Sep 17th, 2020
8 mins

The end of the traditional weekly shop?

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, technology will play a greater role in everyday life than ever before. One of the first big changes we saw at the start of lockdown was a shift in the way consumers carried out their grocery shopping. How has consumer behaviour changed since then, and are retailers facing a future where virtual shoppers are the norm?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we buy food in an incredibly short space of time, but food retailers have found innovative ways to adapt to our ‘new normal’ and keep going. From installing safety screens to implementing one-way systems, supermarkets look and feel very different to how they did at the start of the year.

Although lockdown restrictions are now easing, consumer confidence still needs to be re-built. Technology will play a vital role and nowhere has the use of technology increased more in recent months than the food retail sector.

As the hospitality industry was forced to close for so long, food retailers faced an unprecedented and paradoxical situation; a massive surge in demand and a significant drop in footfall. Social distancing guidance, shielding advice and a general sense of anxiety led to an increased number of consumers taking advantage of online services and apps.

Research from Mintel reveals just how dramatically habits changed over the lockdown period.

At the start of lockdown, and before social distancing measures were announced, 7% of Brits said they had increased their total amount of online shopping for both food and non-food. Less than eight weeks later, this figure had risen to 36%. Meanwhile, half of UK consumers had tried to limit the time they spend in-store and a further 9% had increased their use of click-and-collect services.

Even as restrictions are lifted, these habits are probably here to stay, so retailers need to ensure their tech can keep up.

Research carried out by EY suggests 45% of UK consumers believe the way they shop over the next one to two years will change. Four-in-five people said they would be uncomfortable trying on clothes in a store, while only a quarter said they feel comfortable going out to buy groceries.

In response, food retailers who have had a mobile app offering for some time have increased the number of delivery slots and created next-day options to meet demand. Those who did not are now looking at how they can cater for consumers reluctant to shop in-store.

Lidl has recently launched Lidl Plus, a mobile app offering rewards such as a weekly money saving coupon, and Aldi could also launch an ecommerce arm in the UK. Its logistics operators told The Grocer it has the systems in place to “seize the opportunity which e-commerce offers”.

Consumers not only embraced apps to order their weekly food shop, they also used their mobiles to help plan supermarket trips.

When lengthy queues outside stores became a common sight early in lockdown, the Supermarket Check app showed shoppers how long the queues were at their local stores. Using the phone’s location setting, the app displayed in minutes how long other users waited at the supermarket and even provided up-to-date stock information.

But retailers need to be aware of how this type of technology could affect customer loyalty. As shoppers are granted more and more visibility of things like stock levels, they are more likely to go elsewhere to get what they want.

To combat this, retailers should ensure they are offering maximum convenience by adopting a multi-channel approach to enable expedited delivery and pickup services for their shoppers. In addition, apps should offer a personalised shopping experience in which consumers can choose the type of rewards they get and receive tailored offers when they visit certain departments.

By giving an app the ability to learn a user’s shopping purchases, suggest relevant products and use 3D store navigation to map out the shopper’s route, you can make customers feel their individual needs are being met.

Despite the increased adoption of grocery shopping apps, the fact remains not everyone wants to shop online. Some don’t feel comfortable with the technology, others crave the social interaction of the weekly shop, and despite raised anxiety levels many still like to go into a physical store and select their own produce.

Next time we look at how technology can help food retailers put these consumers at ease and attract people back in-store post-pandemic.


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