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Covid-19 has made a tangible difference to the way we all shop – but which of these changes in consumer behaviour will be here for the long-run, and which are a mere flash in the pan? Keep reading to find out…
According to Michael Freedman, senior shopper insight manager at IGD, one of the biggest behavioural shifts during the Covid-19 pandemic was reduced levels of shopping around – but this was a short-term change which is already reversing course.
Consumers are bouncing back to their previous purchasing habits because they are now happy to spend time browsing different formats and stores. In fact, Michael said, “Our research shows shopping around is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”
Shopping around isn’t the only behaviour that has bounced back to pre-Covid trends. Another short-lived change during the pandemic was a decline in shopper confidence. “Overall, shopper confidence declined sharply with the outbreak of the pandemic,” Michael told Speciality Food. “This has now recovered and is at one the highest levels in the last five years.”
Two further temporary changes were shifting channel usage and shifting missions. Michael explained, “The pandemic led to significant changes in the use of different food and grocery channels and the profiles of shoppers using different channels. More people are now returning to use food and variety discount stores and convenience stores. Younger shoppers are returning once again to channels such as convenience stores.
“The pandemic also led to an increase in the big main shop at the expense of top-up and other missions such as food-to-go,” he added. “As restrictions are easing, these other missions are returning to growth.”
While many of Covid’s effects on our shopping habits were quick to fade after we emerged from lockdown, other changes will stick around for months and even years to come.
Online food and grocery shopping was a big area of transformation in the food sector. Fine food retailers were quick to adapt, with some producing brand new online services practically overnight. Those still wary of investing in digital for the long-term need not be. “Although restrictions in physical stores have now been reduced, online food shopping is still significantly higher than before Covid-19, indicating this is a trend that is here to stay,” Michael said.
Another significant change during the pandemic was where consumers were spending the majority of their time, as work shifted from the office to the home. “With people encouraged to work from home for much of the last 18 months and some workplaces shut, Covid-19 has driven rapid change in the way many people work,” Michael said. “If there is a limited return to urban areas for shopping, work and leisure, this presents an opportunity for retailers operating in the suburbs.”
While the increased focus on shopping locally and supporting independents has certainly been a positive change for fine food retailers, other shifts will inevitably pose some difficulties – for instance, a deepened financial strain and inflationary concerns. “Dealing with Covid-19 has caused a huge spike in national debt,” Michael said, “and it’s hard to see how this could be brought under control without some negative impact on shoppers.
“The pandemic has also led to increased pressure on inflation, reflecting higher commodity, labour and energy costs, coupled with increasing demand,” he warned. “This may lead to sudden return to risk-aversion and more value-seeking behaviour in shoppers.”
However, one long-term change which is likely to favour fine food independents, who have long stocked their shelves with food and drink products that are better for people and the planet, is the growing focus on health. “The government has accelerated its plans to tackle obesity in light of the negative outcomes of Covid-19 on those above a healthy weight,” Michael said. “Expect this to be a key focus in the months ahead.”
For the fine food sector, Covid-19 has brought change on a huge scale. While some of these shifts have already started to revert back to pre-pandemic levels, many more will reshape the industry in the years to come.
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