopper behaviours have become engrained and are likely to continue into the future?

At MCCP, we have been speaking to shoppers each week since mid-March to see how various demographics were responding to Covid-19. We have conducted weekly focus groups and in-depth interviews to investigate the impact of the virus on these behaviours, and how they would change over time. It is true that not all new behaviours last, but it is those new behaviours that hold intrinsic value for the consumer that are likely to continue.

A shift back towards more frequent shops

At the peak of the virus, shoppers reduced the frequency of their grocery shops, and indeed limiting those doing them. Shoppers were buying more per basket, and ‘top-up’ shops were eliminated. For Cocooners and those with health vulnerabilities, shopping was done by someone else and delivered, while pre and early families, reduced trips to once per week or ten days. As the restrictions began to be lifted, an increase in frequency has become evident.

So, what for the future? Frequency is likely to continue at the rate of weekly plus for most, with the exception of some older shoppers, those with health vulnerabilities (or living with someone who is vulnerable).

Cash is no longer king

One of the biggest shifts in shopper behaviour during Covid-19 has been a move towards a ‘cashless’ society. While this trend has been happening for quite a while, it has been accelerated greatly by the pandemic. Contactless card payments and use of services like Revolut have become the norm because of safety and hygiene, and while most are happy to use these payment methods, a ‘social disapproval’ has emerged towards those who are not.

Looking to the future, this shift towards a cashless society is likely to continue for most, apart from some unwilling participants who have been forced into this experiment such as older cohorts. The challenge will be for retailers to manage both side by side.

Online shopping and home deliveries

Online shopping and home deliveries for grocery has seen a significant increase during Covid-19. 15% of Irish households received at least one delivery over the latest 12 weeks, according to Kantar (May 17, 2020), up +6% vLY. While this increase is significant, the reason for it is likely for safety reasons, rather than convenience. With the easing of restrictions, many claimed to have reverted to their normal retailer pre-Covid-19.

So, what for the future? While online is likely to stick for some, the majority will revert to their usual shop of choice. Many shoppers want to be able to choose a specific cut of meat, or piece of fruit that is suitably ripe for their needs. The successes seen in online pharmacy retail and clothing are less likely to be translated into grocery.

Shoppers becoming more community-minded

Life has slowed down with Covid-19, and with it has brought out a community-centred mindset in shoppers. During lockdown, retail workers were described as ‘frontline workers’, and there was a unified and deserved appreciation of their efforts. Stories of local shops delivering to those in need, or large chains like Tesco offering dedicated delivery slots to those cocooning were applauded, and there was a sense that that we have perhaps forgotten about each other pre-Covid-19.

Is this mentality likely to continue into the future? The impact of this mass movement towards community spirit, is that shoppers are beginning to notice how retailers treat their staff and suppliers. They demand fair treatment, and transparency. The feeling is that yes, this is likely to continue into the future, almost like another strand of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Expectations of retailers

So, what does this mean for grocery retailers? Above all, it is a time for listening to shoppers and agility. Staying still at the moment is not an option. We are continuing to work with large clients, delivering insights, and frameworks to move these insights into action. Above all, safety is key for shoppers. They want to feel safe in stores, and also to see that staff are safe in their jobs. This includes markings for physical distancing and sterilisation procedures to protect customers and employees.

They expect sufficient staffing to ensure adequate supply chain, and facilitate increased pressure on other channels such as online or click and collect. Those retailers that are most adaptable to change will be best positioned to ride out the immediate challenges and build stronger, more customer-centred businesses.

At MCCP, agility is what we’re all about, so when Ireland entered lockdown, we had agile, flexible solutions ready for our clients. The research landscape may have changed somewhat. Now instead of meeting a group of consumers in a hotel meeting room, we meet them in the comfort of their own home remotely. This added level of comfort really allows them to open up on their experiences, and us to reach a greater geographical mix.

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