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How Covid-19 is changing the way shoppers buy: three studies

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Two new studies suggest that shoppers will change the way they buy – and the way they use technology. EY suggests retailers should look ahead to the new shopping habits of post-coronavirus consumers, Accenture suggests shoppers will buy more sustainably while Foolproof warns that shoppers may shy away from using touchscreens in stores and restaurants. 

The factors driving changing shopping habits

Four in 10 UK shoppers say that Covid-19 will fundamentally change the way they shop, says a new EY study that suggests retailers and others should now look ahead and plan to meet the needs of the consumer of tomorrow. 

The first edition of the EY Future Consumer Index questioned almost 1,400 UK adults, as part of a wider survey. It puts shoppers into four groups. More than a quarter (26%) of UK shoppers fell into the ‘cut deep’ group who are spending less across all categories as the pandemic has affected their employment. Those in the ‘stay calm, carry on’ group are spending as normal. Those in the ‘save and stockpile’ group (38%) feel pessimistic about the future, while the 10% who fall into the ‘hibernate and spend’ group are spending more across categories. 

Some 42% who say that the way they shop will fundamentally change as a result of Covid-19, and 26% say they will pay more for local products, 25% for trusted brands and 24% for ethical proudcts. More than half (57%) say they’ll spend more on those that are supporting the community, while 63% are more likely to buy from those taking measures to fight the outbreak.

Julie Carlyle, EY UK&I head of retail, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has changed the way people live. It will not only have a lasting impact on how they shop, but what they buy and how they consume everything – from product, media to social experiences – will be different. Companies urgently need to anticipate what kind of consumer is emerging and what that means for their business, so they can make decisions that drive growth during and after the current crisis.”

How can retailers plan ahead? 

The EY study suggests that shoppers will move out of the four initial categories as the pandemic evolves into five new ones. It predicts that many will keep cutting the amount they spend, with 71% already buying only essential items but spending slightly more on food, health and personal care products. Many will stay frugal, with 42% now saying that price is more important and 58% that luxury is less important. Others will continue to be employed with life staying relatively normal – but among this group 45% are not willing to pay a premium for anything. Of the cautiously extravagent, 64% are in the middle income segment and up to 72% would be more likely to buy from a company that cares for staff and takes measures to fight the outbreak while supporting the community. Younger shoppers may fall into the ‘back with a bang’ category, of whom 76% are under the age of 45, while 63% are employed full time. In this group, half are spending more on groceries, 56% are using more food delivery services and 44% are buying more online. 

Silvia Rindone, partner in consumer product and retail at EY, said: “When restrictions start to be eased, companies will need to adjust their business strategy and revisit their cost and operating model to deal with increasingly price sensitive and cautious consumers. Looking beyond the immediate effects of Covid-19, few consumers expect to revert back to pre-crisis behaviours any time soon. In these uncertain times, it’s impossible to say how long the transition will take or whether different consumer trends will emerge. We hope our new index gives a perspective on the changing consumer and help consumer-facing companies stay relevant and plan for the future.”

Shoppers set to change the way they use technology

Four out of five (80%) UK shoppers will change the way they engage with touchscreens and other public technology, a new study suggests.

Zensar company Foolproof questioned 2,000 UK adults in April 2020 about how they would change the way they use technology in the light of the pandemic. Almost three-quarters (72%) said they had either worn gloves or wiped down a public touch surface in the previous two weeks. In future, almost half (48%) say, they will use contactless payment where the limit allows, a quarter (25%) of respondents say they will use cash machines less, and only when absolutely necessary, and one fifth (20%) say they will do more online grocery shopping online. 

Foolproof says the statistics have major implications for retailers, banks and travel operators who deploy technologies including ATMs, ticket machines and self-service checkouts. 

Peter Ballard, co-founder of Foolproof, said: “This survey clearly shows that people are now more averse to touching technology in light of the current pandemic than they were before. What’s more, there are strong indications that these attitudes may become more ingrained in our post Covid-19 future. This underscores the need for changes to future product and service design, and we need to accept that people will want to touch things far less than they are required to do now.”

He added: “Currently the onus is on the customer to make adaptations when interacting with these technologies, not the business who rely on this engagement to sell, gather data and so on. For brands offering public facing technologies in the future, the exploration of other ways to reduce touch through design should be a consideration. In the immediate term, this creates unique design challenges that require unpicking. We suggest leading on intermediary changes which reduce touches to purchase such as, styluses, improved mobile payments and QR codes as a way to pay, whilst having a longer-term strategy for the trajectory towards being completely touchless. Further off we could see a boom in touchless interactions rooted in haptics, voice and gesture or see mobile devices facilitating a broader set of interactions beyond payments – this will foster all new touchless experiences.”

Shoppers plan to buy more sustainably – and to buy more groceries online

Consumers are shifting their buying behaviour in ways that are likely to mean structural change for retailers and brands, an Accenture study suggests.

The study, carried out in April questioned more than 3,000 people in 15 countries, including the UK, on five continents and found that shoppers were prioritising personal hygiene and cleaning products as well as canned and fresh foods, while moving away from buying fashion, beauty and consumer electronics items. Just under half (45%) say they are making more sustainable choices, and will continue to do so in the future, while 64% said they were focusing more on limiting food waste and would be likely to do so in the future as well. Half (50%) said they were were making more healthy choices and would continue to do in the future. 

“The scale of the changes identified in our findings clearly suggest that this is a long-term shift,” said Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods practice. “While we have been seeing these trends for some time, what’s surprising is the scale and pace — compressing into a matter of weeks changes that would likely have taken years. The new consumer behavior and consumption is expected to outlast the pandemic, stretching far beyond 18 months and possibly for much of the current decade.”

More are opting to buy groceries online, and one in five respondents who said their most-recent grocery purchase was done online were first-time online grocery shoppers — rising to one in three among older resopndents. Almost a third (32%) said they were doing all of their shopping online, a figure expected to rise to 37%.

“The realignment of purchasing priorities, personal lifestyles, and working practices is mandating significant changes to retail and commerce,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global Retail practice. “Groceries were, until recently, one area in which many people were reluctant to shop online, but Covid-19 has quickly changed that. The findings show how people who haven’t been as comfortable with ecommerce and other digital technology have been pushed to overcome their hesitancy — and this shift is huge. As organizations adapt, their watchwords must be trust, relevance and convenience.”

More than half of respondents said they are likely to increase their usage of voice-enabled digital assistants, online recommendation apps, self-service apps, intelligent home devices and wearables.

“The pandemic is likely to produce a more sustainable, healthier era of consumption over the next 10 years, making consumers think more about balancing what they buy and how they spend their time with global issues of sustainability — suggesting a healthier human habitation of the planet,” Oliver Wright added. “At the same time, it’s a wake-up call for companies to ensure they have the agility and capability to be relevant to consumers and customers — with a portfolio of products and services that match shifting purchasing patterns — not just today, but post-pandemic as well.”

Image: Adobe Stock

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