Life will never be the same after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, probably nothing more impacted than the shopping behaviors of your average consumer.
In fact, preliminary studies are beginning to show that the first thing to be affected by the pandemic will be customer expectations.
Customer expectations of an in-store experience will be higher than ever — safety first
Sixty-two percent of US respondents to our May 14 to May 15 survey claimed to be conducting less in-store shopping than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey shows that consumers have increased their usage of the following — all point to a stronger preference for e-commerce versus in-store shopping experiences:
- Contactless delivery
- Contactless payments
- Buy online and pickup in-store
- Subscription services
- Automated retail stores
- Purchases over social media
- Vending machine and lockers
An important 2020 lesson: every company must be digital.— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) March 25, 2020
E-Commerce adoption will continue to grow after safe store openings
Shoppers are increasingly turning to e-commerce. Forty-four percent of US respondents to our May 14 to May 15 survey said they are conducting more of their shopping online. Sixty-eight percent of US shoppers expect to buy essential goods online after the health threats of COVID-19 have subsided.
Millennials and Gen Z consumers are most likely to expect this trend to last, but a majority of older shoppers, including 57% of baby boomers, also foresee purchasing more online.
The survey also revealed that 52% of shoppers are willing to pay for virtual versions of a product or service that is traditionally provided in person. Sixty-eight percent of consumers are likely to buy essential goods after the health threats of COVID-19 subside.
Seventy-one percent of high-income earners foresee more online shopping in their future, as well as 68% of middle-income earners and 65% of low-income earners.
Shoppers value safety and health as their top requirement for returning back to in-store shopping
The top eight personal requirements to return to normal in-store shopping are:
- Social distancing measures (60%)
- Required personal protective equipment for employees (54%)
- Required personal protective equipment for customers (45%)
- Availability of COVID-19 testing (33%)
- Availability of COVID-10 vaccine (35%)
- Availability of COVID-19 treatment (33%)
- Assurance from local government that shopping is safe (28%)
- Assurance from the national government that shopping is safe (26%)
Stores must provide social distance, hand sanitizers, expanded cleaning, physical barriers, and disinfectant wipes with adjusted hours for vulnerable groups to see in-store shoppers.
Shopping methods are changing at lightning speeds
Contactless delivery is seeing a particularly large uptick in use, with 37% of US consumers turning to it more than usual. Shoppers are now more comfortable buying online and either opt for delivery or in a pick-up in store. I expect to see curbside pick-up options to extend to brands that typically only deliver good in malls as well.
Contactless payments that pre-pandemic had low adoption in the US will see significantly increased adoption, including peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo and PayPal.
Expect less back-to-school and holiday shopping spending
According to the survey, 44% of US shoppers in our most recent survey say they’ve decreased their discretionary spending, and the implications for the busy back-to-school and winter holiday shopping seasons are big. The softer projections are based on a lack of clarity on when — or whether — school districts will reopen.
As we adjust to the changes in our overall shopping experiences after the pandemic is over, we should still be mindful of a few key things. For example,
Should I be avoiding touching banknotes and coins and going 100% contactless?
This is what the Bank of England says: “Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, notes can carry bacteria or viruses. However, the risk posed by handling a polymer note is no greater than touching any other common surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.” Earlier this month a newspaper report claimed the World Health Organization (WHO) had said banknotes may be spreading the coronavirus, so people should try to use contactless payments instead. But it was then reported that the WHO denied it had said cash was transmitting the coronavirus, and that it had been “misrepresented” – so go figure.
However, logic would suggest that most notes and coins will have previously been handled by large numbers of people (though ATMs quite often dispense notes that are either brand new or little used), so if you are worried, paying with a contactless card where possible is probably the way to go.
How can I stay safe when out shopping, particularly in supermarkets?
Photographs of lengthy queues of supermarket shoppers in Italy – with people adhering to the new “social distancing” rule for public places requiring that they ensure they are 1 metre apart – have been viewed with alarm in the UK. Here behaviour in our stores seems to have changed little apart from shelves being emptied faster than they can be restocked.
Yet in supermarkets and convenience stores (unless you are wearing gloves) it is virtually impossible to do a shop without touching a trolley or a basket handle, picking up goods that someone else has handled, or using touchscreens and self-scanning devices already smeared by others. Hard surfaces like these are touched by staff and customers all day and can potentially hold viruses for several hours.
In addition, some shoppers may be wondering whether it is safe for fresh fruit and vegetables to be out in the open, easily handled – and put back – by any number of strangers. “Help yourself” salad bars and bakery counters – with accompanying serving tongs and spoons – could also present issues.
While the medical advice is that it is most common for Covid-19 to be transmitted via coughs or sneezes, rigorous hand-washing is recommended for everyone.
