Changing the Game: Exploring Post-Covid Consumer Trends
High streets in 2020 feel like very different places to the ones we knew 6 months ago. With public health taking absolute precedence, consumers are adjusting to a safer, more socially distant retail experience in order to protect themselves and others. For small businesses who are only just reopening their doors to the public, there’s a real anxiety around how far lockdown and the Covid pandemic will have changed consumer habits and the impact this will have on their future.
To help you navigate these uncharted waters, we’ve put together a guide to some of the key changes we’ve seen in consumer behaviour in 2020 and what small businesses can do to adapt:
Buying more, but staying home
In a previous article, we discussed how throughout lockdown, e-commerce and online sales enjoyed a sizable boom, as consumers stuck at home took up new hobbies, learnt new skills and in some cases, embarked on ambitious home improvement work. In terms of first time online purchases, home gym and fitness equipment topped the charts, closely followed by education services and plants1.
The big question now is whether these enthusiastic lockdown purchases are a sign of a sustained shift towards online retail, or if as shops, gyms and cafes begin to reopen, this trend will begin to lose momentum. It’s pretty early to make any concrete assumptions, but many larger retailers are now making significant concessions to their online presence. Brands like John Lewis are piloting digitally lead features like Zoom personal shopping experiences2, allowing shoppers to get the department store experience without leaving their home.
For small businesses, there’s plenty of opportunity to capitalize on changing habits, especially those with a strong e-commerce presence. With so many affordable digital tools available, offering online exclusives, sales and even personalised online shopping experiences doesn’t have to be the sole preserve of retail giants. If consumers continue to prioritise online shopping, small businesses have a fantastic opportunity to carve themselves out a niche in the digital marketplace.
A newfound love for local
Without being able to take advantage of high street chains and superstores, many of us have begun exploring the hidden gems closer to home. From tiny artisanal bakeries to independent bookstores and cafes, small businesses have taken the challenges of 2020 on the chin, working tirelessly to seek out new opportunities and keep their customers happy.
Let’s take coffee as an example: In London alone, the number of independent cafes and coffee shops has risen by 700% since 20103. When the pandemic hit and larger chains closed their doors, independent cafes and local coffee roasters were able to continue serving their local communities, whether that took the form of an impromptu coffee delivery service, or by selling the beans they roast and grind on premises. Suddenly, people who’d never even realised that there was a local coffee roaster 5 minutes away became regulars, ordering their favourite coffee beans in time for Saturday morning, or taking advantage of getting fresh pastries and coffee delivered whilst working from home. For small businesses who’ve enjoyed the unexpected upside of having more people exploring their local areas whilst in lockdown, the aim now will be to continue developing those relationships as larger chains begin to open up once more.
It’s easy to assume that as restrictions ease and high street retail returns, consumers will begin to revert back to pre-pandemic buying habits. This might not be the case however, as behaviours that began as part of the Covid crisis could become the norm if they’re perceived to be safer, more efficient or more enjoyable.
McKinsey’s UK consumer sentiment survey has shown that 71%4 of consumers have tried a different shopping behaviour since the pandemic began, covering everything from trying new brands, all the way down to changing how items are collected and delivered from a store. For small businesses, this means that learning to be proactive in their approach to consumer behaviour is vital. Whether it’s ensuring you’ve got contactless payments easily available to all customers in store, or that there’s a dedicated collection point available for online purchases, success here is about recognising changes in expectations and adapting to them effectively. Simply being able to cater to consumers who might actually now prefer to click and collect, shop online, or order to take away will go a long way in helping small businesses thrive.
Embrace change - It might surprise you
2020 has not been an easy year. Not by any stretch of the imagination. For small businesses, the first part of the year was a case of ensuring survival, followed by planning to rebuild once Covid restrictions began to ease. There have been a few pleasant surprises however. Online sales have helped hundreds of small businesses stay afloat and many more have enjoyed unprecedented support from local communities. Rather than looking to return to exactly the way things were, look for opportunities to build on these surprises, develop new skills and above all, don’t be afraid to take your business in a direction that you’d perhaps not considered!
- ‘New lockdown habits here to stay as ‘most plan to keep spending more frequently online’ says Visa.’ Internet Retailing, 03.06.2020. https://internetretailing.net/payment/new-lockdown-habits-here-to-stay-as-most-plan-to-keep-spending-more-frequently-online-says-visa--21498
- 'John Lewis & Partners pilots virtual personal shopping experience’, July 15th 2020, https://www.johnlewispresscentre.com/pressrelease/details/72/Corporate_10/12412
- 'London sees 700% surge in independent coffee shops since 2010’ Square Meal, 06.02.20, https://www.squaremeal.co.uk/restaurants/news/rise-in-independent-coffee-shops-london_9631
- 'Survey: UK consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis’, McKinsey, 26.06.20, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-uk-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis