Retail Week looks at the key trends that have dominated during the pandemic to see which consumer behaviours are here to stay.

Social distance sale shopping

Consumer habits changed drastically during the pandemic, but which ones will strick once restrictions end?

  • Online shopping has retained its broad appeal, with consumers increasingly taking advantage of rapid grocery delivery 
  • Homewares remain popular, with January seeing a 7.5% rise in sales at household, furniture and electrical stores
  • Wellness trends look set to stay, with consumers seeking “a more joyful take on health and happiness”

Consumer habits changed drastically over the pandemic. Nights out on the town were transformed into prime time for takeaways and shopping trips were limited to the aisles of the local supermarket, while exercise moved to the privacy of the living room or garden.

Those lockdown days may now permanently fade into memory as prime minister Boris Johnson has set a date for scrapping all remaining restrictions – including the self-isolation requirement – as the war on Covid begins to wind down. 

The pandemic’s impact, however, can still be felt in the acceleration of trends that were just lingering in the shadows in early 2020. Retail Week examines which pandemic winners will continue to succeed and why.

Convenience is king

Deliveroo rider

Consumers have got used to rapid delivery services  

The service consumers came to expect at their doorstep in the form of everyday deliveries is a luxury many are not willing to part with.

“A broader demographic using ecommerce for things like grocery – trends like that are here to stay,” explains Mintel senior trends consultant Richard Cope, pointing to the older generations who embraced online delivery for the first time.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of those aged 75 years and over who were recent internet users in 2020 nearly doubled from 2013, rising from 29% to 54%, and further increasing by 7% from 2019.

This newfound interest presents an opportunity for brands, with Boots offering an over-60s rewards programme allowing shoppers to receive 200 loyalty points by downloading the app.

Knitwear brand WoolOvers focuses on fashion for the over-50s, with only one physical store, using models from the target age group on its website.

Rapid grocery delivery has also gained in popularity. “These things took off even when the highlight of our days was a weekly walk and making sure you went to Tesco,” Stylus retail editor Rebecca Hobbs says, pointing to the fact that consumers will seek convenience even during times of little distraction.

Now, as consumers juggle hybrid working and get back to socialising, it is unsurprising that shoppers rely on apps they used over lockdown to source ingredients after a long day.

“We don’t live in a way where we know exactly what the week is going to look like,” Cope says. 

The post-pandemic era looks set to transform convenient shopping even further as shoppers face the cost of convenience.

Driver treatment impacted Deliveroo’s IPO performance last March, while Amsterdam residents have hit back at the rising number of dark stores. 

“Rapid delivery took off even when the highlight of our days was a weekly walk and making sure you went to Tesco”

Rebecca Hobbs, Stylus

Issues include noise complaints and an increase in bicycle traffic. As the number of rapid delivery operators continues to grow, more shoppers may succeed in avoiding the supermarket but forget that local spaces will be required as dark stores

In Amsterdam, however, that is no longer a possibility. The Dutch capital has banned dark stores opening for one year, with Rotterdam following suit.

Cope thinks similar opposition is possible here in the UK in the future – as demonstrated by the successful Nocado campaign launched in 2019 – but believes the backlash will be slower.

“The Netherlands are ahead of the game on these things. [They] have a stronger social agenda. The same goes for environmental issues as they have a high-density population,” he says. 

The resurgence of the big weekly shop during various lockdowns is another trend that one grocery insider is confident will continue to prove popular post-pandemic. 

The incoming crunch on living costs, combined with a surge in tie-ups between third-party retailers and major supermarkets to diversify their offer in big-box stores, has meant many shoppers will continue to choose the convenience of fulfilling multiple shopping journeys in a single supermarket visit.

Home is where the investment is

During the pandemic, a consumer’s house became their office, gym and school as well as their home. However, post-pandemic, some home investments will be sidelined while others will continue to experience a surge in demand.

Homeware sales have soared and show no sign of slowing. The ONS reported that retail sales rose in January driven by home improvement shopping, including a 7.5% rise in sales at household, furniture and electrical stores.

Poundland store featuring homeware

Poundland’s Nottingham store is the first to sell toasters and kettles

“Homeownership and furnishing your home have become even more aspirational,” Hobbs explains.

“Millennials are a huge demographic and are all getting to this point at the same time. They’ve all been saving and scrimping to do so, far more so than previous generations have had to.”

Retailers are responding to these trends as consumers shop to meet the ever-changing requirements placed upon their homes.

Primark has highlighted homewares as a key area of product expansion in the coming year, while Poundland’s recently opened Nottingham store is the first in the chain to sell appliances such as toasters and kettles.

“The reaction to home has been extremely positive and has been for some time now during the pandemic. If anything, we haven’t seen a slowdown, so we are quite encouraged by what we are seeing,” Poundland managing director Barry Williams says.

