Research: Covid may have changed our shopping habits permanently
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Research: Covid may have changed our shopping habits permanently

The shopping mall: many experiences in one place, with parking. © Carl Raw for Unsplash

The nation’s shopping habits appear to have been permanently altered by the pandemic, according to research by the Retail Design Lab of the University of Hasselt.

Although the restrictions on shopping have now mostly been lifted, and it is now possible to shop with friends and relax later on a terrace with coffee and cake, shopping habits appear to have fundamentally changed in the course of the last year or so.

Two effects of the pandemic have been influential: online shopping and what retail specialists call ‘run-shopping’ – visiting a shop only for what is needed, a minimum of browsing, in and out as fast as possible.

Both of those influences have affected the experience of shopping, and not in a good way, the researchers say. But the shopping experience is still crucial.

The retail experience was already a distinguishing factor and has only become more important due to the corona crisis,” said researcher Charlotte Beckers.

Consumer behaviour has fundamentally changed, but that does not mean that the shopping experience no longer has a chance of survival. The experience will be the ideal means of luring people back to the store.”

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For many people, however, shopping has lost whatever attraction it may have had. Why struggle to try on clothes in a tiny changing room when you can have them brought to your house for you to try on in comfort?

Some online retailers are now working towards ending the practice of free returns, but even a charge might not be enough to convince people to brave the High Street masses again.

Once everything gets going again, you will have to entice the customers who are no longer coming back to the store,” said Professor Katelijn Quartier, who led the research.

Only the strongest retailers will survive this crisis. And those are the retailers that are the best in offering an experience. So the real blow to retail is yet to come.”

But what exactly is this experience, and how does a retailer begin to offer all things to all men (or more usually, all women).

Everything starts with the story of the retailer, knowing what you stand for and what you want to radiate as a brand,” said Beckers.

That forms the basis for how the store looks. For example, those who want to radiate cosiness, go for round shapes and not for a sharp and angular interior. Once the design is in place, you can start working on how a consumer perceives the experience. Spreading scents, playing music, planting in the shop or providing more daylight. Finally, the flow and routing must also be correct. IKEA is a textbook example of how a store’s ground plan and route plan can contribute to the desired purchasing behaviour.”

The shopping experience will differ from one retailer to another, but the researchers offer some Do-Nots – tips on how not to ruin your customers’ experience of your shop.

Don’t leave boxes unopened lying around waiting to fill the shelves and getting in people’s way;

Make sure articles are all clearly priced so customers don’t have to hunt down the prices for themselves;

Place shopping baskets at the entrance but also in the middle of the store to facilitate impulse buying (HEMA does this very well).

If you get irritated too often, the wallet will simply stay closed,” the team said.