Thought Leadership

No return to normal: 84% of shoppers will not return to the way things were

Research from Momentum Worldwide underlines that trends such as bulk buying and direct to consumer are here to stay.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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Another week, another alarming headline about one of the UK’s biggest retailers having to make difficult decisions and cut staff. This week Marks & Spencer has been on the front pages yet next it is just as likely to be another high-profile retailer in the firing line. 

There is no question that the high street and bricks and mortar stores have been on the sharp end of the coronavirus crisis. As office workers got to grips with working from home and many companies experienced increases in productivity as a result, those little rituals and impulse shopping moments disappeared virtually overnight.

In their place came a flurry of new behaviours, many driven by fear or necessity. From stockpiling loo-roll to subscribing to direct-to-consumer meal options such as Mindful Chef, the pandemic has marked a step-change in consumers’ shopping habits. Yet, while these changes are impossible to ignore, which ones will translate into long-term shifts in consumer behaviour are less easy to decipher. With this in mind experiential advertising agency Momentum Worldwide has launched a new study which reveals the five key changes to consumer behaviour that are here to stay. In fact, the research reveals that only 11% of shoppers said they would immediately go back to the way things were before the pandemic.

88%
of consumers say seeing a brand give support during the pandemic has improved their perception of the brand
89%
of consumers believe brands should offer more discounts and sales both during and after this economic downturn
76%
of consumers miss just casually browsing, even at the grocery store

Mixed emotions about any return to ‘normal’

Notably the study underlines the fact that any return to normal is met with a mix of emotions from consumers across the globe. The study underlines the fact that hesitation and nervousness, and relief and freedom are the key emotions felt by people as they consider a return to normal. In line with this the research reveals that many are looking to others to help them make decisions; at the top of this list are healthcare organisations, their own doctors and the government. These are the top three resources shoppers trust for information and guidance. 

Notably shoppers also want to reward brands who offer support and 88% of consumers say that seeing a brand give support during the pandemic has improved their perception of the brand. 

COVID-19 is testing brand loyalty

The research reveals the ways in which the pandemic has made shopping a more deliberate and pragmatic pursuit for consumers; 41% of consumers are now making a shopping list and over a quarter are doing price comparison checks across multiple retailers. Shoppers are looking for a deal more than ever, with 94% liking to buy things on sale and 89% believing that brands should offer more discounts and sales both during and after this economic downturn.

This pragmatism is having a huge impact on brands. While 63% of shoppers agree their preference is for known brands, 66% of shoppers agree they started buying more private label brands during the pandemic; 88% of shoppers agree they are mostly satisfied with private label or less expensive brands. However, this is not to say that these shifts in buying habits will extend beyond the pandemic; 72% of shoppers agree it will be easy to go back to buying their preferred brands once the pandemic is over.

While shoppers admit that they are likely to continue purchasing online, the vast majority miss the in-person experience.

Luke D'Arcy

The opportunity to connect with experience-deprived consumers

The research reveals an opportunity for retail brands to better connect with experience-deprived consumers. Notably, while many consumers have drastically changed the way they shop, this doesn't necessarily mean they enjoy it more. As Luke D’Arcy, President of Momentum UK, explains: “While shoppers admit that they are likely to continue purchasing online, the vast majority miss the in-person experience.” This is reflected in the study’s findings which show that 76% miss just casually browsing, even at the grocery store while 77% miss discovering new products and 77% miss getting the chance to spend time with friends and family.

In essence shoppers are missing discovering products together. The coronavirus crisis has made shopping an increasingly pragmatic, utility experience for consumers. Yet they are missing the potter, the ponder and the impulse little luxuries and moments with friends and family that combined to make the tapestry of the face-to-face retail experience. 

“This suggests that it is extremely important for retailers to continually keep a pulse on shopper attitudes and behaviours as they continue to morph depending on consumer safety and comfort,” adds D’Arcy.

The global research, which was conducted across eight markets, the UK, US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, revealed five key findings, which smart brands will keep in mind as we collectively navigate a phased return to whatever constitutes normal in the age of coronavirus. The opportunity for a retail reset is now.

Trust is the defining factor for brands: Why consumers choose name brand products over private label

50% I trust the brand

37% It uses better quality ingredients

35% It’s more environmentally friendly

28% It has a reputation for ‘giving back’

32% It’s my favourite brand

26% They were a major contributor during the COVID pandemic

27% It’s a brand I grew up with

20% The brand offers a wide variety of flavours/options

19% The brand shares the same values as me

18% Made with organic/all-natural ingredients

15% It fits my personality