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Pandemic may cause lasting change

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American shopping habits have changed in many ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who had not previously tried shopping for groceries online have embraced the practice, for example. And consumers worried about contracting the virus by touching things have helped drive the increased use of contactless payment methods.

The big question for retailers is whether these changes will stick when a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available. Will consumers who are no longer worried about getting infected by the virus feel free to go back to shopping the way they used to before the pandemic hit? Or will they decide that some of the new ways of shopping and paying for their purchases are worth keeping?

A recent global survey from Accenture suggests the pandemic’s effects will linger, prompting a “decade of the home” that will require retailers and consumer packaged goods companies to change how they interact with consumers going forward.

“Home is now the new frontier — it’s become the workplace, the schoolroom, the place to try new hobbies, the place to socialize and a safe sanctuary — so companies must account for this reality,” said Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global Consumer Goods practice. “They’ll need to think beyond traditional tactics and be more creative, providing premium or virtual experiences and tailoring their portfolios to engage consumers. We’re already seeing this in the beverage and spirits industry, with Carlsberg launching its ‘adopt a keg’ campaign, and one London brewery offering a ‘pub in a box’ to local customers, hand-delivered by musicians who’ve had their tours cancelled.”

Accenture polled more than 8,800 people in 20 countries, and found that:

• 69% of respondents expect to do most of their socializing over the next six months either in their home, in a friend’s home or virtually.

• 53% of people who never worked from home before say they now plan to do so more often in the future.

• 56% of consumers said that the pandemic has caused them to shop in closer neighborhood stores, with 79% of those respondents planning to continue to do so long term.

• 56% said they’re buying more locally sourced products, and 84% of those plan to keep doing so in the future.

• 50% of respondents cited financial security as one of their top three concerns over the next six months.

• 54% said they are shopping more cost-consciously and are likely to continue doing so — with consumers overall far more likely to have increased purchases of mid-range and budget brands and reduced purchases of premium brands since the pandemic began.

• Even so, 12% of consumers said they have increased their premium purchases, with 57% of those falling outside the high-income bracket.

Accenture says the survey results support its previous research suggesting that many changes in consumer behavior sparked by COVID-19, including the dramatic rise of e-commerce since the start of the pandemic, are likely to continue or accelerate further.

Online purchases by infrequent e-commerce users — those who previously used online channels for less than 25% of their purchases — has increased 170% since the outbreak, for example. And the survey found that consumers who have increased their use of digitally enabled services like contactless payment, in-app ordering and curbside pickup expect to keep doing so.


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