Since March 2020, market research specialist Market Measures has been running its own Covid-19 tracker survey to monitor the evolving mood of the nation throughout the pandemic. Charting the attitudes of the population toward essential and non-essential retail from March 2020 through to February 21, 2021, Market Measures has uncovered a growing theme of healthier eating on a budget alongside a well-documented shift towards online shopping, albeit the majority of grocery spend still goes through physical stores. Meanwhile, even with sales of clothing and footwear well down, it has been found that non-essential high street retailers are not finding themselves generally losing market share to online competitors, and therefore the lifting of restrictions will make 2021 a pivotal year for these businesses to resume trading and recover.
Analysing the survey’s findings, Market Measures CEO John Gurd told The Leaders Council that anxiety about grocery shopping has subsided as the pandemic has worn on, despite growing numbers of people purchasing groceries online.
Gurd said: “From an experiential and behavioural perspective, grocery shopping is back to being part of everyday life and fosters less of a feeling of danger and dread compared to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Yet, in the background, we are seeing a growing trend toward online shopping. In the week commencing March 23 when the first lockdown began, only 24 per cent of respondents informed us that they spent any money on shopping for groceries online, with average online spend at just £18, measured against an average in-store spend of £97. By the week commencing February 15, 2021, 40 per cent of respondents spent money on online grocery shopping, with average online spend up to £38 versus £108 of average spend in-store.”
Since the first lockdown began in March 2020, more individuals have been found to be more closely watching what they spend on groceries, with greater numbers of people actively looking for promotions.
Gurd continued: “From the first lockdown over March 23 to May 10, 2020, 53 per cent of people taking the survey informed us that they were being careful about their spending on groceries. Over subsequent lockdowns, this number increased. Over the November 1 to December 2 lockdown, we had 57 per cent reporting as such, which then rose to 59 per cent by February 21, 2021.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the survey has also found a shift toward cooking from scratch, buying local or British, and buying healthier food products, which suggest that the health crisis has helped encourage a more positive relationship with food and prompted people to rethink their life choices.
Indeed, 41 per cent more people in the 16 to 34 age range say that they are doing more cooking from scratch measured from March 23, 2020 to February 21, 2021, while 47 per cent more 35 to 54-year-olds and 42 per cent more over 55s are doing the same. On the other hand, only 12 per cent more 16- to 34-year-olds are buying more ready meals, and 19 per cent less 35- to 54-year-olds are doing so. Among the over 55s, the number of people buying ready meals has dropped by 14 per cent.
The shift toward healthier food choices finds itself falling in line with more individuals resolving to eat healthier over 2021. Market Measures recorded that 64 per cent of 16-to-34-year-olds made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier this year, alongside 49 per cent in the 35 to 54 age range and 30 per cent of over 55s.
Moving on to address the state of play in non-essential retail, Gurd informed us that enduring lockdowns and restrictions had left sales of items such as clothing and footwear very much in the doldrums.
Gurd explained: “People are not allowed to go out anywhere so there isn’t a need to buy anything but casuals and basics. As a result, the whole market is down, but what we are not seeing is an online operator coming in and absorbing all of the market share.”
However, the concern for industry operators is that with many high street retailers set to be closed for good, including the Arcadia Group chain and Debenhams, the allure of the high street may be so diminished that it takes a more concerted effort to entice shoppers from their homes when lockdown restrictions end. Yet, Gurd suggested that the data did show a glimmer of hope in that more people were indicating preferences to shop for clothing and footwear in-store, rather than online.
“Based on the thousands of interviews we have completed since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a shift toward online purchasing in non-essential retail, but the preference for shopping remains in-store and pent-up demand is growing to get back out onto the high street.
“The year-on-year increase in the percentage of people happy to buy clothing and footwear online is up from 52 per cent in March 2020 to 57 per cent in 2021, while 53 per cent of respondents prefer shopping for these items in-store versus 18 per cent online. Elsewhere, the number of individuals who miss going to stores to shop for these items has increased from 43 per cent back in March 2020 to 58 per cent in February 2021, suggesting that there will be people keen to get out and spend when restrictions are eased.”
Of course, time will tell on the extent to which trading in physical stores resumes in earnest, but the statistics suggest that there is some cause for optimism among non-essential high street retailers.