Retail consumer behavior has changed
Consumer habits have changed—and these changes are here to stay. With the lives of consumers upended by COVID-19 and long-term trends accelerated in the space of mere weeks, there have been substantial and lasting changes in the way people live, work and shop.
Our new consumer research, which we have been conducting every two weeks since March 2020, indicates that habits formed during the crisis will endure well beyond it, permanently changing values, attitudes and behavior.
As retail and leisure facilities reopen, we explore how consumers are individually reshaping their lives for this new reality—and the implications for retailers.
Retail consumers take stock of personal concerns
Health, safety and finances continue to impact consumers’ attitudes and behavior. In the last three months, personal health and the health of friends and family have remained top priorities for consumers, while fears over finances have grown. Fifty percent of consumers now rank financial security as one of their top three concerns—a rise of 36% since March 2020.
These concerns are clearly playing out in consumers’ lives. Even as retailers open their doors to consumers, retail footfall remains below pre-pandemic levels in most countries across the world and consumer confidence is low, although there are hopeful signs of an uplift in the next six months.
Retail consumers focus on the home for work and play
Consumers are still choosing to stay at home. Despite lockdowns easing, and many businesses reopening, the home continues to be the hub of all activities.
Socializing at home or someone else’s home is still the preferred option for 36% of consumers, while connecting virtually with friends remains a high priority for 33% of consumers and is a trend that’s consistent across all age groups.
The initial rise in home cooking and baking, as well as home improvement and DIY activities, which was evident in our earlier research, are remaining popular pastimes for consumers.
And the once mandatory working from home has been embraced by many and continues to be popular—86% of consumers plan to continue or increase working at home—despite many offices reopening.
Retail consumers shop locally, mindfully—and digitally
What consumers are buying and how they are shopping has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic, and these new habits are continuing. In many cases, consumers have used this life pause to reflect on their own consumption. They are striving to shop locally, mindfully and cost-consciously.
Fifty-six percent of consumers are shopping in neighborhood stores or buying more locally sourced products, with 79% and 84% respectively planning to continue with this behavior into the longer term. Reasons for this vary from actively supporting local stores or national products, or as quest for authentic and artisan products.
Similarly, consumers are limiting food waste and making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases, with the vast majority likely to continue with these behaviors.
The dramatic rise in the adoption of ecommerce and omnichannel services, which has been evident since the start of our research, sees no sign of abating. The latest data suggests there will be a huge increase of 169% in ecommerce purchases from new or low frequency users, post-outbreak. And the vast majority of consumers who have increased their use of digital and omnichannel services, such as home delivery, curb-side pickup or shopping via social media platforms expect to sustain these activities into the future.
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Retailers to rebuild with responsibility and resilience
The retail industry has suffered challenges in its past, but none like the current pandemic. Long term trends have accelerated, and retail consumers have permanently changed what they buy and how they shop.
Retailers have responded in record time with new products and services, new ways of working, and some impressive displays of innovation. Responsibility to employees and consumers has never been more important, and our research shows that consumers have high expectations of medium and large businesses to act responsibly, supporting employees and addressing major social and environmental issues.
To build consumer confidence, retailers need to understand their new consumes by leveraging data-driven insights and focusing on initiatives that will have the greatest impact, such as visible safety measures in stores and relevant training for store associates on how to best approach consumers and manage new situations.
Home will be the new battleground. With life, work and shopping continuing to focus around the home, retailers need to design services and experiences to meet new consumer needs, as well as increase investments in digital, and maximize the potential of their store network by reconsidering formats and locations.
Retail businesses have a unique opportunity to reset and rebuild for the longer term. How they help consumers navigate the pandemic will influence their future success.