6 experts on how Covid-19 will change shopping habits

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From the moment Australia went into lockdown, it was clear that coronavirus would take an unprecedented toll on retailers. Now, it looks equally certain that some of the changes that have occurred are here to stay.


“COVID-19 has accelerated a lot of the changes that were taking place in the retail sector,” says Australian Retailers Association CEO, Paul Zahra. We asked six experts for their opinions and predictions on how the global pandemic will affect shopping behaviour.


“Online shopping will become more popular”


“The gradual uptake of online shopping has been fast-forwarded dramatically,” says Retail Group CEO Roger Simpson of The Retail Solution, explaining that the closure of stores forced many consumers to shop online for the first time. 


The growth in online shopping will encourage the adoption of new technology, he says, from virtual showrooms, to augmented reality or sophisticated tools that help shoppers identify the correct-sized garment or best shade of beauty product. Simpson adds that it has never been more important for retailers to have an online presence.


“Shoppers will expect more flexibility and delivery options”


Even before the global pandemic, “click-and-collect” delivery options were common. However, in a post-lockdown world, Zahra expects that “enhanced delivery options” will become the norm. “Innovations such as retail-to-go – or kerbside pick-up – could become a permanent part of the offering for large and small retailers as they ease in-store congestion, save time and offer great customer convenience,” he says.  


Some Australian retailers, such as Myer, have opened “pop-up” click-and-collect booths, while Westfield has launched “Westfield Direct”, which allows shoppers to pick-up products from multiple retailers in one “drive-through” transaction.


“Shoppers may expect discounts” 


Deep discounting and constant markdowns were the unfortunate legacy of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008, creating an expectation for regular sales among shoppers.


With a looming economic downturn and a predicted fall in discretionary spending, IBISWorld senior industry analyst James Caldwell says that discounting of products is likely in the short-term. 


“Strict hygiene standards and frictionless payment will become the norm”


In the coming months, customers will not only expect stores to conform to social-distancing standards, but they will also demand strict hygiene practices, says Laura Saunter, a senior retail editor at trend-forecasting agency WGSN. “Consumers will want to control how much they opt in or out of human interaction [while shopping],” she explains. “Retail strategies will need to allow for little to no human connection, while still providing excellent service.”


Shoppers will expect frictionless, cash-free payment options. In addition, Saunter speculates that no-touch technology, such as voice-activated door handles and contactless tills – and even antibacterial innovations for carpets and fitting-room dividers – may become important to consumers. 


“More considered consumption”


Long before COVID-19, consumers were becoming mindful of sustainability and transparency. However, Matt Newell of The General Store speculates that the global pandemic could accelerate this trend. 


“On one level job losses and fears about the economy will make consumers think twice about discretionary spending and whether they really need new products,” says Newell. He adds that a heightened sense of connectivity and community could also create more mindfulness around consumption. “We might see shoppers shop for values, as well as shopping for value.” 


With a recent survey showing that 80 per cent of Australians are looking to support local businesses due to the pandemic, Newell says there is an opportunity for retailers to “tell their story” around local production or ethical processes. 


“Expectations Of Personalised service”


The closure of bricks-and-mortar stores during lockdown prompted many retailers to offer personalised services, such as appointment booking and video chat, says Proximity Insight CEO Cathy McCabe. 


With shops reopening, she predicts that consumers will continue to enjoy personalised services as "they will be cautious about going out and won’t want to be subjected to busy stores”.


Now more than ever, a personal, welcoming approach is needed, adds McCabe, who says that retailers have an opportunity to start preparing for re-opening “by opening up with limited staffing, but reaching out to customers to make them feel special. Appointment booking is key.” 



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