The British Retail Consortium says all its members are adhering to the latest advice from Public Health England. Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: “Retailers are continuing to adhere to high standards of hygiene in store and are taking extra precautions (including deep cleans) as advised by PHE. Alongside this, we are urging everyone to follow PHE’s advice: wash hands frequently with hot water and soap for 20 seconds or use alcohol hand gel, and be aware of safe coughing etiquette.”
Waitrose said: “We’re monitoring the latest advice from Public Health England and are advising our customers to do the same.”
McDonalds says it is sanitising surfaces such as door handles, self-order screens and tablets more regularly throughout the day.
However, some experts are urging all retailers to offer hand sanitiser gel on entrance and exit to stores. Prof Sally Bloomfield, of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, said: “Trying to make sure that people do not pass on or pick up the infection via hand contact on surfaces whilst they are in the store is important. In a supermarket it is impossible – because everything customers do is about hand contact.
“I think the best way is to offer customers free hand gel at the entrance and politely ask them to use it to protect other customers whilst they are in the store. Do the same thing for customers who are leaving to protect themselves against people who refused to comply with the earlier request – simple but effective.
“Hands are the last line of defence – if you don’t touch the mouth, eyes and nose with contaminated hands, you won’t get infected via this route.”
Can I still use my reusable or refillable cup for hot drinks when I am out and about?
Many of us have got used to carrying and using refillable cups when out and about – an eco-conscious move that typically guarantees a discount off the price of the drink to boot.
But in the UK coffee chains are having a rethink in response to the coronavirus outbreak, with Starbucks temporarily banning the use of reusable cups – typically made of plastic, glass or bamboo material – for the safety of both customers and staff. Customers still receive a 25p discount for bringing reusable cups with them, but drinks are being served to them in paper cups to avoid the spreading of germs via the mouth.
Other chains, including Pret a Manger, are keeping the situation under review. A spokeswoman said: “At this stage, there isn’t any evidence that stopping the use of reusable cups will reduce the risk to customers or to our (staff) teams. We’re obviously constantly reviewing guidelines from health officials and should the advice change, then we will of course update our approach.”
Does taking the train mean I’m more at risk of infection?
Some rail services into the big cities have been running at half their normal capacity this week as travellers have opted to work at home, or postpone leisure trips into the capital.
If you are sitting on a train and within 1-2 metres of an infected person who coughs, you are at risk of infection.
But the more likely risk is the virus lingering for 48-72 hours on a hard surface, such as the hand rail.
If you have to touch rails, buttons, tickets and so on, try to do it with just one hand. Keep phones in the other “clean” hand and wash both as soon as you can at your destination.
The Rail Delivery Group says the train companies are closely monitoring the latest Public Health England advice and planning for a range of different outcomes. “We are ensuring that rail staff are kept aware of the latest advice to maintain good hand hygiene and keep surfaces clean, particularly in customer facing locations,” it says.
What about the crammed tubes, buses and trams?
Anyone who has got on the Central line at Oxford Circus at peak time will know that it can be hard to stay more than 10cm away from your fellow passengers – never mind the recommended 1 metre. In Milan, passengers have been advised to sit opposite an empty seat, something of which passengers in London can usually only dream. Transport for London told Guardian Money that it had unveiled an “enhanced cleaning regime” to improve the hygiene levels on the capital’s public transport.
Additional substances that kill viruses and bacteria are being used across the London Underground and bus networks, while the busiest stations will be cleaned more regularly than usual, including during the day, it said. Bus parts that are regularly touched – such as poles and doors – will be wiped down with a strong disinfectant every day.
What about walking or cycling instead?
Last week the German authorities asked people to work from home and to consider walking or cycling if they had to go to work. Walking or cycling alone is clearly less risky than being on a packed tram or tube train.
In the UK, Halfords has reported a 30% rise on the sale of commuter-friendly folding bikes.
I drive to work – what about the car?
Back in 2018, a study found that three of the five cars tested contained more bacteria than the inside of a bin lid. Swabbing the steering wheel, gear stick, dashboard controls and door handle, the car interiors also contained more germs than a kitchen bench top and sink. Covid-19 is a virus not a bacteria, but you get the message. Antibacterial surface cleaning wipes such as those from Dettol claim to kill almost all bacteria and viruses – including coronaviruses. You should look for products that contain isopropanol – if there are any left on the shelves. If you are regularly taking passengers in your car, a wipe down at the end of the journey won’t do any harm.
What about at work – what should I be doing and not doing?
A lot of it is what we all know already: the most effective way to prevent the spread of infection is to wash your hands regularly, plus maybe use an alcohol-based hand rub. Both staff and any visitors need to have access to such facilities.
A leaflet from Health Protection Scotland, published this month, also recommends the following:
• Routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces (such as phones, keyboards, door handles, desks and tables). Clearly that will be particularly important if your keyboard or desk phone is used by other people.
• Ensure that any plates, mugs, cutlery and so on in shared kitchen areas are properly washed up and dried thoroughly before being put away in cupboards.
• Avoid the “communal sharing” of things such as crisps and sandwiches, unless the items are individually wrapped.