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How the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way UK shoppers buy – and how retailers have responded

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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that many shoppers buy – and what they buy – in ways that are likely to have long-term effects, two new studies suggest. Research from Accenture looked at how consumer behaviour is changing – and a separate study from Adobe and YouGov considered how retailers are responding.

How consumer behaviour is changing

Accenture’s report, The Big Value Shift, analysed data from 38,000 companies and household spending data from 15 countries to find out how shoppers are buying. It also cites the latest Accenture Consumer Pulse survey to conclude that almost 70% of UK shoppers will be most comfortable at home over the next six months – driving a shift to online retail and entertainment. 

It says that as a result economic value put at more than £70bn will move away from traditional retail, restaurants and property, while changes in consumer spending could mean a net decline of more than £40bn a year across consumer-facing industries. In the UK, that means a shift of £134bn in economic value by 2022. 

Oliver Grange, UK consumer goods lead at Accenture, says that the crisis has meant “an uncomfortable reckoning” for many UK brands that can lead to better experiences as a result. He says: “Pre-Covid, many companies relied on in-store shopping and ecommerce and digital marketing were an afterthought. The pandemic has turned this on its head and companies that integrate digital and physical experiences that offer faster, more convenient services will be the winners in what still is a very uncertain future.”

How retailers are responding

The Adobe and YouGov study found that 74% of retailers have changed their products and services in 2020 as a result of the pandemic – and that many of the changes would be permanent.

The study questioned 1,079 decision makers in Great Britain about how their businesses had changed in response to the pandemic, and asked 2,000 consumers how effectively UK businesses had responded. 

It found that 26% of retailers had introduced new digital and ecommerce services in response to demand. Services including click and collect were offered alongside more robust websites. 

Some 15% say they are now better equipped to personalise their services using customer data. Some 66% of UK consumers said retailers had been able to keep up with shoppers’ changing demands and behaviour. And of those that have changed their products and services during the pandemic, 74% say the changes will be permanent. 

“In the early days of the pandemic, we saw businesses achieve in weeks what would have previously taken years,” says Lee Edwards, vice president for Northern Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Adobe. “Many have seen their relationships with customers improve as a result of being able to understand how they can best support them through this period of significant uncertainty. Looking ahead to 2021, we are entering a new era in experience when the habits that formed in 2020 will spur even greater demand for digital products and services.  Businesses that build on the digital foundations they laid this year will be the ones who strengthen their ties with customers and flourish.”

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