Covid-19: when will Brits be comfortable returning to shops?
We know that behavioural change isn’t always easy – humans can be creatures of habit, making long-term changes in behaviour harder to embed. We worked with Retail Week this month (see article here) to gauge how shoppers might react when lockdown measures are eased. The implications for physical retail are dramatic.
Fewer than half (41%) of UK adults would be comfortable returning to retail environments, even with social distancing measures in place, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just 37% of respondents said they would be comfortable visiting a retail park or out-of-town retail destination, while just 34% of respondents said they would feel comfortable visiting a reopened shopping centre.
Our data will likely come as a blow to many ‘non-essential’ retailers that are looking to ramp up trial store re-openings over the next few weeks as the government begins to unwind some of the lockdown measures it put in place to limit the spread of the virus in March.
It is in our human nature to overestimate the impact of both positive and negative changes in our lives. In reality, our emotions will always eventually recalibrate and stabilise – known as the ‘Adaptation Effect’ in Behavioural Science.
Even after a life-changing event such as winning the lottery or an accident, our brains will eventually reduce the effect on our emotions in the long-term – the classic phrase ‘time heals’. We might not be permanently changed, but it will take time for us to resume normal habits.
Our findings reinforce the importance for retailers to demonstrate how they are taking steps to reassure shoppers that their spaces are safe, and to do this sensitively. Our research also highlighted the extent to which consumer habits and behaviours have been polarised during the UK’s nine-week lockdown period.
When asked whether their shopping habits would return to normal as non-essential stores begin to reopen, shoppers were divided, with 38% strongly or slightly agreeing, compared to 39% who strongly or slightly disagreed.
The Gender Divide.
We also found that men were significantly more likely to feel comfortable returning to physical shopping environments rather than women.
Our findings support academic research from Tomova et al. where “in the face of stress, women were able to show more prosocial, empathetic behaviour in comparison to men”. Women are able to consider the bigger picture, be less self-centred and will therefore show more caution to returning to retail environments.
Research from Sissa Medialab. (2014, March 17) states that stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women.
Things we are doing differently.
Lockdown has seen many shoppers transfer to buying many items online that would otherwise have been purchased in-store. This behaviour may not stick for everyone, but indications are that the shopping habits of younger shoppers have shifted more irreversibly online than before.
Forty-one per cent of respondents said they would be less likely to venture outside to visit shops, pubs and restaurants generally, even as lockdown restrictions begin to be eased.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the government’s advice to older people to shield themselves from physical contact and the higher mortality rate of the virus in those over 70, older generations said they would continue to avoid stores as lockdown measures unwind. The overwhelming majority of respondents said the thing they were most looking forward to as lockdown eased was meeting up with friends and family.
Adaption is key.
Understanding changing attitudes and behaviours has never been more important – with behaviour change enforced on consumers this creates opportunities for brands which are able to adapt and meet these changing needs.