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People Doesn’t Seem Interested in Breaking Up with Pandemic Shopping Habits

There will be great debate about what stays and goes in the post-pandemic world, but consumers generally expect some aspects from their pandemic life to stick around for the long haul. A new Accenture consumer research survey says 95 percent of respondents have made at least one change to their lifestyle that they expect will be permanent.

And while there is plenty of variance among what that change is—79 percent said they’d even like to work from a “third space” that wasn’t either their own home or their workplace going forward—online-friendly shopping experiences have grown to a point where it’s hard to see a reversal to pre-March 2020 levels.

Accenture’s research, which studied 9,653 consumers in 19 countries in February and March, notes that previously “infrequent” e-commerce users—defined as those who used online channels for less than 25 percent of purchases prior to the Covid-19 outbreak—have increased their digital purchasing by 343 percent since the pandemic’s start. People are buying everything from fashion and home décor to luxury goods and food online, according to the global consultancy.

Early in the pandemic, apparel and footwear suffered as many consumers had to acclimate to buying these kinds of products online. However, e-commerce purchases from these “low frequency” users increased the most at 375 percent in these categories (including accessories).

Coming in behind apparel, footwear and accessories was consumer electronics, which saw 360 percent more purchases from infrequent e-commerce shoppers. Personal care and makeup products saw a 350 percent jump.

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Online purchases of luxury goods and home décor items increased 319 percent and 315 percent, respectively.

“Leading retailers were quick to adapt to the surge in e-commerce and are using technology to serve customers in new ways. Many adopted disruptive technologies such as augmented reality to recreate the physical store experience and help shoppers better visualize a room of furniture or an outfit, while others repurposed closed stores into local fulfillment centers with picking and packing technology,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global retail industry group. “Even in a post-pandemic world, companies will need to satisfy consumers’ appetite for online shopping with fast delivery and get more intentional about the investments they will make in their people, supply chains, physical stores and digital channels to be well-positioned to drive growth.”

Overall, e-commerce adoption among low frequency shoppers leapt as the year went on, doubling since the early months of the pandemic. When Accenture first studied consumers in June as part of its Covid-19 Consumer Research, it found that online purchases from infrequent users increased 170 percent—a long way away from the 343 percent increase found last month.

The March results also reveal that retail, alongside hospitality, has an opportunity to grow revenue as well, particularly if consumers are serious about occasionally working from a “third space.” More than half of survey takers said they would be willing to pay up to $100 per month out of their own pockets to work from a café, bar, hotel or retailer with a dedicated space.

This goes hand in hand with one of Standish’s biggest pieces of advice for retailers last year as Accenture released the June research, in which she said they needed to boost their analytics capabilities to understand the pandemic’s impact on local businesses. Additionally, she said, “retailers should carefully assess their physical assets—i.e., which stores to keep open and what inventory to stock, taking into account, for example, whether and when schools reopen. They might also experiment with temporary spaces, such as pop-ups in local communities.”

The desire to work from a “third space” is accompanied by a shift in attitudes towards business travel. Forty-six percent of respondents said they have no business travel plans post-pandemic, or they intend to cut previous business travel by half.

“The pandemic has forced ‘creative pragmatism’, especially for travel and hospitality firms grappling to find additional revenue streams during the crisis,” said Emily Weiss, managing director and head of Accenture’s global travel industry group. “Some hotels turned rooms into pop-up restaurants while others experimented with offering temporary office space to customers seeking a ‘third space’ to work. While there has been experimentation with innovation in select pockets, companies need to scale these new services and address travelers’ renewed focus on health and safety, for example, by using the cloud to help enable fully contactless interactions.”

Accenture’s Covid-19 Consumer Research has tracked the changing attitudes, behaviors and habits of consumers worldwide throughout the pandemic. The survey was conducted Feb. 25 to March 5, 2021, and is the latest in a series of studies conducted within June, November and December.

While the latest survey didn’t get into the specifics of digitally enabled retail services that gained momentum during the pandemic, data suggests consumers expect technology to remain a focus in retail going forward.

For example, Accenture’s June 2020 survey revealed that 54 percent said they had used in-app ordering, and 84 percent said they would use it after the pandemic subsides. And while 44 percent said they took advantage of BOPIS/curbside pickup, 78 percent of those who used the service said they would continue to do so. Given the continued adoption of these services and others such as contactless payment and social shopping throughout the record e-commerce holiday season, consumers have become even more accustomed to the new realities of shopping.

“The ripple effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time and serve as a powerful illustration of the need for consumer-facing companies to be agile, resilient, and responsive to change,” said Oliver Wright, senior managing director and head of Accenture’s global consumer goods industry group. “Born out of disaster and necessity comes opportunity; the pandemic has sparked a new wave of innovation.”