COVID-19 IMPACT ON SHOPPING: EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

By Andrew Zoota, Allison Breitenbach
Andrew Zoota, Allison Breitenbach

With the COVID-19 pandemic, people were thrown into a new “normal.” Ways of living, working, and socializing changed and consumers were forced to quickly adapt. But what about shopping? How far out of their normal routine did people go to fulfill their shopping list and, more importantly, which parts of the new routine will “stick” as more states open up? We took a look at consumers’ current and expected shopping behaviors before, during, and after the pandemic to find out.

In-Store Shopping is Here to Stay

You might have thought grocery stores would be ghost towns during the pandemic with the availability of online pickup and delivery, but that wasn’t the case. Grocers simply could not prevent customers from shopping in-store; many made changes to their standard operating procedures to control foot traffic and reduce the potential spreading of COVID-19 (e.g., change in hours, control ingress and egress for each aisle, opening of more pickup/delivery slots).

While online ordering has increased (especially for some who previously discounted pickup and delivery options), it did not become the sole method. Even though there was little gain of loyal users, converting any consumers, specifically those who expect to “sometimes” use the service after the pandemic is a bright spot.

covid1

This isn’t to say we need to ignore online shoppers though. Free shipping, free returns, and shipping to home will be more important post-pandemic for this group. Shipping costs, pickup fees, or other online price discrepancies could also be keeping the virtual door closed for the rest of the in-store shoppers not moved by the pandemic, so assessing these barriers could help from both ends.

One-Stop-Shopping Coming to the Forefront

While consumers continue to visit grocery stores, they’re reducing their interaction points. Going to multiple stores and shopping multiple times a week was the norm for a third of consumers pre-pandemic. During the pandemic, consumers are shopping once a week at most and relying on fewer stores to complete their shopping list. This mindset is expected to be adopted after the pandemic as well, making the one-stop-shop experience more vital.

covid2

Now more than ever, retailers must focus on the in-store experience. Getting in-and-out of the store quickly has been an important factor in the past but it’s taken on a slightly new meaning. It’s not just about convenience anymore; it’s about reducing a risk of exposure to themselves and others. Store layouts, helpfulness of associates, and checkout processes might need to be revisited, again. However, no one likes a store redesign, but slight improvements can make a difference to consumers.

Private Label is Good Enough for Some

More consumers are opting for lower priced brands (through price comparisons and limited stock) and buying in bulk during the pandemic, at a time when frugality was forced upon some. However, consumers will change their focus back to quality post-pandemic, but not in the way we might expect. Shopping name brands is expected to decline after the pandemic, with consumers reconciling private label and smaller challenger brands as a good value. Choosing quality and value over price doesn’t mean we should remove private label from the equation.

covid3

What brought on this revelation for some consumers? They didn’t have much choice during the pandemic when it came to buying essentials, name brand vs. private label, due to stock limitations. An avid Charmin toilet paper shopper was forced to buy outside of their go-to, anywhere from Cottonelle to Kroger brand. Same goes for laundry detergent. Looking for Tide? Consumers walked away with brands they never entertained in the past, including private label.

Reminding consumers what they loved about their name brands and the relationship they built could draw them back in (e.g., reliability of being on-shelf, quality, taste). Again, keep in mind what will be more important to consumers post-pandemic: free shipping, free returns, shipping to home, and also retailers’ social responsibility. Empathize with what consumers are going through. What are we doing to help them and the current state of the world? Big question to ask ourselves, but it’s time to do it.

For more information, please see the following handout: Keeping a Pulse on COVID-19
Data based on a nationally representative sample of n=1014

About the Authors:

Andrew Zoota, PhD

Andrew has over 20 years of experience in qualitative and quantitative research both on the client-side and supplier-side. Currently, his main focus is on building and maintaining relationships with clients, as well as leading teams to provide clients with meaningful, actionable insights based on sound, reliable methodological approaches. Prior to joining MarketVision Research, Andrew led consumer insights for a 5,000+ unit retailer. Andrew has a BA from Northern Arizona University in Psychology and an MS and PhD in Experimental Psychology from Texas Christian University.

Allison Breitenbach

As a member of the quantitative project team, Allison is responsible for the coordination, internal communication and execution of the project. During her time at MarketVision Research, she has focused on a variety of industries including consumer packaged goods, automotive, grocery, and insurance, and has gained experience in omnibus, tracker, A&U and concept tests. Allison is a graduate of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where she received a BS degree in Marketing.