The momentum of online shopping has somewhat abated."

The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably spurred innovation and the adoption of technology by retailers and shoppers and contributed to sped-up change in retailing.

But success for consumer goods companies and retailers doesn’t hinge solely on executing what — and where — is shiny and new. It comes from understanding how new products and services help deliver business growth. Regardless of data and media sophistication and omnichannel engagement, the need to drive traffic, win trips and build store preference is the heartbeat of every retailer’s growth plans, including those of pure-play e-commerce players.

While the pandemic has undoubtedly created a heightened need to deftly and quickly react to win immediately, recent research by EDGE Marketing and the Path to Purchase Institute suggests the pandemic’s long-term impact on shopper behavior will be less dramatic and potent as time goes on.

The most talked about change — the momentum of online shopping — has somewhat abated with shoppers moving more toward the middle in the online-versus-in-store debate. Our September survey of more than 1,000 adults who are the primary grocery shoppers in their households and made at least one shopping trip in the last week found over half (53%) of shopping trips made in the last 30 days were made in-store, an increase of 27 points compared to April, when just 26% of grocery shoppers were going into stores to buy what they need.

Back to the Store

While online shopping now accounts for 47% of our respondents’ store visits, with delivery methods slightly edging out pickup options, all click-to-buy methods — contactless delivery (14%), in-person delivery (13%), curbside pickup (10%) and in-store pickup (10%) — have dropped in average use from 5 to 7 percentage points compared to early pandemic stages.

What’s more, among shoppers who say they have avoided in-store shopping, most were motivated by minimizing exposure to COVID-19 for themselves or their household (61%) or not feeling safe in the store (47%). This concern is likely to fade over time as a vaccine becomes available, but retailers and brands need to keep in mind that many shoppers are realizing and becoming accustomed to the benefits of online shopping, including more extensive product selection, saving time and finding online price deals.

The opportunity for brands and retailers lies in understanding where the most pronounced shifts in behavior and mindset reside among their customers so that they can better map and adjust their focus in the future. For instance, grocery store shoppers are more likely now to check their home inventory, plan their meals, create a written shopping list and use digital coupons than they were prior to the pandemic.

Despite these changes, brands and retailers who are planning and acting now for the likely boomerang back to many shopping behaviors that more closely resemble pre-pandemic times will be best prepared to win in the new normal to come. Looking ahead to a post-pandemic landscape, nearly half of shoppers said they plan to shop in-store at the same levels as they are today — but a sizable one-third (32%) expect to shop in stores more often. Interestingly, channels that have been experiencing high traffic during the pandemic for essential items, including mass, grocery and online, are IDed by shoppers as those they expect to shop at even more after the pandemic.

Perhaps what’s most important to understand is that online retailers have now achieved a point of relative equality among channel choice. They’re not catching up anymore — they’re keeping pace.

The unlock here for brands and retailers is not about an all-in shift or narrowing of focus because of COVID-19’s impact on shopping behavior, but rather the ability to adopt new strategies that permit wins across all channels, including e-commerce, while supporting shoppers in their omnichannel efforts.

Learn more about our research in Path to Purchase IQ.

Advantage Solutions

Elizabeth Fogerty
Strategy Lead
Advantage Unified Commerce, Advantage Solutions

Liz Fogerty is a 25-year advertising and marketing veteran who has spent the past 16 years focusing her attention and expertise on advising consumer packaged goods makers on how to win at retail.

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