What is Convenience Shopping, and Why is it Important in 2020?

As businesses reopen and the Canadian economy slowly returns to normal, it comes as no surprise to retailers that many consumers have altered their shopping habits throughout the pandemic. In previous blogs, we have talked about how COVID-19 will affect the advertising industry, as well as analyzing what the most impacted industries are doing to negate COVID interruptions. However, today we’re taking a closer look at what exactly “convenience shopping” is and how it’s affecting consumer behavior.

I can already hear you asking, “What do 7/11s and Circle Ks have to do with consumer shopping post-pandemic?”. While that’s not exactly what we are talking about, there have been studies showing that amidst COVID-19, over 32% of shoppers claim they are more likely to shop at convenience stores for groceries. In turn, over half of North American convenience stores have seen an increase in grocery sales, which in itself indicates that shopping habits are indeed changing.

But that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. The concept of convenience shopping has grown in popularity over the past five to ten years, with consumers wanting faster and more immediate results for their money. Though convenience once meant being able to pick something up within a reasonable walking distance, or on your way home from work; today, almost anything can be purchased and delivered to your home with the click of a button.

As a retail concept, convenience shopping in a digital landscape means that the product/service is available to come to you without having to leave your house. For example, just take the rise of eCommerce, delivery, and streaming services.  In 2000, only 22% of average consumers had made a purchase online. Today, over 80% regularly make purchases online with the number increasing dramatically throughout the duration of COVID-19. According to a report published on Statistics Canada,  since the onslaught of COVID e-commerce sales have reached a record high of $3.9 billion in May. This of course being largely due to the sectors’ sales nearly doubling since February.

 Since the pandemic started, shoppers have become more strategic about their shopping. According to one report, 24% say their typical shopping time of day has changed – 61% of these shoppers are going at different times to avoid crowds, while 20% are shopping around modified school schedules, and 11% around varied work schedules.

It has been over 150 days since the North American outbreak of the virus and the implementation of social distancing efforts. Psychology Today Canada claims that habits are formed through learning and repetition. An individual develops a habit, whether it is positive or negative, in the course of pursuing personal goals. Though the time in which a habit forms varies from person to person, according to a study done in 2009, it takes 66 days on average for a habit to form. As a result, these convenience shopping behaviors such as shopping at different times and preferring online shopping, for most consumers, become a habit. 

So what does this mean for the future of the retail landscape? Very early on in the pandemic, we saw many stores changing their hours to be open earlier to facilitate the shopping needs of elderly, disabled, or immunocompromised shoppers. It is highly likely that most businesses will continue these practices long after COVID-19 to help mitigate these changes in behavior.

Likewise, as we discussed in greater detail in the blog “Four Things To Expect In The Advertising Industry Post COVID”, we are very likely to see a spike in the usage of cash transferring and mobile payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and Android Pay as well as an increase in the number of businesses, both small and large, who operate primarily online. As well as the likelihood that online teams will continue.

On that note, another COVID practice that will continue is the ability to conduct doctors and other health related appointments virtually. In study which surveyed 1,500 Canadians in 2018, over half (66%) stated that one of the biggest benefits to virtual care is convenience. This percentage is sure to have increased in lieu of the ongoing pandemic. By continuing virtual appointments, it is speculated that in turn we will see shorter wait times and higher efficiency in hospitals and health-care clinics.

This shift to virtual meetings is not limited to the health-care sector either as a number of industries such as real estate and automotive sales have also learned to adapt. 

In a poll conducted by the Ontario Real Estate Association, nearly half (49%) of Ontarians who are looking to purchase a home in the next two years are willing to purchase even if they can only tour virtually. With housing prices expected to drop by as much as 18%, it will be critical for this industry to make necessary changes with both convenience and safety in mind. 

While on the other hand, the process of purchasing a car has been moving digitally for some time now. The large majority of research prior to purchasing a car is now done online. Now, market leader Tesla offers their customers the ability to return their vehicle if for some reason they are unhappy with their purchase. With concerns over property sanitization, we could potentially see an influx in other automotive brands allowing their customers to do the same thing in order to by-pass the test driving process. As a result, it is now also possible to purchase a car conveniently online

All in all, it is highly likely that we will see a shift in the retail landscape in the long-term due to COVID-19. It will be important for companies, both large and small to be proactive in adopting some sort of convenience strategy in order to maintain relevance in this evolving landscape.