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UK Shopper Expectations Shift as Brick-and-Mortar Locations Reopen

UK shoppers are ready to return to retail stores. But has the pandemic changed their expectations of the shopping experience? New research from Publicis Sapient explores shifting shopping trends.

Andy Halliwell
Andy Halliwell

After a third wave of lockdowns, nonessential retail locations across the United Kingdom reopened in April—and consumers were ready to return. Sales volumes rose 9.2 percent month-over-month in April after a 5.2 percent rise in March, with foot traffic to retail destinations seeing a 218 percent jump in the first week after reopening.

So, where are shoppers prioritizing their spending, and how have expectations of the in-store experience changed? We asked UK shoppers to weigh in with what they’re looking for in the months ahead.

A fresh new look toward discretionary spending

When it comes to where UK shoppers want to fill their carts first, a wardrobe refresh seems to be the biggest need. Sixty percent of shoppers have their eye on clothing, 30 percent specifically singling out shoes and 25 percent looking for athleisure or sportswear. DIY and Home Furniture are also a key target for 30 percent of those surveyed, perhaps to help change up the spaces they’ve spent so much time in over the past 14 months.

Which categories of store are you planning to visit over the next 3 months?

(Select all that apply)

60% of shoppers on average are planning to buy clothing, 30% shoes, DIY, home furnishing, respectively.
In 2020, 43% delayed vacations, 34% delayed flights and 24% delayed clothing purchases

Looking back

Health and safety remain priorities, but convenience is king

When choosing where to shop, concerns about health and hygiene post-pandemic have proven to be important to 35 percent of respondents. However, shoppers are still likely to prioritize retailers with the right brands, good parking and a reasonable location over cleanliness and hygiene measures.

What are the most important factors when deciding where to shop?

(Select all that apply)

  • 56% Male 62% Female

    How far away/how long it will take to travel to the location

    53% Male 56% Female

    The brands and stores at a particular location

    37% Male 45% Female

    The availability and cost of parking

    35% Male 36%Female

    The cleanliness/newness of a location

  • 19% Male 17% Female

    The restaurants, bars and pubs at the location

    14% Male 12%Female

    The ability to click-and-collect, curbside collect purchases at a single point

    7% Male 8% Female

    The entertainment facilities at the location

    4% Male 4% Female

    Where my friends or family are going to be going

An excuse to get out of the house (and a means to discover)

Product discovery and the ability to physically interact with items before purchasing remain primary drivers for returning to physical stores. However, our research found that UK shoppers also view heading to shops as an opportunity to get out of their homes and to have an experience beyond their own four walls—perhaps a much-needed break from prior restrictions.

Why do you want to shop in a physical store?

(Select all that apply)

On average, 37% are looking to discover products and 34% looking to get out of their homes to shop.
Women are more likely to shop with their partner, family or friends when compared to male shoppers.

How people plan to shop

Omnichannel services are the new normal

Online shopping has also fundamentally changed expectations of in-store experiences, with online reservations and the ability to return purchases in store becoming more popular. Endless Aisle experiences, which allow consumers to buy products that the store may not have in stock in that location, are popular with consumers.

What kinds of digital screens or tools do you expect physical stores to have?

(Select all that apply)

Image of an iPad with a chart on screen showing digital services people want retailers to have.

But not all shoppers are the same—people buying jewelry, home furnishings or gadgets have different expectations than consumers shopping for clothes, glasses or office furniture.

Jewelry shoppers are more likely to want virtual ways of trying on or trying out products when compared to shoppers in other sectors. They are also more likely to want the ability to click-and-collect products from a single touchpoint.

Preference for digital/virtual ways to try products in store by sector

Bar chart showing preference by sector for digital ways to try-on or try out products.

Preference for click-and-collect at retail locations by sector

Bar chart showing preference by sector for click-and-collect or curbside options at retailers.

These shoppers also expected to be able to checkout from their mobile phone rather than a traditional check out experience.

Preference for mobile checkout options by sector

Bar chart showing preference by sector for mobile checkout options at retailers

Changing consumer trends—are they here to stay? 

It will be interesting to see whether these trends continue as normal life resumes or if changes in  consumer behaviors and priorities revert to post-pandemic expectations. Or, perhaps we are seeing a post-lockdown burst of in-person shopping that will quickly lose its novelty as people realize the convenience of home delivery is here to stay.

Interested in how changing consumer preferences can shape your global strategy?
Simply contact us for deeper country-level insights and more.

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Andy Halliwell
Andy Halliwell
Senior Client Partner at Publicis Sapient, Retail and Consumer Products