How retailers can adjust to changing shopper habits amid the coronavirus pandemic

Published April 7, 2020

It’s no surprise that consumer shopping habits are changing right now. And retailers should be paying close attention. Speaking to Chain Store Age, David Fisch, general manager of Shopkick, said, “Right now, it is critical for retailers to have a finger on the pulse of what is most essential to consumers, especially as the situation continues to evolve.” Here are a few buyer trends and how to adapt.


In grocery, consumers are stocking up, but it varies by geography.

Stocking up on essential items seems to give consumers a sense of security and preparedness. Cities with the heaviest social distancing precautions from business closures to curfews and shelter-in-place policies are seeing their buyers stocking up more than the average consumer.


Grocers should stock the essentials—and brand doesn’t matter.

This seems like a no-brainer, but what are consumers considering essential? It seems to include non-perishable food items, water, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medical items and pet supplies. And 85% of Americans say they don't care about the brand of the items right now; availability is what’s critical. So retailers can look beyond their usual brands to keep more essentials in stock.


Beauty retailers pivot to online-only sales.

More consumers are staying at home, so they’re less likely to be using cosmetics, like makeup. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity. Stores, like Sephora, are offering free shipping and extended returns to encourage consumers to purchase online. Speaking to CNBC, UBS analyst Michael Goldsmith said, “Beauty can be a category where you can get an immediate positive emotional response from a purchase.”

So retailers looking to encourage more sales online could emphasize that positive emotional response when messaging customers.


Customers look to convenience stores to find out-of-stock grocery items

While the essentials are difficult to purchase right now, convenience stores can take this opportunity to stock more of the items beyond their usual inventory—like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. With oil demand decreasing as more consumers stay at home, it’s a good time for c-store retailers to expand their in-store selection to offer items that are running low at grocery stores.


Mobile commerce increases as consumers seek contactless ways to shop and pay. surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. consumers to learn more about how they changed their daily lives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their survey:

“The share of consumers shopping via mobile increased 7.7%, overall, in early March, and even more among high-income consumers. This income bracket was shopping via mobile 10.5% more often than they did before the pandemic, while 8.2% of low-income consumers did the same.” 

It’s a good time to evaluate your technology options to see how you can best integrate mobile ordering and mobile payment capabilities. If you still offer in-store shopping, consider offering mobile scanning and checkout, where customers can scan items using their phone or a handheld device as they shop, and then pay using their phone when they’re done so they don’t have to stand in line.  

Retailers who can find ways to quickly innovate and deliver extra value to their customers will be better positioned to mitigate some of the challenges of this unusual time.


For additional solutions, guidance and assistance for your retail business, please contact NCR or visit

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