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5 Covid-19 grocery retail trends that will stick post-pandemic

Imogen Wethered is the CEO and Co-founder of Qudini, which provides Retail Choreography solutions including appointment scheduling software and virtual queuing software to enterprise retailers. 

The coronavirus pandemic had an overwhelming impact on the in-store customer journey across all retail stores, but none more so than in grocery stores. Almost overnight we saw the introduction of sneeze guards, floor markings, face masks and virtual queuing software in a bid to keep customers and store associates safe.And while some of these initiatives will undoubtedly disappear over time, others have proved useful beyond the realms of social distancing.

Here are 5 trends that grocery retailers will continue to utilise in a post-pandemic world:

1. Increased customer reliance on online deliveries

When the first lockdown took place in April, 2020, the demand for online delivery slots skyrocketed – which is perhaps unsurprising, given that people were strongly discouraged from leaving their homes.

But what is perhaps surprising is the adoption and continued use of online shopping across all age groups, hinting at a major behavioural change. Waitrose’s Food & Drink Report found 25% of the UK shopped for food online for the first time in 2020, and Kantar data shows online shopping has hit a record high in January, 2021, at 14%. In addition, more than three million additional grocery apps were downloaded in 2020 alone.

A key driver of this trend is the buy-in from older demographics, who have adopted and excelled the growth of online shopping across the supermarket sector. 

Retail experts believe that this demand will remain, with Julian Skelly, retail lead at Publicis Sapient, telling The Grocer:

“More than six million households in the UK tried online shopping in 2020, largely due to the physical restrictions in place. This figure will sustain in 2021 and continue to grow as people get used to the convenience and safety aspect, and as the delivery services improve, becoming both more available and reliable.”

Waitrose director of online Laura Burbedge shared a similar opinion. “The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for online growth, speeding up behavioural shifts we’ve been seeing for some time – and we believe for many, shopping online will become the new norm.”

2. Omnichannel engagement will continue for grocery retailers

With digital engagement and adoption up, the number of consumers willing to engage with grocery brands across digital and physical channels is significantly higher.

The demand for curbside click and collect services is one of many pandemic-related phenomenons that have changed the face of the retail world, with many major supermarkets offering the service – this will stay on as many customers recognise its convenience.

Another omnichannel initiative that will stick is the increased focus on hyper-personalisation. Retailers were forced to recognise the need for personalised communication strategies during the pandemic for things like store and delivery updates, social distancing requirements and customers with priority services, and many brands will take these targeted relationships to the next level.

Many grocery retailers have also been quick to adopt appointment booking software for store entry or for in-store services, such as Tesco’s use of the Qudini Appointment Scheduling System to manage its flu jab customer journey at pharmacies, which is yet another example of how the line between online and in-store is becoming increasingly blurred.

3. Health and home cooking habits will stick

Ready-made meals took a serious hit during the pandemic, with consumers having more time to spend preparing meals from scratch. According to Nielsen, the pandemic wiped £75m off the chilled ready meals market last year.

This can be seen by the number of recipe searches on Google Trends – in 2020, there was a 68% increase in recipe searches compared to only 4% in 2019 (bread, dinner and cocktail recipes had the highest growth).

Research from cashback app, Shopmium UK, found 62% of UK households are now cooking more meals from scratch than in 2019. And there’s a considerably stronger emphasis on healthy eating.

When restaurants and pubs reopen, they will see a huge surge in sales, but many consumers have come to see the health and cost-savings benefits of home-cooking and continue in their efforts.

4. The demand for retail workforce management  software will accelerate

Managing an ever-changing roster of store workers is a challenge during the best of times, but during a global pandemic, it’s almost impossible.

With frontline workers considerably more exposed to Covid-19 than the general public, and with workers forced to isolate for 14 days when showing signs of infection or coming into contact with the infected, managing the workforce has been a real challenge.

As many grocery stores were quick to realise, access to intuitive and dynamic retail scheduling software that allows retailers to manage hours, breaks and tasks on a large scale has become essential, and as a result, demand for this software will continue beyond Covid-19.

5. Lockdown or no lockdown, sustainability is here to stay

In a world where face masks, plastic gloves and hand sanitizer are commonplace, one could be forgiven for expecting that sustainability initiatives would take a back seat.

In fact, the opposite has happened. Consumers have used the lockdown period to do some introspective thinking, and topics like mental and physical well being, work-life balance and sustainability have taken centrestage.

As a result, there is an unstoppable demand for environmentally friendly processes, products and initiatives. Take Tesco’s recent commitment to grow the sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025; many stores are also creating aisles or corners of aisles that are dedicated solely to sustainable products or produce.

There will also be an increased focus on buying locally sourced or British.

Sandra Bell, marketing manager at Wensleydale Dairy Products, told The Grocer: “As new rules come into force for how the UK and EU will live, work and trade together, consumers will look closer to home when buying their food and will instinctively choose more British produce than in the past.”

For more information on how grocery retailers can create a customer experience that encourages engagement and builds relationships, get in touch on info@qudini.com.