Consumers intend to permanently change their shopping behaviour, including purchasing more online, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shift is likely to generate an additional £4.5bn in UK online sales this year, according to a study by Alvarez & Marsal and Retail Economics.

The research also found that 69% of consumers have been unimpressed by the government’s response to the emergency, ”driving risk-aversion towards physical retail”.

The step-up in online shopping will be boosted by consumers who perceive the risk of coronavirus to be very high. Such shoppers are four times more likely to change their habits in the long term.

That group includes “those in society who have in the past been slow to adopt online banking and shopping”, but have been forced to change because of the pandemic and now have no intention of reverting to old practices. 

More than half of consumers believe the risk of the virus still to be high or very high, posing a challenge for retailers seeking to draw shoppers back to stores.

The study found that consumers’ priority is safety, which came above convenience, price and choice. ”Retailers failing to meet this expectation risk loss of confidence at a time when gaining trust has never been more important,” the authors reported.

The online shift means retailers will need to address issues such as excess space. They may repurpose stores to handle online fulfilment, for instance. 

Alvarez & Marsal head of retail Erin Brookes said: “Retailers are facing a make or break moment. The race is on to transform operating models, product proposition and channel mix to ensure these meet the demands of a new type of shopper.”