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COVID-19 will have lasting effects on consumer behaviour: Accenture

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.

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.

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, 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%.

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.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer.


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Post COVID grocery store sales high but below mid-March peak: StatCan

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Consumers continued to buy more hand sanitizer, toilet paper, canned goods and baking supplies in April than before the COVID-19 pandemic even as the mid-March shopping frenzy started to die down, according to Statistic Canada’s latest data.

Retail grocery store sales jumped 40% for the week ending March 21 compared to the same week last year, the agency said in a special report on how shopping patterns have changed since Canada stepped up its COVID-19 public health campaigns.

The week prior, sales soared 46%. That week included the introduction of a government advisory against non-essential travel.

The StatCan report, the second since the onset of the pandemic, covers a period from the week ending March 21 to the week ending April 11.

The March surge came as Canadians re-stocked depleted pantries and prepared to shop less frequently, among other reasons.

In turn, 83% of consumers in Canada are limiting the number of times they shop, according to a new survey by Accenture, a global professional services company. Accenture commissioned the survey of 3,074 consumers in 15 markets, including Canada, and it was conducted between April 2 and 6.

Across the 15 markets, 39% of respondents agreed they’re likely to continue doing fewer shops after the pandemic subsides and 26% saying they’re likely to continue doing larger shops.

The sales increase slowed the last week of March and first week of April, according to Statistics Canada, with 12% jumps compared to the same weeks in 2019, while the week ending April 11 saw a 19% rise.

The slowdown mimics trends seen by Canada’s largest grocers.

Empire Co. Ltd., the parent company of Safeway and Sobeys, said it saw “sales intensity began to subside” by March 22, in an update released mid-April. It continued to see heightened demand for canned goods, baking supplies, and cleaning and sanitization products, it said, while fuel sales dropped as Canadians drove less.

“Metro Inc. also saw sales level off after an initial surge, the company said during its most recent quarterly financial release late last month. Between March 15 and April 11, the company saw same-store food sales, a key retail metric, rise 25% compared to the same time last year.

The sales have levelled off since the first week of the company’s third quarter, which began March 15.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., meanwhile, saw grocery store sales grow about 44% during the two weeks ended March 21, the company said during its quarterly release April 29. During the first five weeks of the retailer’s second quarter, which started March 22, food sales grew about 10%.

Sales of health and personal care items slowed after the March surge, Statistics Canada said.

In the first week of March, for example, hand sanitizer sales increased by 792% compared to the same week of 2019. By the week of April 11, hand sanitizer sales were up 345%.

Soap, and mask and glove sales remained high in the week ending April 11 with 68% and 114% jumps respectively.

Bathroom tissue sales moderated, but were still 81% higher that week.

Purchases of shelf-stable products moved closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to the agency.

For the week ending April 11, rice sales rose 12% while canned goods rose 47% and pasta jumped 49%. In contrast, infant formula sales fell 15%.

People continued to buy baking supplies amid ongoing efforts to remain at home.

In the second and third week of March, flour sales increased 208 and 207% respectively.

By the week ended April 11, that had slowed to an 81-per-cent increase. Butter and margarine sales rose 18%, milk was up 21% and eggs jumped 44%.

Sales for Easter-related products remained similar to trends seen in 2019, with the exception of flowers.

At grocery stores, flower sales fell 47% in the week leading up to Easter compared with the same week the previous year.

With the closure of many bars and restaurants, as well as authorities encouraging people to stay home as much as possible, Statistics Canada noted alcohol and coffee sales for at-home consumption increased.

In the week ending April 11, alcohol sales were up 46%, while coffee filters saw a 68% rise.

Hair dye sales jumped 75% that week, but cosmetic products fell 33%.