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Evolving Trip Missions During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic hammered two cornerstones of retail success: traffic and dwell time. Since March, stores have been forced to reduce capacity in order to support social distancing, while shoppers have been eager to conduct their business as fast as possible.

It follows then that the distribution of shoppers among “shopping trip mission” categories also has changed and dramatically so. Consumers are making fewer trips, spending less time in-store and planning more carefully in advance.

According to Path to Purchase Research, nearly 50 percent of shoppers now identify themselves as “trip planners” versus fewer than 25 percent before the pandemic began. “Stock-up” trips have increased from 13 percent to 32 percent of trips, while 52 percent of respondents said they now want to “get in and get out” of stores quickly compared to 13 percent before the pandemic. 

Shopping routines are different. Recent research from Acosta found that grocery shopping frequency has declined significantly. Pre-COVID-19, 67 percent of grocery shoppers went to the store once a week. Now, that percentage has plummeted to 47 percent. Customers also are trying to avoid peak and evening hours, shifting their stock-up trips to the morning.

With changing shopping trip missions and routines, retailers need to triangulate a response to create safe, efficient experiences while aspiring to increase revenue per customer. And they need to optimize their environments for short, purposeful shopping while also creating opportunities for an evolving sort of impulse purchase.

Make Safety a Priority

First off, don’t just skip over “safe.” Customers are more accustomed to the new normal of pandemic shopping, so they will be more aware of and willing to follow new procedures. At the same time, that knowledge will elevate expectations of hygiene, distancing, mask-wearing and associate behavior. Failure to meet those expectations and a casualness about safety could cost you shoppers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created guidelines to maintain safety in personal hygiene practices, such as hand washing, mask-wearing and bringing your own disinfectant wipes to the store, as well as technical ideas of picking prepackaged foods, keeping six feet away from others and preparing a shopping list in advance.  

Keep these ideas in mind as you craft an excellent and thoughtful shopping experience for clients in this new normal of pandemic shopping.  

Think Ahead of the Shopper

As for trying to marry efficiency with increased basket size, this isn’t a new merchandising idea. Creating impulse buys for “grab and go” customers is a longstanding retail art form, but reconfiguring store and display programs to facilitate today’s customer is an entirely new beast.

What are your store’s pandemic grocery list staples? Ready-made meals, frozen food or canned goods? Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and toilet paper? Think of what your store offers and how it can prepackage or organize these items with other products that go along with them to enhance the customer experience while increasing revenue.  

There’s been a DIY boom, with people spending more time at home deciding to take care of their home improvement needs. So home improvement stores should review their data from the last six months and consolidate merchandise in the front of store to catch the eyes of both the mission-driven and the spontaneously motivated.

There’s also never been a more critical time to upgrade a mobile app, particularly when it allows shoppers to check the availability of items in advance of a mission-driven trip. An efficient, intuitive app also facilitates BOPIS, the use of which grew 195 percent in May compared to a year ago, according to a survey from Adobe.

BOPIS also can serve to increase the basket size of even the most mission-driven customers. Stores should elevate the design and merchandising of these pick-up areas, creating a more hospitable feel, not unlike a pop-up store. A well-organized BOPIS facility could offer an abbreviated browse experience and compelling point-of-contactless contact.

Further, retailers need to be thinking ahead toward a potential "Pandemic Pantry Load 2,” when a spike in cases in the fall or winter could increase the urgency of shoppers, who again might be motivated to make extreme stock-up trips. It’s notable that manufacturers of refrigerators and freezers have been raising their forecasts, as people stockpile and buy that second fridge for the garage.  

It’s About More Than Efficient Service

Miller Zell has been closely following and researching trends during COVID-19, focusing on how it’s accelerated the need for innovation and changed the customer journey within public spaces, likely for the long term.

What we’ve also found is that it’s not just about safety, efficiency and basket size. It’s about happy customers and happy associates. It’s about going the extra mile to reduce anxiety, help people and bolster the local community.

What we’ve also found is that it’s not just about safety, efficiency and basket size. It’s about happy customers and happy associates. It’s about going the extra mile to reduce anxiety, help people and bolster the local community.

Yes, it’s critical to assess store data with obsessive granularity and identify new opportunities as shopping trip missions change. But it’s also important to take a holistic approach that serves the needs of both customers and associates. Customers appreciate an efficient experience, but they also remember how you made them feel.