“Certainly, in Nottingham, it’s gone off like a train.”

The home may no longer serve for all purposes, however. Exercise brand Peloton, which gained popularity during the pandemic, recently lowered its revenue, subscription and profitability forecasts for the year.

Does this spell the end of working out in the comfort of your own home?

Peleton rider in a gym

Peloton recently lowered its profitability forecasts

Cope doesn’t think so. Like many things in life, he believes it will now take a more hybrid approach. “If people have invested in things, it will stay to a degree.”

However, with hybrid working likely to become permanent for many, people will welcome reasons to leave the house, whether that’s to gyms or the local green spaces they came to appreciate during the lockdowns.

“It’s the same question as: do you want to get takeout or do you want to eat out? It’s definitely something that is going to be more balanced and we are going to return to people wanting to do that outdoors or in the gym,” Cope concludes.

Health is wealth

A major focus for consumers during the pandemic was wellbeing. Last year, McKinsey & Company valued the wellness industry at $1.5trn (£1.10trn).

Very self-care and wellbeing products

Very has expanded its self-care range by 94% since the start of the pandemic

“Customers managed to carve out small moments during their busy family lives and routines to focus on that physical and mental wellbeing as we have gone through [the pandemic],” Very Group trading director Victoria Aldrich explains.

She points to skincare, which “rocketed” as “people were upping their beauty regimes at home” while salons and spas were shut.

Very has now expanded its beauty and self-care range by 94% since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing the total to 159 brands. 

“The pandemic has made everyone take stock a bit more and know how important it is to just look after themselves,” says Aldrich.

“Once it may have been what consumers were putting on their skin. The real focus now is what they are putting into their bodies as well”

Victoria Aldrich, Very

Popular categories include natural beauty, wearable technology, sleep tools and supplements.

“Once it may have been what they were putting on their skin. The real focus now is what they are putting into their bodies as well,” says Aldrich.

Hobbs says wellness has evolved in recent months into a quest consumers enjoy.

“Previously, [wellness] was almost used as a disguise for diet and exercise,” she says. “Now we are really looking at it as a healing force.

“It’s a little bit like an updated post-pandemic version of good, clean fun. We are seeing it across a lot of industries from travel to product design.”

A customer tries the Sensory Reality Pod by Sensiks in Selfridges London

Selfridges customers can try a multi-sensory experience in store

Wellness can also transcend products. Selfridges unveiled a number of experiences in-store and online in February, including confidence coaching, breathwork workshops and sex therapy.

Customers can also try a “drug-free multi-sensory psychedelic trip”, an experience in which shoppers enter a sensory pod that uses VR to stimulate the senses.

Selfridges acting creative director Emma Kidd says: “We’re reconsidering retail therapy, connecting our customers with self-development therapy and coaching sessions.”

“It’s a more joyful take on health and happiness,” Hobbs adds.

Entertainment and engagement

Unable to entice customers in store with window displays during shop closures, retailers have found new ways to connect from afar.

Livestreaming gained popularity in China long before the pandemic, but it is now being used by retailers closer to home as well.

“A lot of the H&M brands have experimented with it; so has Ted Baker,” Hobbs explains.

“While the pandemic accelerated it massively, it was going to happen anyway. In terms of how much we are all on our phones, in terms of Instagram Live and TikTok – [these factors] pushed it forward more than the pandemic.”

Dedicated companies such as Hero now focus on adding a video-shopping element to online stores, with customers including Nike and Sephora.

MandS shopping

M&S launched its own live shopping service in January

Marks & Spencer launched its own live shopping service in January. A spokesperson says: “Thousands of customers have tuned in to our shows, with over 70% rating the experience as either good or excellent.

“We’ve received some great customer feedback, too – particularly around our M&S expert presenters.”

The live shopping series has focused on activewear and denim so far.

The next show will feature haircare, illustrating the opportunities livestreaming presents to connect with different audiences. 

TikTok also transformed social media strategies for retailers during the pandemic, offering a more informal and lighthearted insight for customers. 

M&S boasts more than 600 individual Facebook and TikTok accounts for its stores.

The spokesperson adds: “Gaining a collective 3+ million views a week, our content updates local customers about new products, services and community activities, and enables them to get to know the colleagues in their local stores, which helps to spark physical conversations when they see them in-store.”

From homewares to home spas, pandemic trends have been wholly embraced by consumers as they adjusted to a new and unfamiliar chapter. However, the newfound appreciation for the home that was unlocked as a result looks set to stay.

Although we are now permitted to shop in stores, return to the office and visit the salon, the ease of doing more from the comfort of our own homes will be something consumers stick with – even as the battle against the virus nears its end.