COVID-19 will lead to lasting changes in consumer behaviour: Accenture

One in five online grocery shoppers during the pandemic were first-time users, and their habits will continue even after the crisis is over

Shutterstock/eldar nurkovicShutterstock/eldar nurkovic

Several underlying consumer trends have risen to prominence during the COVID-19 crisis, leading to a wave of new behaviours—from online shopping to buying local—that are likely to persist long after the pandemic is over, according to a new study from Accenture.

The survey of more than 3,000 consumers in 15 countries (including Canada) found that people are purchasing more personal hygiene and cleaning products, plus canned and fresh foods. But it’s not just what consumers are purchasing that has changed, but how they’re purchasing.

According to Accenture, the crisis has led to a significant increase in e-commerce (particularly in North America) as well as interest in purchasing local. The study also reports an expected rise in so-called “conscious consumption,” characterized by an emphasis on limiting food waste, shopping more consciously and seeking out more sustainable options.

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Perhaps the most visible manifestation of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is in e-commerce—which has risen exponentially as consumers around the world have retreated to the safety of their home. Online grocery has become highly sought-after, though its sudden rise in popularity has exposed infrastructure flaws that retailers will need to address.

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Most notably, says Accenture, the lack of system capacity left many consumers struggling to find a timely delivery slot. That led to many high-frequency users looking elsewhere (most notably to local brands) to fulfill their orders.

In the U.S., food delivery service Instacart saw its subscription grow 10 to 12 times in states with the most reported COVID-19 cases. Accenture found that one in five consumers who ordered groceries online during the crisis did so for the first time, a number that rose to one in three among consumers 56 and over.

According to the U.K. online supermarket chain Ocado (which is partnering with Sobeys on a Canadian e-commerce offering), nearly every one of the close to 800,000 active customers it had at the end of 2019 wanted to place an order once a week during March. Basket size also rose in tandem with demand, growing by more than 50%.

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Accenture says demand for e-commerce capabilities (both grocery and otherwise) will persist beyond the pandemic, with online expected to account for 37% of all consumer purchases of goods and services, up from 32% currently. The data suggests a “clear need for a substantial increased investment in this channel,” says Accenture.

As the crisis continued, survey respondents also indicated they planned to do fewer and larger grocer shops, as well as shop in closer neighbourhood stores and shop more cost consciously.