How Covid-19 has transformed Britain’s shopping habits

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged brands to demonstrate their commitment to upholding the health and wellbeing of their staff and customers.

customers social distancing while shopping

The coronavirus pandemic has caused 92% of the British population to change their shopping habits.

This transformation saw the rise of e-commerce and small businesses, a significant drop for big supermarkets and a shift towards the big weekly shop. 

These are some of the key findings of recent research from Deloitte Digital, which analysed the impact of the pandemic on customer experience.

Social distancing

During lockdown, three in five consumers have started shopping in local stores rather than supermarkets with a big national presence. This shift was partly due to the better response from small shops to the social distancing measures, but also due to Brits’ wish to support small businesses in such a difficult time. During this tough period, Brits had the chance to explore new ways of shopping, and now many of them say they are not going back to ‘normal’. 

Deloitte Digital’s director, Deborah Womack, said: “Consumers may have begun shopping locally out of necessity rather than choice, however they are rediscovering their local shop as a place for human contact and personal service when they need it most.”

According to a YouGov poll, supermarkets in the UK experienced a drastic drop in custom with 61% of consumers saying they have been to supermarkets less frequently. Even when the lockdown measures are lifted, just one in four people said they would go back shopping at supermarkets with a large national presence and only 7% will shop at stores with a global presence. 

Many businesses lost customers because of their negative response to the Coronavirus crisis. One in five consumers has stopped shopping at a particular store because it failed to ensure the safety of its employees and customers, or it did not prioritise vulnerable customers or frontline workers. 

The research also highlighted that young consumers are more willing to change shopping habits. Out of all those surveyed, the ones aged between 16 and 24 were likely to stop using a service because of its response to the coronavirus emergency. 

Deloitte Digital partner and CMO, Becky Skiles, said: “Many in-store employees have been assigned as key workers, providing communities with vital access to products and services, as well as face-to-face interactions, at a time when these have been in short supply. The contribution these employees bring to society is now clearer than ever before.”

The lockdown also gave Britain and the whole world the chance to see the effects of less pollution caused by planes, trains and cars. More than half those surveyed said they are now more willing to shop at stores that produce locally to improve air quality. 

Businesses that support local charities experienced a considerable rise in sales as well. One in two consumers is likely to spend money in shops that support a food bank or other charitable actions. 

Brits have not only changed where they shop, but also what they buy. 19% of customers stopped using a brand because of its response to the emergency and one in three has started using brands during the lockdown, which they had previously never heard of.

Skiles added: “The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged brands to demonstrate their commitment to upholding the health and wellbeing of both their staff and their customers, while continuing to deliver products and services as safely and seamlessly as possible. Those that have done this well are seeing real benefits in terms of customer loyalty.” 

The frequency Brits go to shops has also changed. Most of the population used to visit a shop every few days to buy a few items. Now, the big weekly shop is back in vogue.

Even if online shopping had a significant role during lockdown for many people, only one in five customers said they will use e-commerce more than they used to before lockdown. In fact, many customers had an unpleasant and unsatisfying experience with online services during lockdown due to an overload of requests. 41% of consumers said they had difficulty getting hold of goods they needed from online retailers during the lockdown.

The research, conducted by Deloitte Digital, analysed 2,140 customers aged over 16, living in the UK, in the period between May 22 and May 26 2020.

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