The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally reshaped the retail landscape, accelerating certain consumer trends and altering shopping behaviours. Lenneke Schils, global insights director at GfK, regularly identifies and explores consumer trends. She comes together with Marc Knuff, global director for retail at GfK, to discuss the five driving forces of consumer behaviour that are shaping the FMCG industry.
Lenneke Schils (LS): During the lockdown, grocery consumers spent less time in-store, and many are now preferring to shop online. Moving forward, how will this influence consumer behaviour in bricks-and-mortar spaces?
Marc Knuff (MK): Consumers used to discover new products through promotions and by browsing the aisles, so the reduced in-store facetime means that product findability is crucial. This is especially the case in the grocery sector, where buying behaviour has changed rapidly. For instance, online grocery delivery services are now routine for many shoppers, especially considering the rise of flash delivery in many places around the world – that’s groceries delivered in about 10 minutes. Two thirds (67%) of European shoppers know of flash delivery services, and about half of them have used at least one [source: GfK ad hoc study, e-Grocery (EU-8, n=7,548)].
To stand out, brands need to prime shoppers before the point of sale with creative advertising and messaging that ensures their products are front-of-mind and easy to buy. This is especially the case for flash delivery and online grocery in general — as it’s still a relatively novel shopping experience, products may not make it into the basket if they’re not easily findable on the platform.
In-store, it’s about creating better customer experience, making products findable by maximising shelf space, clear front-of-pack information on key differentiators, running attractive promotions, and using eye-catching activations for new products. In short, the product discovery process needs to be more engaging and seamless than ever.
LS: The pandemic isn’t only impacting how long consumers shop for, but it’s also influencing when and where they shop. What are your thoughts on this?
MK: With the home now a hub and flexible working the norm, consumers are now shopping at different times – and at different stores – much more than before. In terms of buying behaviour, we’re seeing more ‘big basket’ shops taking place on weekdays rather than weekends. And more consumers are frequenting convenience and specialist stores located near their homes. With consumers who are working from home being able to shop online at night and receive their orders any day and time during the week, traditional 9-to-5 shopping with weekend peaks is declining. Our research shows that 29% of shoppers in 2021 regularly shopped at different times from before; what’s more, 75% expect to continue doing so in 2022 [source: GfK ad hoc study, Behavior Change, EU-7, n=4,615].
In response to this increased fluidity in consumer behaviour, brands need to look at their multichannel approach and ensure it is seamless – whether online or in-store. Great customer experience will win in this new fluid space, and businesses can’t underestimate the need to tap into new distribution channels or collaborate with flash-delivery companies.
LS: Amidst the health crisis, where many have been physically and mentally affected, what is the behaviour change we are seeing in consumers?
MK: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of balance and wellbeing, so we’re now seeing an increased focus on both physical and mental health. Half of shoppers in 2021 said they took extra care of their physical health – also in a preventative way by taking vitamins and supplements – and 39% said the same about their mental health [source: GfK ad hoc study, Behavior Change, EU-7, n=4,615].
This has influenced consumer behaviour and translated into greater interest in natural and organic products, especially in the food, health and beauty spaces. Consumers are also paying more attention to labels – to identify not only how healthy the ingredients are, but also how sustainable a product is. So brands should seize the opportunity to educate shoppers about the health and sustainability benefits of their products through on-pack information and communications.
LS: Sustainability and the carbon footprint we leave are increasingly becoming more mainstream. What do brands need to consider to stay relevant in this space?
MK: Purpose is growing in importance, with more consumers seeking out sustainable products that strive to reduce waste and carbon emissions. According to recent research from GfK and Kantar, around a quarter of Europeans consider food waste to be a major environmental concern, while 40% feel the same about plastic waste [source: WCWD report 2021]. This is backed up by our own data, which shows that 30% of shoppers in 2021 bought from eco-friendly brands, while 37% sought out locally made products [source: GfK ad hoc study, Behavior Change, EU-7, n=4,615].
While we observed this shift in consumer behaviour well before Covid-19, the pandemic has accelerated the move away from functionally led purchasing and toward purpose-led purchasing. And we are seeing the rise of the eco-active consumer, who makes purchase decisions based on a product or brand’s sustainability credentials. However, there’s still a lot of confusion around the consistency of eco-labels, and we predict that the consumer demand for transparency and accountability will only increase – a key consideration for brands in this space.
LS: Finally, amid these uncertain times, and with high inflation, will budget engineering, or ‘budgeteering’ continue to be a key driving force shaping consumer behaviour?
MK: Many consumers were forced to look closely at their budgets in recent years, some more so than others, and have shifted their budgeteering. And with rising inflation, house and energy prices, people are expecting to experience some level of economic hardship in the years ahead. Initially, in locked-down countries, consumers focused on saving on big spends and splurging on FMCG. But now the tables have turned. Our research shows that in 2021, 66% of shoppers habitually checked the prices of grocery products, while 52% tried to shop in stores with the best promotions – and such behavior will likely persist this year [source: GfK ad hoc study, Behavior Change, EU-7, n=4,615].
This will influence price sensitivity and reduce the overall size of the shopping basket. In terms of buying behavior, we expect shoppers to trade down on functional items to stretch their household budget, but interestingly, many will still be willing to pay a premium for certain lifestyle products. Additionally, we predict that eco-minded consumers will not trade down on their principles, and will continue to seek out sustainable brands and products. However, premium products need to provide added value to persuade consumers to dip into their managed budgets, so be sure to communicate the other benefits – not just the functional aspects – of your offering.
The pandemic has vastly impacted consumer behaviour, boosting demand for greater findability, fluidity, balance, purpose, and budgeteering. How can you capitalise on these opportunities and turbocharge growth? Read more in GfK’s Shopping Behavior 2022 white paper, which offers a deeper dive into these five key driving forces and provides strategic recommendations for the year ahead.