Life After Lockdown – Part 1: Retail

Posted by    |   May 8th, 2020   |   No Comments

In our previous survey (Life In Lockdown), we looked at just how much life had changed in the two weeks that followed the lockdown. As we begin a third month in lockdown, life as we knew it prior to March 12th seems almost impossible to comprehend just two months on. Restrictions and closures changed the landscape for consumers over those weeks in March and we all had to get accustomed to a new way of living. The bars and restaurants went first as concerns over the practicality of ensuring social distancing was adhered to in such environments at that time. This was soon followed by general retail, with only grocery stores and other essential food sellers remaining open, albeit with heavy restrictions in place as trips to the supermarket required the strategic planning of a military operation. The restaurants shut down also and the takeaways too as they tried to figure out how they could operate safely, for both staff and customers in this new environment.


A few weeks ago, we had all hoped that the light at the end of the tunnel would be the total elimination of the virus and a return to normal life within weeks but it soon became clear that this was going to take much longer and the return to normal would be a gradual process. As the nation awaited news of these exit plans or roadmaps for leaving lockdown, Customer Perceptions conducted our second survey of the lockdown, with 320 respondents taking part. Life After Lockdown looks at life how consumers are adjusting to the new normal and how they envisage the immediate future when restrictions are eased covering everything from shopping to food, to work, holidays, fitness and healthcare. In the first of a three part series, we look at the changes in the retail sector.


What is the Future for Shopping?

From the initial panic buying and stockpiling craze of early March to the new normal of queuing to enter the shops and supermarkets, grocery shopping has been a hot topic throughout the emergency. It comes as no surprise that supermarkets came out top among businesses visited by consumers during lockdown at 93%, significantly ahead of pharmacies (73%), local shops/newsagents (55%), butchers (40%) and takeaways (34%). Interestingly, 44% of respondents would prefer to avail of an online service for groceries over physical store visits, with this beating out takeaways (43%) and pharmacies (32%), with all indications being the limited availability of slots has prevented those queues outside supermarkets getting shorter.


While grocery shopping appears to be trending towards online, this might not hold true for general retail. Clothing, footwear & accessories is unsurprisingly the category at the top of the pile when it comes to online purchases, followed by home electronics (36%), books/magazines (33%) and cosmetics (32%). However, it is interesting that almost one-third (32%) said they would prefer to buy non-essential items in-person rather than online. Add to this the fact that 27% are ready to return to these shops as soon as they reopen, with another 58% intending to do so once restrictions ease a little bit more and it is clear sentiment is moving positively in favour of traditional retail.


Although restrictions may be off-putting for those shopping across all these sectors, strict social distancing measures was the second-most important factor when deciding where to shop, trailing only hygiene standards, which 88% viewed as highly important. The rest of the top five factors was made up of more traditional drivers that would have regularly topped the polls in the pre-Covid era: customer service (64%), product availability (63%) and value for money (55%). Product availability being so high up is to be expected given it seems to have been an issue throughout the emergency as nationwide shortages had consumers hunting from store to store in search of toilet rolls, hand sanitisers, bread, flour, eggs and other products. 


For all that product shortages may influence where we shop, bulk buying was something that only a minority (18%) of our survey respondents admitted to doing more of. Price comparison and  budgeting scored relatively low also, with date checking (30%) a distant third as preparing shopping lists (58%) and meal planning (51%) were way out in front. Although grocery shopping is the highlight of the week for many of us, with other shops closed and many leisure activities curtailed at present, the fact that consumers appear to be putting more of an emphasis on planning and organisation before entering the store (physically or online) is likely to influence purchasing behaviours as we move forward. With restrictions in most supermarkets meaning only one person per household can enter, the shopping list is gospel, which limits deviation and impulse buying meaning brands will need to work even harder to sell to consumers before they enter the store.


By Ronan Cassidy

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