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Spotlight: UK consumer behaviour shifts amid coronavirus lockdown
From:Xinhua  |  2020-05-30 20:57

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LONDON, May 30 (Xinhua) -- For Abhay Patel, who owns a small convenience store in south London, the COVID-19 lockdown has seen sales in his store increase.

"I've had many new customers visit my store for items like bread, eggs and milk who before would go to the supermarket," Patel told Xinhua.

Even with social distancing measures, Patel believes the reason convenience stores like his are increasing their sales is due to their location and smaller size.


Patel's perspective on consumer behaviour seems to be echoed throughout the wider grocery retail industry.

"This is probably the most fundamental shift in consumer behaviour and shopping behaviour that we've seen in recent memory," consumer insight director at the market research company Kantar, Charlotte Scott, told Xinhua.

Scott, who works across a portfolio of retailers and oversees many of the questions on changing British consumer habits during the pandemic, likens the impact of the COVID-19 on grocery consumer behaviour to that of a "war time impact".

"There are physical impacts on how we have to do stuff, rather than just economical changes," she said.

As lockdown restrictions and government advice instructed the general public to limit their trips outdoors, in particular grocery stores, this had an effect on the grocery retail market.

According to the latest Kantar supermarket share data, for the four-week period leading up to May 17, 2020, shoppers visited the supermarket 3.5 times per week on average -- which is 100 million fewer trips overall than the same month last year.

Shoppers also increased their spending each trip to 27.41 pounds (about 33.89 U.S. dollars) -- nearly 50 percent more than they did during normal times.

The latest figures seem to show that convenience stores, like Patel's in south London, are feeling the benefits as shoppers opt for what they believe will be a more efficient and safer shopping experience.

"We're seeing it most in shoppers who are now going to convenience stores who before weren't, either because they're trying to travel less where previously they were using public transport or different means," said Scott.

"Equally, some households now have far more mouths to feed than they normally would. So if you have a whole family at home who would normally be eating at work or at school then you have all these additional meal and snacking occasions," she added.

According to Scott's research, a quick trip to pick up some extra ingredients or products from the local convenience store is more favourable than taking a longer trip to the supermarket and having to wait with more shoppers outside to enter the store.


Similarly to convenience stores, online is another area of the grocery retail market that is doing particularly well amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

In the latest Kantar research, online grocery sales were 75 percent higher than a year ago, with nearly one in five households placing an order in the most recent four weeks -- 1.6 million more than the same time last year.

"Online shopping now accounts for 11.5 percent of all grocery sales, gaining more ground and attracting more new shoppers in 2020 than the channel has in the previous five years," said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar.

According to Scott, this change could be behavioral as much as it is situational, because there's a lot of people that can't leave the house or don't want to leave the house during the pandemic.

Due to the success of the online food market, some larger retailers are opting to kickstart partnerships with food delivery services as an attempt to tap into the pre-existing online delivery market.

Patel is also exploring options for his convenience store, and other localized stores, to team up with food delivery services to make their products even more accessible for local shoppers.

It suggests that the pandemic, and the need to adapt the food industry to keep the public fed, could fast-forward the growth of the online shopping industry.

For a long time, online shopping has been an area of growth, Scott said in reference to her research into the data trend, but there seemed to have been "a bit of a limit in terms of people willing to shop online".

"Now, we have a big group of people who've never shopped online, a big proportion of older shoppers, that potentially will be looking to shop online going forward," said Scott.

Like Britain, online shopping is becoming increasingly popular in other countries around the world during the pandemic.

China has seen a boom in internet-related industries and the digital economy amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a report released last month by the China Internet Network Information Center.

The report said the number of online shoppers had grown by 16.4 percent from the end of 2018 to 710 million by March 2020, accounting for 78.6 percent of China's total number of netizens, which stood at 904 million.