Retail’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is changing our shopping habits

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Senior Consultant Stoyan Petrov reviews the ongoing changes that the Covid-19 pandemic is imposing upon the retail sector, which of these are likely to be long-term changes sustained into the future, and how this is altering consumer shopping habits.

With restrictions easing over the course of July, we have all started to wonder if the pandemic is finally nearing its end and whether the restart of our normal lifestyles is just around the corner. Similar thoughts occupy the minds of retailers with shops reopening and customers slowly emerging from their consumption slumber. But are lockdown measures really going away for good? Certainly, it is too early to tell. What we can however observe even now are some long-term effects on how retailers run their businesses and on consumer habits that are likely to shape the state of the industry even after COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past.

During the pandemic, retailers have taken a different approach to running their day-to-day businesses and now optimising store and head office operations seems to be a hot topic. For example, M&S is accelerating its Never The Same Again programme aiming to achieve its three-year plan in only one. This restructuring acceleration puts at risk 950 M&S management and head office jobs which underlines a very likely longer-term trend of creating leaner retail businesses to adapt to a post-Covid reality where some customer habits might be different permanently…we also heard this week from Tesco who has  now asked its convenience store employees to assume cleaning duties in order to ensure the cleanliness and hygiene much sought by customers cautiously making their way back to stores amidst the pandemic uncertainty.

What are these permanent changes likely to be? According to Retail Week customers will start supporting local business more, purchase more online, and generally keep their budgets tight in the long run. All three points have been highlighted and monitored throughout the lockdown to confirm that they would be indeed lasting trends. And numbers definitely seem to indicate this with 64% of people willing to support local producers, 25% spending more online than they used to, and 55% worried that COVID -19  will have a lasting negative impact on their finances. However, there still seems to be an appetite for shopping with 47% of Brits planning to resume their normal spending habits. So the question retailers need to answer is how to reinvent their shopping experiences for this new era of thoughtful, limited digital consumption. And while optimising operations is a sensible way to set a stable foundation, what should follow is a deep understanding of the underlying transformational trends and the way they were accelerated by the pandemic. This way the right solutions and enablers can be identified to adapt the retail businesses to this new reality without compromising the customer experience (and why not even improve it while we are at it).

Another longer-term trend worth noting is that of more purposeful consumption – yes, we want to get back to spending and enjoying our lifestyles, but no more at the cost of environment and society. However as online shopping has been surging during the pandemic, it begs the question of the environmental impact of increased competition in fast delivery and return services. While convenience is absolutely paramount when it comes to online shopping, both Missguided and John Lewis have started working to minimise the footprint of their growing online businesses by offering expanded click & collect offers. Although not a new proposition, click & collect is now seen in a different light hinting at potential to reinvent how retailers grow their businesses by step innovation of existing services. It doesn’t have to be a ground-breaking disruption every time, it ‘simply’ needs to be thoughtful, digital, and not that expensive (if possible) as the consumers like it these days.

Stay safe and until next time!




Stoyan Petrov

Senior Consultant,  Customer Engagement

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