How bricks and mortar shops are staging a comeback

08 September 2021, 09:03 AM
  • After the sharp spike in online sales seen during the lockdown period, Speciality Food discovers an optimistic outlook for physical shops post-Covid
How bricks and mortar shops are staging a comeback

After many months of lower-than-average footfall, the removal of Covid-19 restrictions has led to a revival in shopping at brick and mortar stores. Across all retail destinations, Springboard’s data showed footfall rose by 1.4% during the first week of August, following growth of 2.4% the previous week, as shoppers got out and about during the summer holidays. High streets recorded strong figures, with activity up 2.6%, and coastal towns, cities and market towns all saw rises in footfall. It was Central London that welcomed the highest figures, however, with footfall in the city up 6.1%.

The gap in footfall from 2019 continues to narrow. “What is encouraging is that in the same week in 2019 – the pre-Covid baseline that we are now comparing footfall against – footfall declined; so, whilst the increase may only be a modest one, it is a significant improvement on what would be regarded as normal trading conditions two years ago,” says Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard.

Online spend slows

With marked improvements in footfall, home delivery expert ParcelHero predicts that post-Covid shopping habits will see e-commerce levelling out at around a quarter of all retail sales. While the figure is a significant fall from the high recorded in February, it is a big increase on the 19% market share of online sales pre-pandemic. “For some months now, retailers have been trying to guess what the new normal will look like. We believe the picture has now become a lot clearer,” says ParcelHero’s head of consumer research, David Jinks.

Indeed, Kantar’s data for the 12 weeks to 8th August found the proportion of grocery sales taking place online had fallen as shoppers were more confident returning to physical shops. “Online sales have been falling every month since March, but not at such a rate as to indicate shoppers have abandoned their new online spending habits,” David says. “As a result, everyone has been trying to assess the new ‘natural order’ and it’s looking like online will permanently secure around a quarter of all retail spending.”

The ‘experience economy’

At this rate, e-commerce still provides an attractive proposition for retailers, but bricks and mortar shops remain at the heart of the fine food industry. And according to research by Supercharged Commerce, physical shops are important to consumers, too. Three in five shoppers think it’s important for brands to have a physical store as well as an online presence, the research found.

“Now restrictions have lifted, UK consumers have more freedom than they did 12 months ago, and, in many cases, they actually miss the physical shopping experience – particularly younger people,” says Tim Edwards, founder of Supercharged Commerce. In order to win new customers in this environment, Tim told Speciality Food independents must provide shoppers with a superior experience. “With many people unable to take a holiday abroad for a second year in a row, customers are increasingly wanting more when it comes to experiences on UK soil. In many cases, people are spending the money they would have spent on a trip abroad on experiences back home,” Tim said. “This is great news for fine food retailers as they can often offer some of the culinary experiences customers would traditionally expect on holiday.” Themed food packages or tasting experiences offer customers something in addition to their weekly shops and create a point of difference from the big supermarkets.

The research from Supercharged Commerce also found that shopping at independent retailers was on the rise. Of those surveyed, 28% said it was more important for them to shop at independent retailers than it was 12 months ago. Tim reminds fine food shops to shout about their local heritage – and to keep this message consistent across all channels, “whether that’s in store, online, on social media and even in how employees are trained to talk about the business to customers,” he said. Ensuring consistency also means taking a keen eye to your entire omnichannel experience – from website and deliveries to in-store merchandising. “If you’ve always offered a luxury in-store experience but your online food box turns up on a customer’s doorstep plain and slightly battered, it’ll reflect badly on your brand. Instead, think about tying everything you’re doing into one central brand, with a centralised look, feel and tone of voice.”

The future of bricks and mortar businesses is bright, and as more retailers up their game to take a slice of the ‘experience economy’, fine food independents can rely on their years of experience providing exceptional, personalised service, interactive tasting sessions and unrivalled food retail theatre.

more like this
Speciality Food Daily Briefing

Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators