Nearly two years after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the UK, there is finally cause for optimism. The vast majority of the adult population are now vaccinated, and the latest Omicron wave has not led to the steep rise in hospitalisations that some feared.
The immediate threat may have faded, but the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. Two years of disruption and uncertainty have had a profound effect on the economy, not to mention the nation’s mental health.
- UK GDP dropped by almost 10% in 2020, the steepest decline since records began
- The British high street lost over 8,700 chain stores in the first nine months of 2021
- 800,000 people were made redundant in the first year of the pandemic
- One in five adults experienced depression at the height of the pandemic, compared to one in ten beforehand
It would be naive to expect an immediate recovery from such a huge shock. Some aspects of daily life will return to normal slowly, but others may come to rest at a “new normal”, retaining aspects of pandemic behaviour for the foreseeable future. It seems likely that shopping will fall into this second category. Customer expectations have shifted over the past two years, and retailers need to take note if they want to thrive in the post-pandemic world.
Speed and safety
Before the pandemic, shopping was increasingly seen as a form of entertainment. “Destination shopping” was all the rage, and retailers were doing everything they could to turn their stores into social hubs. A 2018 study found that over 70% of English shoppers across all age groups viewed shopping as a leisure activity.
This all changed with the arrival of COVID-19. Customer priorities were turned on their head, and any notion of shopping for fun disappeared overnight. As the pandemic reached its peak, customer expectations could be summed up in two words- speed and safety:
- 28% of shoppers changed stores because they didn’t feel safe
- In the first month of the pandemic, 41% of customers shopped online more than usual. By February 2021, this had risen to 71%.
- Online food sales jumped by 55% in April 2020 and have remained high ever since
- The top reasons for switching to online shopping were convenience (33%) and safety (25%)
Are these changes permanent?
The big question for retailers is whether these changes will last. Recent surveys and statistics paint a mixed picture. On the one hand, there are encouraging signs that customers are eager to shop for fun again:
- Our survey of UK and US customers found that 41% were keen to see products in person, and 16% were looking forward to shopping socially.
- A 2021 survey by Gekko was even more encouraging. It found that 52% of UK shoppers wanted to return to the high street for the sheer joy of it.
- The biggest increase in high street footfall over the Christmas period was seen in regional capitals. This suggests that shoppers from nearby towns were bringing back the tradition of Christmas shopping as a family day out.
However, it also seems that some pandemic priorities will become permanent. Customers have grown used to the speed and convenience of online shopping, and few will be willing to settle for slower service:
- 31% of shoppers plan to do at least half of their shopping online after the pandemic, compared to just 17% before
- 26% of customers will now leave a store if they haven’t been served within five minutes
- 43% of consumers say the pandemic has made them willing to spend more for the sake of convenience
Give shoppers the best of both worlds
What looks like a crisis for retailers may in fact be an opportunity. 49% of customers say that the pandemic has affected their brand loyalty, and 14% say that they no longer have any brand loyalty at all. Although this means you can’t rely on your old clientele returning, it also means that hundreds of thousands of new potential customers are up for grabs.
Winning over the post-pandemic customer will mean finding ways to compete with the convenience of online shopping, while also providing some of the magic that only in-store shopping can offer. This is where we can help. Our products use the power of communication to increase efficiency on the shop floor. This means that colleagues waste less time on menial tasks, and can focus instead on making the customer feel special:
- Headsets allow you to find information for customers without leaving their side. This can reduce daily walking distance by 1.4km per colleague, saving time for both your and the customer.
- Call points allow customers to speak to a colleague without queuing or searching the store. If a customer has ordered a product online, they can use the call point to find out if it has arrived immediately
- Headsets can be used to authorise self-checkout purchases remotely. This speeds up the checkout process, helping you to match the speed of online shopping
We have a long road ahead of us, but the future of retail looks bright. Together, we can remind customers why there’s no substitute for in-store shopping. Get in touch today to find out more.