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Pandemic accelerates consumers towards digital engagement and value-driven shopping

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Consumers are turning to greater digital engagement both online and in-store, as well as switching to making values-driven buying decisions as retail enters a new phase during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new report from Forrester – The Myth of a World: A European Recovery Perspective – finds that, during COVID-19 lockdown, European consumers had to change their habits and rituals, however rather than installing net new behaviours, the crisis will primarily accelerate pre-existing trends.

Chief among these habits are a pivot towards values-driven purchasing decisions based on political, social and ethical ideas, along with an increase in desire for digital to play a role in keeping them safe online and in physical retail.

In the UK, after their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, 38% of consumers will choose brands that are committed to reducing their impact on the environment, whilst 43% will focus on brands that prove they treat their employees well. Firms will subsequently need to shift to new ways of doing business, doubling down on their efforts to promote CSR.

However, it’s worth noting that for many consumers, price will end up trumping ethics, creating frustration for those who cannot buy according to their values.

 Across the five largest economies of Europe, ecommerce will increase by 18% from 2019 to the end of 2020. Groceries will grow fastest at 42% YoY, followed by health and personal care (up 31% YoY); clothing, footwear, and accessories (17% YoY); and consumer electronics (16% YoY). During the same period, digital will grow from 12.3% of total retail sales to 15%.

Online spend in the UK will also continue to surpass that of continental Europe, with 25% of retail sales coming from ecommerce in 2020. However, this significant growth will far from offset the overall decline in retail spend because retail sales will fall 4%.

Early recovery behaviours signpost longer-term trends

Consumers aren’t returning to old behaviours in a binary on/off way. Most consumers intend to progressively return to previous shopping experiences as stores implement sanitary measures. Only 18% of French and UK online adults say they plan to spend less time shopping in physical stores

As post-pandemic consumers balance the economic realities of recession with an increasing desire to engage with brands that align to their personal values, trust in brands will depend on consumers’ risk sensitivity and brands’ transparency.

There is currently skepticism though, with only 26% of UK online adults agreeing that companies will do what they say they are going to do.

The report will also identify additional trends that will impact brands, including the explosion in remote working and shift to rural living, the end of mass tourism and the rise of local brands. 

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