This year has thrown everyone a massive curveball in the form of the biggest public health crisis our generation has endured. Specific experiences have varied from region to region as retailers adapt to local guidelines and regulations, but the one constant is that we are all trying to keep ourselves and our communities safe while still going about our lives in what keeps being referred to as the “new normal”. But as this “normal” continues to change, so do the needs and priorities of consumers. Understanding just how consumer habits are shifting is imperative as retailers continue to win back pre-COVID clientele and seek to attract new customers. In an effort to help businesses track these changes, We conducted two surveys capturing feedback from consumers across North America. The first of which was conducted in May, as retailers were cautiously re-opening and consumers were beginning to think about returning to the economy in many regions, and the second in October. Here we will look at a few ways consumer habits have shifted, If you are interested in reading the full reports, the full May report can be downloaded here and the October report here.
What are some ways consumer habits have changed since the initial reaction to COVID-19?
Safety protocols have overtaken general cleanliness as the top priority for consumers shopping in store. In May, 45% of respondents said the primary change they wanted to see from retailers was improved cleanliness. This number dropped to 24% in the October results with 29% of respondents now saying the main change they want to see from businesses is for them to ensure customers are wearing masks. 82% of October respondents also indicated they want to see disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer available for customers and 77% want businesses to limit the number of customers allowed in store at one time.
Cost and convenience have also returned as the primary factors when consumers are considering visiting a physical store. In May, cleanliness was the top ranked factor with 63% of respondents indicating it was extremely important in their decision-making process followed by crowd control measures at 42%. However, in October, convenience and price topped the list with a staggering 80% of respondents ranking both as extremely important.
With the renewed importance of convenience, it is not surprising to see the popularity of online shopping has continued to rise. In May, 29% of survey respondents indicated they were extremely likely to shop online with this number growing to 42% in October. Overall, 54% of October respondents said the frequency with which they shop online has increased.
What does this mean for retailers?
While cleanliness no longer topped the list of consumer’s priorities in the October results, this is less likely to mean it is not a concern and more that retailers have visibly demonstrated their commitment to cleanliness – allowing customers to focus their attention on other, more specific safety measures. Consumers are also continuously being updated by government and media outlets as to how they can protect themselves and those around them. As policies around personal protective equipment and limitations on gatherings continue to be topics for discussion these will be top of mind for those considering in-store purchases.
If you downloaded the initial report from our May survey, you’ll know we were recommending retailers invest in digital properties to capitalize on the upward trend in online shopping. This continues to be true today – especially as convenience factors so heavily into consumers’ purchasing decisions. Even if your business is not equipped to provide delivery services, 76% of October respondents said they would rather pay in advance online than at the door. This makes alternatives such as curb-side pickup a great way to tie together convenience and safety in order to attract shoppers who are still hesitant to shop in store.
While consumer habits will always evolve, the shifts we have seen over such a short period of time mean that now more than ever retailers need an open line of communications with their customers. The survey results include a wide variety of consumers across North American, but nothing can replace hearing directly from your customers. Survey and social listening tools are invaluable as we all work to make consumers feel comfortable bringing their business back to their favourite stores.