Blended, flexible, hybrid… Whatever you call it, a new, flexible working model is here to stay. Employees are ditching the daily commute and splitting their week between home and office, adopting more agile working practices in pursuit of a better work/life balance.
But what does this mean for consumer habits? Is the city centre lunch rush a thing of the past? Will our weekly grocery shops consist of a few clicks between Zoom calls? Will we impulse buy something that catches our eye in a store window? And how sustainable will the suppressed shopping demands predicted to hit once lockdown is eased?
Here’s how shopping habits are changing in the face of changing working practices, and five uncertainties retailers should be prepared for.
1) It’s all about timing
Previously, longer working hours and growing commuter numbers signalled a shift from weekly grocery shops to more frequent store visits with smaller baskets. In the UK and Europe this has led to a spike in express and convenience stores, close by train stations or in high density residential areas, offering lunchtime deals and easy-cook meals, busiest around lunchtime, after-work and around closing time. Fast-fashion and other retail adapted too, with longer opening hours and late-night shopping nights.
The peaks were predictable: shopping happened during breaks in the working day. Retailers planned store layouts and staff rotas for fast turnaround at lunchtimes and just after work, with trade more evenly spaced at weekends.
Now, we are all predicted to work in a more modular way – spending some time at home, some in the office. Working hours will be more flexible, too. A 40-hour week might be spread over seven days. Or parents may do an hour or so in the evening but work to school hours in the day.
This makes peaks difficult to forecast, so the ability to scale up and down at a minute’s notice – both in-store, and for online logistics such as fulfilment and delivery – is even more important.
2) Multiply your locations
We’re yet to see if workers will return to offices in numbers. But we do know that many employers are planning to reduce costs by downsizing their real estate and space rental.
Either way, lower footfall in city centres during weekdays, and possibly at the weekends is predicted. But is this the full story? Will employees grow tired of siloed home working and miss the interaction with their teams – leading them to spend more time in the office or to migrate to co-working spaces in nearby town centres? Whatever the changes, retailers are also looking at the potential of more satellite stores, and / or different ways to sell, including via concessions.
We’re yet to see the lasting impact of Covid on in-store numbers too. Masks and hand sanitizers look here to stay – at least for now – but will customers be uncomfortable walking into a crowded store? And how long will it take Governments to fully relax social distancing recommendations? Will there be more waves to come? Covid may not be over and new consumer habits are yet to settle – but one thing we know is for success requires flexibility.
3) Hardness habits
Covid accelerated online shopping, but it also signalled other changes, such as lower footfall but higher conversion rates and bigger baskets in-store. When people did shop, it was with purpose: less browsing, more buying.
Home delivery has boomed and demand will only grow. But will last-mile logistics and associated costs mean retailers deliver more to lockers and hubs rather than individual addresses? And does that create a new retail opportunity around these hubs?
The nature of online shopping may change too. With fewer commutes and more time spent working from home, will we see more desktop buying than mobile purchases? And will remote workers use the time they save browsing online? Or will they look for more experiential shopping – and return to stores?
4) Save or splurge?
In December 2020, the Bank of England said Covid had led to excess savings of £100bn among UK households. While in the US, personal savings rates hit historic levels of 33% as early as April 2020.
Remote working meant more time at home with families, with far less opportunity to spend. Commentators expect this pent-up demand will trigger a shopping boom, but can this demand be sustained in a meaningful way for long-suffering retailers? Governments worldwide will encourage spending to aid the economic recovery (The UK Government has already allowed extended opening hours to 10pm Monday to Saturday) but will others follow?
It is expected that consumers will want to spend on experiences and treats to make up for time stuck at home. Does this create an opportunity for retail to sell more at a higher price point? Or does it mean that consumers are in the habit of saving pennies and cents – and therefore looking for bargains?
5) Responsible retail
Blended working and Covid means we’re thinking about the way we live. Many young people are moving away from big cities, for less stressful environments and more space. Quality of life is becoming more important — and consumers may focus on home improvements or saving so they can upsize. Some may get into saving, having got used to living without fast fashion fixes and daily luxuries.
A growing focus on climate change and sustainability is also raising questions about fast fashion, with Generation Z demanding a more ethical shopping experience. Will consumers buy less but of a higher quality? Will shopping with local producers appeal more? And will buyers have more disposable income given the increasing costs and hassle of foreign travel?
In this disrupted marketplace, the winners will be retailers who can react fastest to new lifestyles and preferences on products and shopping habits. Flooid can help retailers flex to win by offering resilient, intuitive trading across all channels, shortening innovation cycles with cloud, and enabling freedom to experiment and scale with the Flooid platform.