The easing of lockdown measures, although slow and steady, has come as a welcome relief for retailers. We can now work towards rebuilding through the eventual easing of all restrictions.
While the lockdowns have been long and painful, the appetite to return and shop in-store remains strong. But it would be naive to just act as though it was still 2020 in reopening and returning to the same plan. It is incumbent on retailers to recognise how consumers have changed their shopping behaviours.
Successful retailers have always understood the motivators and triggers for different customer groups and then offering an appropriate, tailored approach. This needs to be recognised and acted upon.
We recently took the temperature of the nation with a survey of changed shopping behaviours – with some interesting and encouraging results. The vast majority polled (70 per cent) revealed they were planning on visiting stores as much, or more than pre-pandemic. Only two per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t return to the high street. But digging into the detail we can start to see some distinct trends within this.
Localism remains strong
A new appreciation of localism has been one big factor that has brought our communities closer and changed perceptions that local perhaps meant less choice, as 35 per cent of respondents said they have purchased from a local or independent store that they would not have done pre-pandemic.
Meanwhile, the expectation might have been the very oldest might be the most loyal to the high street; interestingly, 35-44 year olds in our survey were the most loyal.
With the different factors motivating consumers to return to shops, 27 per cent of over-55s said the enjoyment of shopping was the thing they were looking forward to most. But this compared with only 15 per cent of under-55s. 81 per cent of respondents cited convenience as a key factor; this trend was most prominent in 18-24 year olds.
There is potential for physical retailers to target younger consumers with a focus on the unparalleled customer experience in-person shopping can achieve.
Flaws in online
Despite the huge choice online, the idea that consumer behaviour has been entirely different digitally was somewhat dispelled by the research. 49 per cent of respondents said they mainly shopped from the same stores online that they always used to visit offline.
But our research also really highlights the flaws in the online experience. A massive 58 per cent cited issues with ordering as a key disadvantage to online shopping. Interestingly, issues with orders was selected most prominently in people aged 34 and under.
Those most concerned by returns were 55-64 year olds in comparison with 18-24s who were least concerned. This highlights the different ways people have been brought up shopping. Given environmental issues are a concern to younger shoppers, we should perhaps emphasise more the fact physical retail can reduce a consumer’s carbon footprint.
A hybrid approach
Rather than just focusing on one channel now at the expense of another, if the pandemic has taught us anything it is the strength of having a hybrid omni-channel offering – being agile and flexible to respond to changing customer requirements.
Certainly consumers seem adept at mixing and matching their in-person and online shopping. For example, 38 per cent would use new online skills to research an item online and then buy it in-store, and over-65s are the most likely to do this (54 per cent).
This underscores the need for a joined-up brand and retail experience. This is particularly the case with the considered purchase sector; as we came out of previous lockdowns, consumers have shown a willingness to ‘shop with purpose’ in-store for items they have researched online.
As we return to something akin to normality, it is clear just rolling out a 2019/2020 strategy won’t cut it. The desire for physical retail is there, but we need to understand people’s changed realities.
Retail is one of the most dynamic industries, and changing to meet the needs of consumers has been the hallmark of great retailers in the past and will be tomorrow. Let’s get back to the future.
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