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Pandemic behaviour shift will continue for many consumers, research finds

A large number of customers say the way they have been forced to shop during the pandemic will have a lasting impact on their shopping behaviours

A significant number of customers have said the pandemic has permanently changed their shopping behaviour, according to research by O2 Business and Retail Economics.

The study found that 44% of consumers believe their shift in shopping behaviours during the pandemic will stay the same going forward.

Almost half of customers will increase the amount they shop online, and online shopping is predicted to account for half of all non-food spend by 2030.

Richard Lim, CEO of Retail Economics, said: “The impact of Covid-19 has re-wired the customer journey, leaving many retailers scrambling to assess the impact as they attempt to realign their proposition to meet a new normal.

“We’ve already witnessed a significant shift towards online and it’s inevitable that some of these behaviours will become permanent, with digital playing a much more important role. Many of these consumers are shopping for goods online for the first time, overcoming the barriers of setting up online accounts, entering payment details and gaining trust.”

During the coronavirus outbreak, lockdowns in various countries limited the amount of activities people could leave their homes for, shifting many day-to-day activities online, including shopping.

O2 Business and Retail Economics found that 47% of consumers become aware of certain retail brands through digital channels, and 49% now spend more time researching purchases online than before the outbreak.

Around 45% of customers said they’ve bought products online they’ve only ever bought in store before, and at the peak of the pandemic when many were in lockdown, 34% of customers were able to source both essential and non-essential goods from online retailers.

How retailers interacted with consumers during the pandemic to keep them updated also shifted, with all age groups saying email was the most effective way retailers kept them informed during lockdown.

Many believe this has increased the speed of customer behaviour shifting away from physical stores to online or digitally led shopping, which has already posed a problem for physical retail over the past 10 years.

As consumers increasingly move online, many retailers are beginning to re-imagine stores as locations for experiences rather than purchases, and O2 Business and Retail Economics found that physical locations are beginning to act as “marketing” opportunities for retailers.

Almost a quarter of consumers have admitted to buying an item online while in a shop, and 36.5% use their smart devices to check prices or read reviews of a product while in store. Just over 80% of customers said they spend more time browsing products online than they do in store.

When asked what would make people shop online more, 43% said cheaper delivery costs, 40% said free delivery, and 27% said faster delivery.

Many retailers struggled to meet the increased demand for home delivery and online ordering at the beginning of the pandemic – online food retailer Ocado had to close its website at the beginning of lockdown because of a tidal wave of orders, and Amazon recruited 100,000 extra employees to deal with increased orders.

But it isn’t over for physical stores, with 27% of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they’d be happy to visit non-food physical stores again now lockdown has eased.

This was also true of 20% of 25- to 34-year-olds, 20% of 35- to 44-year-olds, 22% of 45- to 54-year-olds, 20% of 55- to 64-year-olds, and 18% of those aged 65 and over.

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