A mere two month into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing companies adapt their operations in very different ways. Of course, some more successful than others, but certain managers have delivered creative responses. According to Nielsen, 75% of people are avoiding shopping centres, and a bounce back to pre-COVID levels is not expected soon. These changes impact what consumers want to buy and how they buy it.

Changed strategy

Firstly, due to the nature of the crisis we have observed a marked increase in the sales of essential goods. Especially from vendors selling products online. Notably, products like toilet paper, hand sanitiser and food have been popular among online shoppers in recent weeks. Interestingly, Dubai-based Tradeling.com, launched to service, the food & beverage and office supply sector change focus after just 2 weeks. Today, the company focuses primarily on essential services with sections of their website devoted to Stay Safe products. These include personal hygiene products, protective mask, gloves and care baskets.

New habits

According to Nielsen Bases, consumers have shown more interests in products targeted at killing germs and boosting the immune system. Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of products touting wellness, sustainability or organic benefits. Another Nielsen study notes this by segmenting consumer behaviour in relation to fears over COVID. Indeed, customers have proven themselves to be quite savvy in this crisis. Local convenience stores have also seen increased patronage as customers continue social distancing.

Furthermore, in China 67% of retailers say they need to make significant investments in e-commerce. This is remarkable when you consider, China is one of the most mature e-commerce markets in the world. This a sign of optimism in the future prospects of global e-commerce. Some companies are using this period to build capacity that help them capitalise on new customer habits.

The big boys

Consequently, the pandemic is a worrying sign for big chain retail stores which were already experiencing a dip beforehand. Coinciding with the increase in online shopping, some of these chains have launched apps which facilitate drive-in pick up. On the other had, these stores are keeping more products in store to avoid delays associated with supply chain issues. For example, Target, Wholefoods and Bed Bath have started converting some of their retail stores into fulfilment centres. This reduces pressure on the main fulfilment centres, allowing quicker delivery from local former retail stores. Significantly, these changes might be here to stay as more mangers adopt further measures like self-checkout, digital payments, pick-up, drive-up and same day delivery.

A whole new world

Notably, customers are more interested in the supply chain journey of their products. Today, there is more awareness on locally source products and the current pandemic seems to have increased that. Even before COVID, 54% of customers say they buy mostly local products and we can expect to see this rise. In conclusion, it does seem the events of the past few months will continue to have an impact on shopping habits for decades to come.