COVID-19 and Retail – How has it changed us?

It’s fair to say we shan’t return to our pre-COVID shopping habits anytime soon, and it’s also not an extreme view to say we will never return to them again. Online shopping and search behaviour provides masses of insight into these consumer changes. Lisa Prescott takes a look at them and what it could mean for retail moving forward.
Lisa Prescott | Director

Unpredictable Demand

Online search during the height of the pandemic saw huge spikes across an array of different retail products, from slippers to cat food to loo rolls! Can you ever recall a time when so many people wanted to get their hands on a jigsaw puzzle?

Google recorded seeing 15% new search terms daily, new terms being ones they’ve never seen before! So, it’s fair to say we have new needs, and these new needs keep changing and they’re unpredictable. That puts some big pressure on retailers to understand and feel confident that what they’re providing is what their audience wants from them.

Consumer behaviour was unpredictable pre-pandemic, now it’s even more unpredictable. Retailers must ensure their operations are responsive and agile to these shifts, its too late to find a solution at the point demand is soaring!

Having the capabilities to analyse consumer trends real time and investing in automation tools to anticipate consumer demands must be seen as a business need-to-have, as opposed to what may have been perceived as a nice-to-have within the marketing department pre-COVID.

Seeking Inspiration

People are using online search to seek ideas and shopping inspiration more than ever, Google searches for “ideas” soared during the pandemic with global search up by 200% YOY. People don’t just want to see the product with a price or a promotion, they want to feel inspired and engaged with a brand. Online presence is more than simply selling products and is about selling a purpose and your reason for being, directly to an engaged online audience.

Personally, during the pandemic, I made more purchases via Instagram with unfamiliar brands than I’ve ever done before. They were pushing content that compelled me to find out more and it didn’t concern me I hadn’t heard of them before because I liked what I was seeing, and most importantly I believed in it.

The value of purpose supported with credible, relevant, and unique content should not be underestimated!

Convenience Converts Customers

Consumers want it now! No change there but it’s become even more prevalent during the pandemic, our demand for convenience is at an all-time high and it’s not going to slow down.

Google has reported seeing a 700% increase in consumer search with the term “in stock” within the past 12 months. If we’re visiting a store, we want the confidence that we can get what we need when we’re there so real-time online inventory checklists are becoming a key requirement for retailers.

Retailers may also want to consider their opening hours to further suit the needs of their customers rather than being solely fit for business operations.

And retailers must be able to deliver multiple online purchasing options, so whether that’s via an app or buying online and picking up in-store or opting for home delivery, there needs to be that flexibility.

Consumers expect their expectations to be exceeded… what demanding creatures we are!

Conscious Consumers


What does that mean? Well, it’s not just about the price point. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious about the products they buy and moreover the brands they engage with. If your brand doesn’t have clear values and those values align with your audience then you’ve potentially got a problem on your hands.

Of course, we will continue to shop around for the best deals, but we’re also making choices consciously on other factors which may not have been as big a deal pre-pandemic as they are now. More of us are shopping for “ethical products” and “best affordable” items and digging into the sustainable credentials of a brand. All of which is informing our decision making.

Shopping with purpose is here and it’s not marketing jargon, it’s a real threat to retailers who won’t embrace this change in behaviour. Retailers must consider their values and how these values either differentiate themselves or align themselves to their customer base. Failure to do so is simply going to make that conversion more expensive or harder to do.

Thinking to the future

We’re working with several clients to help understand the impact COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on their consumer base. If you think you’d benefit from having similar discussions then we’d like to hear from you, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we can look to set up an initial chat.