The pandemic may have brought a halt to our daily routines, but it has also set in motion a revolution in the way we shop.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of daily life, including the way people shop. The virus has not only led to changes in shopping behavior but also a transformation in the retail industry. In this essay, we will explore how the pandemic has changed the way people shop and the lasting impact it may have on the retail industry.
The contactless future
The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards e-commerce, with consumers opting for online shopping to avoid crowded places and minimize exposure. According to McKinsey, e-commerce adoption in the US alone grew by 10 years in just 90 days during the first wave of the pandemic.
In the United Kingdom, online sales increased from 19.2% to 36.2% of all retail sales in just one year. This shift towards e-commerce has also led to an increase in the use of contactless payments, as consumers prefer to avoid touching cash and keypads. Retail technologies have even leaned into AI to accommodate the high volumes of e-commerce traffic with the use of chatbots and virtual assistants.
The virus has also made shoppers more conscious of health and hygiene. According to a survey by McKinsey, health and safety are now the top two priorities for consumers when shopping, overtaking price and convenience.
This shift in consumer priorities has led to retailers investing in hygiene measures to make shoppers feel safer, such as self-service kiosks, sanitizing stations, and protective barriers. This has also led to a rise in click-and-collect services and curbside pickups, in order to offer customers a contactless shopping experience.
Remember when the pandemic first hit, and people panic-bought anything from tissue rolls to bread or milk? Believe it or not, the pandemic has made shoppers more frugal today.
After over 114 million people lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic, people have become more mindful of their spending. According to a survey by IR, 39% of consumers in the US are now more mindful of their spending habits, with 32% planning to continue these habits after the pandemic.
Pandemic shoppers are not only more mindful of their spending, but now they want more out of their shopping experience. According to a study by Monash University, consumers are now seeking more meaningful shopping experiences.
Consumers expect immersive retail experiences that can offer a sense of escapism. Nowadays, there’s a slew of interactive displays, VR experiences, and even intricate packaging. And part of this experience is that the whole customer journey is absolutely seamless.
There’s this expectation that customers are fully equipped with the information needed to make a well-informed purchase. Businesses whose channels don’t conveniently navigate the customer journey are bound to lose potential sales.
Pandemic purchasing principles
The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone, which has inevitably impacted people’s shopping behaviors as well as principles. Consumers are seeking more than just a transaction from retailers.
Once upon a time, retail leaned hard into selling an unattainable lifestyle. While there’s still evidence of that kind of marketing today, more brands are doubling-down on communication strategies that are uplifting and inclusive. Today’s shoppers are looking for all-encompassing brands that can make them feel good and support their self-worth. Aspirational shopping experiences now need to embrace diversity and inclusivity.
Beyond inclusivity, shoppers are prioritizing social responsibility. This ongoing health crisis has separated retailers from the changemakers. Brands like L’Oreal and The Body Shop donated thousands of sanitary products for front liners during the height of the pandemic, while retailers like H&M and Zara produced medical protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers.
And interestingly, the commitment to supporting local businesses and ethical sourcing has become stronger than ever. The pandemic catalyzed the loss of over 3.3 million active business owners, the largest drop on record. In light of everything that local business owners have lost during the pandemic, consumers are committed to keeping small companies afloat.
A new era of retail
The pandemic buyer values an elevated shopping experience—one that places convenience, safety, and social responsibility above everything else.
We expect a slew of options for maximum convenience. We’re conscious of stores that allow online, contactless modes of payments and deliveries. We’re keener on keeping small, local businesses alive.
As the pandemic buyer has evolved with the changing times, they’re also making waves to change the way retailers sell to consumers—with one purchase at a time.
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