Jeff Orschell, Americas retail leader with EY, discusses the results of the consultancy’s ongoing series of surveys of retail consumer behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.
EY began the surveys that make up its Future Consumer Index in April of 2020. Since that time, they have revealed a steady trend of migration from traditional store shopping to online purchasing, as consumers grapple with the challenge of lockdowns and sheltering in place. But the changing behavior seen this year might be more than a temporary phenomenon, Orschell says. According to the survey, 46% of consumers are now shopping online for what they used to buy in stores, and that trend is likely to continue once the pandemic subsides.
Humans are social animals, and at least some of those online converts will revert to traditional buying patterns in a post-pandemic world. But the shift won’t be automatic. Thirty-seven percent of respondents to the EY survey said they will return to stores that provide “a great experience.” That sentiment has given rise to “experience-based” retailers, aiming both at physical stores as well as online commerce. On the other hand, notes Orschell, what constitutes “a great experience” for consumers can change from day to day, so it’s not entirely clear what kind of a physical store environment will entice them back.
As the pandemic wears on, retailers are learning about how to efficiently serve the customer, and derive more profit from online sales. Some are transforming properties into “dark stores,” which serve as fulfillment centers close to buyers. Others are rethinking how they want to position inventory, so as to eliminate redundant moves. The key is maintaining service: only 21% of respondents said they would cut retailers any slack on timely deliveries due to the pandemic.
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