As we’ve started to ease our way out of the pandemic, or more appropriately, into a better navigated post-pandemic way of living, consumers’ behaviours and priorities have permanently been altered. From safety, convenience, and spending, to sustainability and social issues, shoppers will be gravitating towards a hybrid of physical and virtual worlds. One cannot beat the social aspect and power of in-store shopping, nor the comfort and convenience of online shopping.

So how has this affected the retail world and what can we expect moving forward?

How the market reacts moving forward depends on a number of factors, the most prominent ones being the evolution of the virus and labour market developments. Businesses have been placed with the challenge of finding ways to minimise mortality from the virus, while also enabling the economy to function without the healthcare system being too overwhelmed. According to recent research conducted by the BRC, since the economy reopened, 70% of individuals feel comfortable with shopping, and while this may not seem like a high percentage, this is in comparison to only 48% of people feeling comfortable going to the gym.

Change in buying habits

Notwithstanding this, it is undeniable that buying habits have changed massively since the start of the pandemic. While being initially locked up at home, a lot of people realised how plausible it was to save money and not spend it on unnecessary things. People realised it wasn’t their salary that was the issue – it was themselves and their spending habits (yes, I am people, and people is me). Aside from individuals emerging from the pandemic being less likely to spend their savings, consumers are also much more price conscious. More people are looking for savings in purchases and are monitoring more meticulously what they are spending on even more so than they were pre-pandemic.

Post-pandemic, over 50% of people said they would shop for health and beauty products, homeware, DIY, fashion and footwear more in stores than online. Key requirements to get customers back into physical stores revolves around customers being able to see and feel the products; quickly move around the store; being able to try items on in a fitting room; and having responsive sale associates. Online shopping is not any more breezy or efficient from shopping in person – you cannot touch a garment to determine its quality prior to purchasing it; the sizing of a specific retailer may not be true to size; if you do not like something, the hassle of returning items is enough to put anyone off online shopping. There are some elements that online shopping simply cannot exceed physical shopping in.

Online shopping is here to stay

Following the reopening boom, people have been slowly returning to online shopping. Afterall, online growth did see a whopping evolution of over 50% in 2020. In terms of actual locations, in July, retail parks were down 6.9% from June, and high streets were down 34.6%. August saw a slight improvement from July with the return of a lot of workers to the office, back-to-school excitement, as well as domestic tourism. Wedding season has also rebounded with many postponed weddings finally getting the green light to go ahead, and this allowed formalwear to also see a rise in sales.

Consumers are now more comfortable switching between distribution channels and are now becoming accustomed to it. Whether it is due to the weather or a national compulsory lockdown, there is no delay in spending, but rather just doing it online than visiting a store. This is also paving the way for strictly online shoppers, which is something businesses now need to consider. People are playing with the digital-physical shopping balance to see what suits them, and the industry will need to follow suit to meet these demands.

Ultimately, consumers can now get the best of both worlds to accommodate their own preferences and desires. Luxury retailers like Gucci are enabling video showrooms allowing customers to call in and be personally shown items over a camera, interacting exactly as they would in person, save for the obvious physical element. The retail industry is thankfully recovering post-pandemic, but its future performance remains uncertain. All we do know is that retailers are doing everything they can to fulfil everyone’s needs – both virtual, and physical.