11th June 2020

The rise of the anxious consumer

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt by businesses and consumers over the past weeks, there is no denying the level of disruption it has brought across the nation. As it has evolved, so has the analysis of the impact and there have been several industry reports analysing trends and behaviour of consumers and businesses. So, we wanted to share some recent insights that we observed.

According to the BRC-KPMPG Retail Sales Monitor May 2020, Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail, KPMG highlighted how dependent we have become on ecommerce: “We’re witnessing historically high levels of sales transacted online – currently over 60% – and while this will ease as more stores open, consumers have formed new habits that will see the online channel continue to be more prominent going forward.”

Sadly, not all brands have survived through this time. Several well-known high street names closed their doors forever, resulting in many people losing their jobs. This includes Monsoon Accessories, Debenhams, Cath Kidston. However, through this pandemic, others have weathered the storm and survived, with ecommerce being the saving the grace for many. You only have to look at Ocado, who is aiming to raise £1 billion investment to help it grow its business and capitalise on the consumer shift to online.

Although the UK is starting to slowly come out of lockdown, and more retailers will be opening stores again on retail parks and high streets, the consumer research shows that this will not necessarily equate to consumer spending.

To unpack this critical point and the wider consumer behaviour impact that COVID-19 has had on UK society, the global consultancy firm EY this week released interesting insights in a report titled, Future Consumer Index: Rise of the UK ‘Anxious Consumer’.

The report reveals that there is discomfort about undertaking ‘normal’ activity, despite lockdown restrictions easing. The Index goes on to point out that 80% of UK consumers feel uncomfortable about using an in-store changing room, while similarly high levels of anxiety are also felt about attending entertainment venues, going out for food and drink, travelling on public transport (all 78%) and going to a mall (63%). Further, more than two-thirds (67%) believe it will take months or longer before they feel comfortable going to a restaurant, cinemas and bars/pubs.

This consumer confidence – or lack of it – is going to pose fresh challenges for retailers over the months ahead; and EY points to ensuring that brands adapt their in-store experience to simplify it and focus on the transactional, as well as the importance of digital to enable a minimal contact experience – from payments to in-store apps and the increase of digital payment options. All of this is going to change the shape of the shopping experience we all know.

We’ll be watching this space evolve, how adaptable brands are, and the technologies that they employ, as the future success and stability of the retail sector relies on it.