70% of shoppers ‘not comfortable’ returning to shops

Consumers remain “deeply cautious” about returning to shops, the latest EY Future Consumer Index has revealed ahead of retailers opening next week (15 June). 

According to the survey of 1,017 consumers, 80% said they would be “uncomfortable” trying on clothes in a store, while only 25% are “currently comfortable” visiting grocery stores. 

Some 45% of consumers in the UK believed the “way they shop over the next one to two years will change”, with 64% expecting to go shopping less frequently. They did believe they would spend more when they do go shopping, however. 

In addition, 57% of respondents said they would be “more aware” of hygiene and sanitation when shopping in person.

According to EY, organic and sustainable products, luxury items and personalised items were “important” for many consumers pre-pandemic. 

Following Covid-19, the priority of consumers has now changed, however, with 59% prioritising product availability, 43% prioritising price and 41% prioritising health.

Overall, the latest report highlights that consumers are “gearing themselves up to live more risk-averse lives”. 

Silvia Rindone, partner in consumer product and retail at EY, said: “UK consumer companies will need to be aware of consumers’ heightened concerns and make every effort to mitigate anxiety if they are to prosper in this new market. 

“Adaptability has always been crucial for any consumer-facing business, but it will be more important than ever for companies if they are to emerge stronger from this pandemic and serve understandably anxious consumers.”

She added: “Companies need to think about reinventing their customer experience so that consumers feel reassured that the risk has been minimised. They must go the extra mile to help them feel safe and entice them back into a communal space. 

“The browsing experience, for example, will change. With social distancing, a person’s presence in-store could prevent someone else from entering, lessening browsing time, and making the shopping experience far more transactional.”

Julie Carlyle, EY UK&I head of retail, said: “As consumer companies look to more permanently de-risk the consumer experience and step into recovery, investment in digital capabilities will be critical. 

“We expect to see greater use of the smartphone as an interface generally. Why touch a public ATM screen, for example, when a code number typed into your phone could confirm your identity? Voice commands and face ID will be used more widely. Cashier-free stores will become more appealing. This is just the start.”

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