Will People Ever Return To Shop In-Store?

Throughout Level 4 lockdown in NZ consumers have scrambled to get their hands on groceries and with the first few weeks proving difficult, home delivery options popped up everywhere. But was this due to limit social distancing or was it because traditional grocers were often out of stock of what consumers wanted?

A new study in the USA asked consumers about their grocery shopping and delivery experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically how their habits may have changed.

The results of this study showed that grocery delivery had increased nearly four-fold and the use of e-commerce platforms had tripled with over 70 percent of consumers making one or fewer trips to the physical grocery store. Why? Because over 80 percent of respondents said that the store didn't have the items they would normally buy (out of stocks), and over 40 percent were bulk buying and therefore didn't need to visit the store. It was interesting to find out that over 60 percent of consumers were actually fearful to shop at the store and feel a sense of panic or anxiety when shopping.

While there have been many reports showing the increase in shopping online and delivery, none have really highlighted emotional responses. It should come as no surprise however, as social distancing limits, signage, hand sanitiser, cleaning, masks, gloves, plexiglass, purchasing limits, empty shelves, and limitations on the number of people in store, alongside a ghost town feeling, combined with the actual fear of catching Coronavirus, all are overwhelming our mental states.

The question being, have e-commerce platforms made an impressionable and lasting affect on consumer purchasing behaviour? Has it become more convenient to shop direct, or have an auto-subscription to your favourite products? Should all stores become just pick-up only?

The country has been showering supermarket staff with thanks and gratitude for working on the frontline, but the reality is, seen particularly oversees, that these grocery heroes are putting themselves at risk and will inevitably get sick, whether it be from the virus or purely exhaustion.

Oversees, many supermarket chains have closed several stores, converting them to dark stores, similar to what Countdown has done here, open for online orders only. This not only helps to protect grocery store workers by limiting interaction with customers, but also benefits shoppers with less people coming into contact with food items.

Right now, this looks to be in the too hard basket for retailers as they continue to build and develop platforms and keep up with a continued demand for e-commerce offerings. Even the likes of Amazon in the USA have a waitlist for new customers wanting to shop on its e-commerce platform, while others, are creating virtual waiting rooms where customers wait to be let into the site.

The added problem to going solely online is how to get everyone online, particularly for the elderly community and those without access to the internet. Advances in technology and building the logistics around this would also be a challenge during the current market.

One thing is for sure, people need, and will always need, food so it will be interesting to see how consumers change their shopping habits between each alert level and when the country comes out on the other side. In the meantime, some Kiwis wanting to order online will just have to sit up until midnight to get that order through.