Encountering empty shelves and disarray at their regular stores, many U.S. consumers turned to other retailers or went online to buy groceries and daily essentials as the coronavirus outbreak started and then escalated, a study by market research firm Kantar revealed.
Of 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed, 92% reported a negative in-store experience during the week or so that COVID-19 began to significantly affect their household, Kantar said in its April COVID-19 Commerce Snapshot.
More than 96% of respondents said they weren’t able to get the specific products they wanted, leading 42% of those customers to go to other retailers and 41% to go without the items they sought. Besides product outages, shoppers cited no delivery slots, unclean stores and unpleasant staff as the most stressful elements of their experience.
As a result, customers expanded their “repertoire of retailers,” according to Kantar. The average number of retailers shopped jumped to 5.1 as the outbreak got under way from 4.1 previously, the study said, noting that the one extra visit represented 129 million more retail trips for the week of March 15 to 21 (after President Trump declared coronavirus a national emergency).
Retail channels seeing the biggest surge in shopping trips when COVID-19 began were online (+93%) and convenience stores (+67%), followed by drugstores (+45%), warehouse clubs (41%), supermarkets (+39%), dollar stores (+38%) and mass merchants (+23%).
What did shoppers buy as the virus began to spread in the United States? Forty-six percent said they spent more on groceries and essentials. The top product purchases cited by consumers were toilet paper (41%), frozen foods (40%), dry/canned goods (38%), cleaning products (36%), water (36%), fresh meat/seafood (35%), fresh fruit/vegetables (34%), dairy (32%), bread/bakery (32%) and cereal (31%).
Among respondents, who were polled from April 3 to 7, 34% said they expect to try a new retailer in the coming weeks to get the products they want and to adjust their shopping budget. Consumers named Target (20%), Walgreens (14%), Dollar General (14%), Family Dollar/Dollar Tree (13%), Lowe’s (13%), Aldi (12%), Costco Wholesale (12%), Amazon (12%) and Walmart online (11%) as the new retailers they planned to shop.
The troubled in-store conditions when the coronavirus pandemic started led to a “massive trial of new fulfillment methods,” Kantar said. Twenty-six percent of shoppers polled used a new online fulfillment method since COVID-19 began. What’s more, 60% of online customers tried home delivery for the first time, while 42% used curbside service and 39% in-store pickup for the first time.
“Never in modern times has shopper behavior shifted as quickly and dramatically as it has during COVID-19,” Kantar stated.
Stressed consumers are the reason for the sudden change, the study explained. Forty-nine percent of respondents said their overall stress and anxiety levels are high or very high, due to worries about physical, financial and/or emotional health.
On the financial side, 24% of shoppers indicated they’re “affected now” by the pandemic, meaning they were laid off, can’t work or are vulnerable to COVID-19, Kantar reported. Another 32% expect to be “affected next,” anticipating more financial impact down the road. Forty-four percent described themselves as “minimally affected” and don’t expect their household to be financially impacted.
As the nation continues to battle coronavirus, consumers said retailers must prioritize social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing of stores, product in-stocks, special hours for seniors and vulnerable shoppers, protection of employees and new options for fulfillment, according to the study.
Customers also were asked about retailer performance during the pandemic. Retailers cited as doing a better job than others included Sam’s Club online, Publix, Boxed, WinCo Foods, Instacart, Walmart online, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, Kroger online and H-E-B, the Kantar report said.
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