Why shopping will never be the same after Covid-19

Corona descended upon us – naive and unsuspecting – and has wreaked havoc with the world that we know. On every single continent, retail has paid a high price, with UK retail sales falling a record 5.1% in March. But with lockdowns beginning to ease in some countries, and some businesses beginning to reopen here, there are small green shoots of life adapting to a (new) normal. Yet we’ve all quickly become accustomed to a different way of living, with new thoughts, habits and routines, and in a relatively short space of time started to live with less. When we come out of all of this, how will we spend our money? And where will we spend it? We take a look at three of the trends that might dictate how we’ll part with our precious (contactless) cash.

Online shopping vs physical stores - mind the gap

We’ve been a nation of avid online shopping for many years now, but during the outbreak, online shopping has increased exponentially, with some retailers reporting a 70% jump in online sales. The sector that’s seen one of the biggest surges, is undoubtedly grocery, with estimates that 600,000 households tried online supermarket shopping for the first time in March.

So will this preference for online continue after the pandemic? For a high street already struggling, let’s hope not. Many people will have missed the physical experience of shopping, and after weeks cooped up and glued to devices, a physical shopping trip will be an exciting prospect for some. But fear may still prevail, and with social distancing looking likely to be in place for some time yet, bricks and clicks retailers are going to have to find innovative ways to lure customers through their doors – all the while showing empathy and reassurance.

So will they make like China, encouraging customers back into malls with millions of pounds worth of shopping vouchers, or the promise of a two and a half day weekend to boost spending? It certainly appears to be working there with ‘revenge spending‘ sprees slowly beginning to boost the economy.

While it’s still too soon to predict which channel will be the victor, offering store experiences which are memorable or meaningful are likely go a long way. One retailer we’ll certainly be waiting to reopen with bated breath is Primark, who promised this week to come back with a bang. We’re expecting a full on carnival.

Considered consumption on the rise

Another pair of trainers to add to your already bulging collection? That latest, ‘must-have’ designer handbag? After Covid, where the fragility of humankind has been tested beyond belief, and a recession looms, frivolous purchases are likely to seem so much more, well, pointless. When we’ve spent two months in lockdown doing without we’ll begin to question how much we really need to survive and thrive.

A recent report shows that 58% of the UK think the country’s economy is likely to be impacted for 6 to 12 months or longer, so there’ll be a natural caution to an attitude of ‘spend spend spend’ when we come out of lockdown. However, it is likely people will feel a sense of ‘I deserve a reward’, but that reward is more likely to be something nourishing – to either themselves, the planet or the community – and potentially, point to experiences rather than things.

As people examine their relationship with mindless consumption, brands and retailers will have to find more meaningful ways to encourage people to spend with them. How brands behaved through the crisis is likely to have a bearing; doing good will be good for business according to Richard Pennycock, Chair of the British Retail Consortium, who says, ‘customers will remember those brands who behaved properly’. It’s a sentiment echoed by Carla Buzasi from trend consultancy WGSN, who predicts that consumers with money will still want luxury goods, but will reward ‘the smart luxury brands, like LMVH, who have done the right thing’.

Food bought and consumed much more carefully

With restaurants closed, Covid has brought out the home chef in many of us and as such, the way we buy and consume food is changing. The big weekly shop is making a return, meal kits are on the rise and organic veg boxes have also seen a huge spike in sales, possibly as consumers keep a keener eye on their health. This new found kitchen confidence presents an area of growth for restaurants and supermarkets alike. Many supermarkets already offer meal kits, but when restaurants re-open they may be forced to minimise their covers, so offering take-away meal kits could be an excellent way to keep loyal – and local – customers engaged.

Meanwhile, restrictions on the number of certain items we can buy and fewer supermarket visits mean we’re also planning meals more carefully, buying only what we need, and making sure to waste the minimum possible. Grocery retailers are responding at pace with new initiatives; a small, but effective one we’ve spotted is a little message with our online grocery order to accept as many substitutions as possible when our shopping arrives, thereby helping to reduce waste. It’s a tiny behavioural nudge that cost the retailer nothing, but is likely to keep consumers thinking long after the pandemic passes.

So where will all this take us?

Corona has certainly made its mark on our shopping habits. But every cloud has a silver lining, and perhaps it’s just forced some trends to accelerate a little faster than they already were. The road ahead may look bumpy, but if, when we’re ready to spend our money, we put a little more thought into how we do it and where we do it, then surely that’s no bad thing.

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