What do we do when we can no longer browse?
To many, shopping is more than a necessity. It is a hobby, a social experience, a day out. And it’s an experience that taps straight into our emotions.
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll love to browse. The act of physical shopping, wandering around a store, touching and experiencing goods, it is all part of the fun. Retailers know this and design their layouts to maximise our browsing, because the more we do it, the more we are likely to make unplanned purchases.
It’s an important factor in driving up store revenue. A report last year by First Insight looked at the shopping habits of 1000 shoppers and found that they spent, on average, 17% more when shopping in-store versus online shopping, with a clear increase in impulse buys.
But the pandemic has changed our shopping experience
Being able to freely wander around a shop and browse at will seems like a distant dream, eight months into a pandemic. Consumers have changed not only the way they shop but the things they buy and even the way they pay for them.
The organic move towards e-commerce, that was starting to happen anyway, has surged during COVID restrictions. Research from McKinsey shows that online shopping purchases increased by 53%, as shops shut their doors and people were confined to home. Home delivery grew massively, as did click and collect.
For example, a YouGov poll shows that half of UK shoppers are now less likely to buy clothes in-store since COVID. This is perhaps driven in part by the removal of one huge benefit of physical clothes shopping, the ability to try garments on.
We are buying different things
Staying with clothes, we are now more likely to buy casual and loungewear rather than formal wear. With working from home, no weddings or parties and a crackdown generally on socialising, it seems that we are enjoying our pyjamas more than usual.
Sports equipment and bicycle sales have soared as people have used lockdown or working from home as an opportunity to exercise more, but have found their gyms shut. With foreign holidays far more difficult to take, it seems that people enjoyed staycations in a tent for their holiday fix, with camping equipment another big growth area.
And paying differently for goods
Cash use has dropped dramatically, and touch-free payments have become the preferred way to pay, helped by an increased in the limit for contactless transactions. ATM withdrawals fell by a whopping 60% in March according to Link, the UK’s largest ATM provider. They report that during the first lockdown, 9000 machines disconnected from their network at some point. This was driven by machines being closed to support social distancing, and public places being shut. By September, use was still 40% lower than a year ago.
There’s some good news for communities
A survey commissioned by global commerce services company PFS found that 77% of consumers expect to continue online shopping more once the pandemic is over, suggesting a possible irreversible change in shopping behaviour. But it’s not all bad news for shops, especially local ones.
YouGov polling shows that 37% of UK shoppers have bought locally for food and drink, due to the lockdown restrictions and a desire for convenience and wanting to support their community.
And it’s not just butchers and bakers who have benefited. Of those who say they shopped when lockdown restrictions were partially lifted, 62% claim to have shopped on their local high street for non-essential goods, compared to only 25% visiting retail parks or and 19% shopping centres. The vast majority of respondents expects to continue this behaviour and maintain the connections after the crisis has subsided.
Stores are getting creative
Finally, we love this example of a local independent bookshop that wanted to keep customers engaged.
The Book Hive in Norwich uses the shop’s full-length windows to display as many books as possible, showing the front and back covers, enabling customers to browse and read up on the books from outside the store.
They’ve also been selling ‘isolation packs’. They have asked customers to send them the name of a book they love and a book they hate, and then the staff use that information to choose a surprise title and post it to the customer.
Whilst not quite the same as browsing, it does introduce a sense of fun and discovery into the shopping experience. And it’s a perfect example of how we are all having to adapt during these unprecedented times.