The impact of Covid 19 on shopping habits

How has the Coronavirus changed the way you shop?

I’ve recently been reflecting on how my own shopping habits have changed over the past 6 months as well as writing about the impact of Covid-19 on shopping habits and the UK retail market for clients. I thought I would share a number of personal observations.

As a self-confessed shopaholic the longest I have ever been without visiting a shop is during the recent lockdown period. I have been to remote areas of the world but always managed to find some kind of shop or market.  I often don’t buy anything but I love the experience of shopping and browsing and have managed to make a career out of it.

My own set of circumstances is that I was 12 weeks pregnant when lockdown hit and as such was officially put in a ‘vulnerable’ category.  Although ‘essential’ shopping was allowed throughout lockdown this was not something I wanted to risk.

1. Online grocery shops sainsbury's online grocery shop tesco online grocery shop

We were lucky enough to be put on a Sainsbury’s priority customer list and were able to get online food deliveries about every ten days throughout the lockdown period, which really were a lifeline.

I consider myself to be a savvy shopper and will usually shop around to get the best deal. At the end of last year we moved away from online grocery shops and started to go to discounters to save money.

We are now back to our weekly online shops. I know we are paying extra but no longer begrudge this fact as my loyalty to the Sainsbury’s brand has increased. This is a direct result of the customer service I have received from Sainsbury’s over the lockdown period.

Paperchase online shopping2. Online shopping

I have always been a seasonal online shopper. I will order the majority of my Christmas presents online and have them delivered. However, for purchases such as toiletries, clothes, cards and gifts I have always preferred to shop in store. I was forced to change this habit over lockdown. I set up accounts with Boots for my toiletries and an account with Paperchase, where I ordered all of my birthday cards for the rest of the year. In order to try and hit thresholds for ‘free delivery’ I’ve had to plan ahead and order in bulk. Will I continue to do this? Probably with a new baby on the way and the Covid R rate currently increasing. I’m not alone in this latest Office for National Statistics stats show that online sales for August 2020 were 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic figures


3. The ‘new’ in store experience.

Non essential retailers were allowed to open their doors again from 15th June in England. I started shopping in store again over the summer, mainly because I had to for work despite being heavily pregnant. I’m sure like me you have found the ‘new’ in store experience a bit weird and it’s going to take a while to get used to. I want to support retailers by going shopping but at the same time the new restrictions, in place for a good reason, have also taken some of the fun out of the whole in store shopping experience for me and are bound to have an impact on shopping habits.


Retailers are having to limit the number of people in store in order to maintain social distancing guidelines therefore in many stores we are having to queue outside the store to wait our turn to go in. The key to being in a queue is to ‘Keep Calm and wait your turn.’ I find queues to be a good opportunity to people watch! I have observed scenes where people don’t realise there is a queue and have been reprimanded by a shop assistant for trying to walk straight into a store before having to do the walk of shame to the back of said queue. I’ve also been in a small Ryman store, when it’s reached it’s maximum of 5 people and we’ve all been stacked up within the store, waiting for the next person to move on! It’s not really a comfortable experience but you just have to wait your turn.

It’s lucky we British are experienced at queuing!

Hand Sanitiser

Sticky, gloopy stuff that’s going to keep us all safe – enough said! Personally, I prefer my own mini fragranced bottle to the variety at the front of most stores. But I have been chased down an aisle by a shop assistant in Holland & Barrett as I was not seen to use the shop hand sanitiser on entering the store.

One way systems

Thank goodness most of the stores seem to have done away with these now.

The first one I experienced was in M&S Food where I went the wrong way as I hadn’t seen the red tape on the floor! I got a death stare from the person coming in the other direction and didn’t make that mistake again, making sure to stare at the taped arrows on the floor for the rest of my time in the store.

The second time was in Morrisons where I was confronted with a wall of cardboard display units blocking me from taking a short cut. It was like a maze trying to get to the aisles I wanted to. I was trying to follow the one way system but didn’t have a map. It was then that I realised that retail executives in Morrisons head office must have pain stakingly planned their one way systems. However unfortunately they had a different one way system to the one in M&S and Tesco, so a customer I was just left confused.

Face Masks

I appreciate face masks are necessary at the moment and many key workers are having to wear them for hours at a time. I have enormous respect for them.

Having travelled a lot in Asia, where facemasks are a common occurrence seeing people wearing facemasks here hasn’t really phased me. However, I find wearing one slightly different. It might be because I am heavily pregnant but I find them hot and slightly claustrophobic. For me they reduce the amount of time that I want to spend in a store, just because I feel I can’t really breathe properly.

My 17 month old son thinks they are hilarious and the first time we went to the supermarket with him after lockdown he spent the whole time staring at us bemused as if to say what have you got on your face?

My husband finds them slightly annoying as they dent his beard. My mum has just bought herself a visor as her glasses steam up when wearing a facemask.

Do they make me feel safer when shopping? – yes.  Will they affect the way I shop and the duration of my shopping trip? – also yes. Even though I would love to browse I now go to a store with a shopping list and the intention of getting in and out.

Only touch what you intend to buy

I find this one really hard to do, it’s instinctive to want to touch and feel products. Retailers have been trying to make shopping a sensory experience for years now.

Products are brighter, shinier and more appealing to touch than ever before.

I sympathise with any retailers selling fragranced items at the moment though or any products which are dependent on touch or smell.

I have been able to restrict myself from touching things and stick to the rules. Unlike my husband who is constantly reaching for merchandise and I am constantly saying ‘stop touching everything’ before passing him the anti-bac!

What impact has Covid 19 had on your shopping habits?

About the Author: Alex Wiltshire

Retail Analyst, Shopaholic and Managing Director of Bright Disposition Ltd.

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