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SHOPPING SPREE: Has Covid permanently changed the face of UK retail?


THERE is no doubt that Covid turned people´s lives upside down, and that includes shopping. 

From the 23rd of March 2020 until early June 2020 shopping for non-essential goods had to be done online. Even once restrictions had been lifted some parts of the UK remained in lockdown.

A further full UK lockdown, that closed most retail outlets, was implemented between 5 November and 2 December 2020. With a third nationwide lockdown lasting from the 6th of January 2021 until the 19th of July 2021.

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Covid has massively impacted UK retailers

Unsurprisingly, being shut for such long periods has radically shaken up the retail industry. Changes in consumer habits, staff attitudes, and technology mean that many of the changes we have seen will be permanent and there will be more to come.

UK consumers are still buying more online

Naturally, during the lockdowns, people switched to buying online. According to Statista, in March 2020, 41% of UK consumers said they were buying more online than before. This was expected due to the first lockdown.

But what surprised the industry is the way that percentage has continued to rise. By February 2021, 71% of people said they were buying more goods online than they used to.

Many consumers are still planning to return to High Street shopping

However, it is important to bear in mind that these figures have risen in an environment of ongoing uncertainty. Between March 2020 and February there were a further two national lockdowns, as well as numerous local lockdowns. Plus, even when they opened, stores were still having to restrict numbers to comply with social distancing restrictions.

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However, there are indications that once things go back to normal and coronavirus is dealt with in the same way flu and other viral infections are that people will change their buying habits. They will once again feel better about going out to the shops.

Mandoe Media provides stores, clinics, gyms, and salons with digital signage across the world. Including in the UK. 

They wanted to see how likely demand for their digital advertising screens was to continue to rise, so they carried out a survey. They spoke to 850 retail consumers from the UK, USA, and Australia to find out.

The Mandoe Media Annual Retail Purchasing Study revealed that 54% of consumers were keen to return to shopping in-store as normal. But it was clear from answers to other questions that concern about catching the virus was still holding some people back. Suggesting that when the pandemic was properly over many more people would return to shopping in-store.

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Retailers will need to provide a safer shopping environment

However, UK consumers are going to remain much more health-conscious than they were pre-pandemic. During the Mandoe Media survey, 69% of UK consumers said that they wanted a safer shopping experience.

Consumers want an easier shopping experience

The same survey highlighted the fact that shoppers had enjoyed the ease of shopping online or using click and collect services. A way of shopping that they found to be quick and easy. 

Sixty-nine percent of Mandoe Media survey respondents stated that they wanted an easier in-store shopping experience. Retailers will need to use technology to achieve that.

Technology that cuts down queuing time

People are sick of queuing. As well as Express checkouts and self-service tills they want to see contactless payment and staff tackling the queue at busy times using hand-held scanners and card machines. 

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Something Marks & Spencer has been doing for a few years, which you can expect to see other stores adopt more widely. According to a recent survey carried out by Adyen, 69% of UK consumers want a pay-in-app experience that is similar to the one they get online.

People want more rewards

UK consumers are savvy and are aware that more people are buying online, and that physical retailers are desperate to get shoppers through their doors. 

This fact has fostered a desire for them to be better rewarded for in-store shopping. 

This was highlighted by the research carried out by Adyen, which found that 62% wanted to see improvements in the way retailers reward their loyalty.

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The future is a hybrid of digital and physical

The fact that people still want the opportunity to shop offline is good news. But UK retailers will need to adapt to get their share of what is likely to remain a smaller market than before Covid. 

To keep consumers happy, they will need to adopt new technology that provides shoppers with an experience that is more akin to the one they get when shopping online. 

An approach that has the added benefit of helping retailers to cope with the fact that recruiting and retaining staff is becoming increasingly difficult.

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