In this, the third of five posts dedicated to coronavirus and grocery retail, we explore how Covid-19 is changing how we shop, and the implications this may have for bricks-and-mortar retailers.
Covid-19 is a rapidly evolving situation; one that requires retail executives to respond quickly and decisively to new events, but never with the full picture. In some cases changes to legislation have forced retailers to act, but, more often than not, retailers have taken the initiative to better protect their customers, staff, and business. Take social distancing: governments across Europe directed supermarkets to ensure shoppers maintain a safe distance from one another. Many retailers preempted this, laying floor stickers to better visualise what constitutes safe distance. Some went further, introducing dedicated shopping hours to serve vulnerable groups. Others are trialing new technologies. Aldi, for instance, has installed traffic lights at some store entrances, only giving shoppers the green light to enter when there’s a safe number of people inside.
Supermarkets have had to accommodate changes for staff too. Like most businesses, supermarkets have moved hundreds of back-office staff online, implementing technologies and routines to make this possible. Unlike most businesses, however, supermarkets have had to simultaneously expand their frontline workforce to meet surging consumer demand and to substitute elderly and/or vulnerable workers for whom the shop floor has become too unsafe. These frontline workers are performing an essential role in the battle against Covid-19. We should admire them, and, more importantly, help protect them.
Different retailers have been affected in different ways by Covid-19. Mckinsey reports, for instance, that inner-city convenience stores have experienced a deep decline in business as more people have worked from home. By comparison, online grocery retailers have seen demand surge, in some cases upwards of 700 percent. For a period in March 2020, Ocado, the UK’s largest dedicated online grocer, couldn’t keep up with consumer demand. And Tesco, another UK retailer, announced it was the first to deliver 1 million orders in a single week. Given this, supermarket CEOs ought to ask themselves: how many customers grocery shopping online for the first time now, will continue once things return to normal?
Scientists have warned of the dangers of a subsequent waves of Covid-19 in the coming months and years. Even beyond that horizon, though, it’s likely customers will be more conscious of their health and seek to limit social contact with strangers to a minimum.
How might this translate into changes in-store? It’s likely that:
The Covid-19 episode is far from over, and therefore the full consequences are far from clear. It’s safe to assume, however, that changes in legislation and consumer behaviour will have an impact on how we shop and where we shop. The in-store shopping experience as we’ve known it, will not disappear any time soon, but it will be transformed.
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