Has the Pandemic Changed Shopping Behaviour for Good?

The UK is returning to a resemblance of ‘normal life’, signalled by the widespread relaxation of social distancing rules. As our economy re-opens and shops throw open their doors, we felt it an excellent time to think about consumer shopping behaviour.

An event as impactful as a pandemic will no doubt have a lasting impact on the way we go about our daily lives. For businesses, this means adapting the way they promote and sell their goods & services to align with new-found consumer shopping habits.

Here are the trends you should be aware of and whether they will have a lasting impact beyond the pandemic.

Consumers are shopping online more

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – 2 in 5 UK shoppers say they will make more online purchases after lockdown ends.

All but the most essential offline businesses have been shut-down in the UK for over three months. Wide-scale adoption of ‘work-from-home’ practices means many consumers are saving money through a lack of travel and dining out costs.

People have typically had more free time during lockdown, due to a lack of commuting or furloughment. Shopping has long been a popular pastime, and we’ve seen a massive shift towards shopping online in recent months.

Much of this growth is attributed to ‘low-frequency’ online users – those who rarely shopped online before the pandemic. Accenture are predicting a 160% increase in the number of purchases made by this group moving forward:

One clear e-commerce winner is fashion retailer Asos, whose active customer base has grown by 16%. A whole range of industries are seeing a boost to online sales, particularly the food & drink sectors. The pandemic has seen more money going towards essentials rather than ‘luxuries’, and this applies to e-commerce as well. You only have to look at online food retailer Ocado , who’ve seen their profits double as grocery delivery soars in popularity.

Will this continue beyond the pandemic?

Absolutely. Non-essential shops have re-opened their doors again, but despite an initial surge in numbers (we all saw the Primark queues), high street footfall was down 65% in June.

The government’s recent pivot in messaging from ‘Stay Indoors’ to ‘Enjoy Summer Safely’ is not yet having the desired effect. The fact is, many consumers are still wary of the virus and will continue to take social distancing measures seriously.

The shift towards online shopping has been progressing for years, but the pandemic has only further accelerated it. Widespread smartphone adoption, faster internet and even faster delivery times are all contributing factors.

E-commerce is here to stay – that’s why E1MA are also getting involved with our own projects.

The rise of the conscious consumer

This is another consumer behaviour trend that started before the pandemic but has been amplified in recent times. The global health emergency is seeing consumers focus on their wellbeing more than ever. Sales of home exercise equipment are through the roof, and smokers are quitting at the fastest rate in a decade.

Deloitte predicts people will read labels more carefully, scrutinise the ingredients of products and be more careful about what they put in their bodies.

These changes in purchasing behaviour will impact not only which products consumers buy, but where they buy them. From ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘End Modern Slavery’, several important, progressive movements have been gaining global traction. This is causing consumers to think twice about how and where they spend their money. 

Attitudes towards the fashion industry, which makes up 10% of global emissions, are changing considerably. Consumers are becoming more concerned about sustainability – awareness movements like Plastic-Free July are clear evidence of this.

Unethical business practices are also becoming an increasingly important factor in spending habits. Fast Fashion retailer Boohoo have been making headlines recently for allegedly using suppliers that pay below minimum wage and provide substandard working conditions.

Consumers are demanding that products are ethical from both an environmental and social standpoint. Over 50% are willing to pay more for these assurances.

Will this continue beyond the pandemic?

Most likely. The lack of economic and social activity during lockdown inadvertently saw a reduction in global C02 emissions, improved air quality and the return of nature to our urban areas. The benefits of an environmentally-conscious society are there for all to see.

On the other hand, widespread economic shutdown means many people have less income at their disposal. 54% of Britons say they’ve been spending moderately less during the pandemic. When times are tough, shoppers often disregard environmental concerns in favour of more cost-effective products.

Nevertheless, we expect the ‘conscious consumer’ to continue its steady rise as environmental and social issues become more and more prevalent. Second-hand clothing, organic groceries and plastic-free products are moving into the mainstream.

Shopping locally

The local high-street has taken a beating in recent years, marked by a societal shift towards e-commerce. However, geography has been playing an increasingly prevalent role in our daily lives during the pandemic. Lockdown restrictions have seen most people confined to their local areas, unwilling to travel on public transport or visit busy supermarkets.

The togetherness and community spirit that has been fostered during the pandemic is also having an influence. The result is more and more people shopping locally, with corner shops seeing a 23% increase in customers.

Will this continue beyond the pandemic?

In the short-term, yes. 2 out of 3 consumers plan to shop locally more often in the future, but this is driven by fears of long queues and busy shopping malls. As the pandemic subsides, such factors will become less important.

Online shopping remains a powerful draw, especially as supply chains restart and delivery times fall. Rather pessimistically, we also need to remember that we’re in an economic recession – shopping online or at a national chain is often cheaper than your local businesses.

The pandemic has no doubt had an everlasting impact on the way we live our lives. These transformations in consumer spending habits have the potential to shape the future of business, and our world.

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