This year has seen Covid-19 wreak havoc across the world. With governments continually introducing new restrictions, it’s no surprise that consumers have dramatically changed the way they shop. The pandemic has created huge challenges for companies looking to optimise offline sales channels – both in terms of monitoring these channels, and adapting to the shifts in consumer behaviour. We’ve seen huge growth in the numbers of consumers shopping locally when they visit brick-and-mortar locations including independent stores, specialist shops and convenience stores. All signs point to this trend continuing in the lead up to Christmas and even beyond Covid-19.

Why are people now shopping locally?

Shopping locally has risen in popularity as the British public stay close to home. Barclaycard found that while overall consumer spending fell by 36.5% in April, food and drink specialist stores including off-licences, greengrocers, independent convenience stores, butchers and bakeries, saw growth of 37.7%.

Predictably, this trend is one that will continue in the run up to Christmas. December will likely see a rise in sales for local businesses as shoppers look to stay safe, while also enjoying their freedom. Many companies and local authorities, including the Amex Shop Small campaign, are also encouraging people to ‘shop local’ to help businesses recover from a difficult year.

Shopper behaviour is evolving

The push towards shopping local has created a shift in attitude and behaviours. Many shoppers opted for nearer alternatives to their usual big supermarkets, discovering local retailers they may have not considered before. Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retail Association (BIRA), explained that “in lockdown, people realised what was available to them locally and have been pleasantly surprised by what they found so want to keep shopping there”

local business with pastries and sign

A greater sense of community

Mecommi is a new two-sided digital marketplace that delivers products from local market stalls directly to customers. Alannah Wood, Mecommi‘s, co-founder and CMO, spoke to us about why shopping locally is more important to people in the wake of Covid.

“One of few upsides of the pandemic is that people are more conscious of looking out for their local community and the businesses they serve. The market is very much part of this landscape. Mecommi helps people experience the market that wouldn’t normally by making it more convenient.

Shopping locally creates jobs and brings money into your local community. Shopping locally brings charm to town centres in the form of home baked goods, quirky coffee shops and local delicacies. Many small businesses are unable to trade during lockdown and have suffered a considerable decrease in trade as a result of the pandemic in general. Unless we use them, we’ll lose them. Perhaps even forever.”

assorted fruits at the local market

This touches on the greater sense of community people are feeling as they come together in the face of hardship. Shoppers may have lost faith in larger chains due to their issues with maintaining stock levels, opting instead to support their locals who’ve been hit hard by the pandemic. Christmas will amplify this, as community spirit lifts and more of us look to support and help others. 

How will the economic impact of Covid affect local businesses in the run up to Christmas?

The pandemic has created a lot of financial issues and has propelled the country into a deep economic crisis. This will impact the Christmas shopping period and people will be much more cautious about where and how they spend. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that since the end of July, spending has stalled at around 90% of the level it was expected to be if the pandemic hadn’t happened. 

While Covid has escalated the move towards online shopping, with half of shoppers planning to do their Christmas shopping online this year, there’s still a need and desire for shoppers to visit brick-and-mortar stores. Expectations will be high for the consumers venturing out to shop and brands will need to compete to offer high-quality in-store experiences. On top of this, with Covid turning shoppers away from elbowing through large crowds on Christmas Eve, many will visit their local high streets instead. Brands need to ensure that their products are going to be where consumers are shopping and start paying more attention to local sales channels.

Will people still shop locally even when Covid is over?

When examining the data it seems that Covid has just served to accelerate pre-existing changes in behaviour, so it’s likely that people will still shop locally even when the pandemic eventually ends. There’s been a steady movement towards shopping mindfully over the last few years, with retailers and brands looking to be more socially responsible. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that social responsibility is important to shoppers, with 81% of people believing that whether a brand does “what is right” is a deal breaker for them in purchase decisions. Due to the environmental, community and social benefits of shopping locally, it makes sense that shoppers were already moving towards it. YouGov’s recent data supports this, finding that 70% of those who switched to shopped locally during the pandemic say they will continue to do so even when lockdown is fully lifted.

How to adapt to the rise in those shopping locally

It’s clear that this is a critical time for sales teams to re-evaluate their priorities and allocate more resources to managing smaller, independent stores will become increasingly important offline sales channels – in both the lead up to Christmas and probably beyond. The best way to do this is to rely on insights and analytics and to keep your field team agile, prioritising the stores and locations where your teams should be spending most of their time.

There are challenges to doing this: reorganising your sales team takes time and visiting thousands of small retailers can be complex. That’s why many companies have started considering the role that crowdsourced data can play in helping them to navigate this changing retail landscape. 

Find out more about how Shepper can help provide actionable crowdsourced data to help complement and support your existing teams.