A new way of shopping: How habits are changing as Brits adapt to lockdown

Tesco boss Dave Lewis has declared the weekly shop is back in fashion, while new data from Kantar raises questions over whether these habits will continue beyond lockdown and how that might shape the grocery market post-Covid-19.

Britain is adapting to a new way of life. We are shopping less frequently but spending record amounts when we do, eating more lunches at home, boosting sales at convenience stores and forcing supermarkets to dramatically increase their online capacity.

This might feel like it is stating the obvious, but the new data from Kantar also raises questions over whether these new behaviours – some of which are reminiscent of the way we used to shop in the past – will continue beyond lockdown and how that might shape the grocery market post-Covid-19.

Grocery sales in Britain were up 9.1% year on year in the 12 weeks to 19 April, with the grocery market growing 5.5% in the last four weeks. While this is noticeably slower than the 20.6% recorded in March, there has been a sizeable increase in sales, which were £524m higher than they were in April 2019.

The rise is primarily down to changing habits as a result of the government-imposed measures to stem the spread of Covid-19. For example, the number of lunches eaten at home has nearly doubled since the UK went into lockdown, while over-65s have increased their online grocery spend by 94% year on year. Online sales now account for 10.2% of the grocery market versus 7.4% last month.

The single biggest thing has been the change in online shopping.

Dave Lewis, Tesco

On average, households shopped only 14 times for groceries over the past month, a record low and down from 17 in ‘more normal’ times. A drop in frequency was matched by a corresponding uplift in the amount spent on each trip to £26.02, which is the highest figure Kantar has ever recorded and £7 greater than last year.

Tesco boss Dave Lewis said in his first broadcast interview since the Covid-19 outbreak this morning that the weekly number of transactions at Tesco nearly halved in April but the average basket size doubled.

“People are shopping once a week, a little like they did 10 or 15 years ago, rather than two, three or four times a week that was happening before the crisis,” Lewis said.

“We’re trying to help as many people as we can. And the single biggest thing has been the change in online shopping,” he said, adding Tesco has increased its online capacity by 103% in the space of a few weeks, which would normally take years to achieve.

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Friday and Saturday remain the most popular days to go shopping, but only just. As social distancing measures disrupt the traditional working week, the proportion of trips made Monday to Thursday has increased, making it hard for shoppers to find quieter times to avoid others.

Shopper satisfaction with supermarket trips is beginning to grow and is now back at February levels, having fallen by 38% because of frustrations caused by busy stores and empty shelves. Most notably, public appreciation of staff working on shop floors and tills reached record levels this month and is 13% higher than before the crisis started.

All 10 major supermarkets increased take-home sales in the 12 weeks to 19 April, with a 20% increase in sales taking Co-op’s market share from 6.1% last year to 6.7%.

Spending at Sainsbury’s was 8.4% higher than this time last year and 7.2% higher at Tesco. Morrisons and Asda saw increases of 4.3% and 3.5% respectively, while Iceland’s sales rose by 16.6% and Waitrose’s by 9.4%. Finally, sales at Lidl increased by 14.8% and Aldi saw growth of 8.8%.

Independent and symbol retailers, such as Spar and Londis, also benefited from changing shopping patterns, with growth of 40.5%, while online specialist Ocado grew by 19.4%.

In addition, sales at convenience stores including independents and those operated by major grocers have increased by 39% over the last four weeks, accounting for 16.3% of the market.

“People are spending more time at home and eating fewer meals out of the house, which has led to a strong growth in take-home grocery sales,” says Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight, Fraser McKevitt.

“But social distancing also means that expenditure on other categories like clothes, food bought on the go and general merchandise will have been considerably lower, so for some retailers, the overall picture will be more modest.”