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As consumers adjusted to life under lockdown, the retail sector has witnessed a dramatic shift in shopping patterns and household spending. An analysis of major data sources on retail sales and consumer habits illustrates these significant changes in shopping behaviour.

While supermarket sales continue to surge, there has been an overall reduction in footfall to retail and grocery environments. As Google’s mobility report outlines there has been a 73% reduction in retail and recreation visits and a 15% decrease in visits to grocery and pharmacies locations.

The latest 12-week period review from Kantar shows Irish consumers spent a whopping €3BN on groceries in the period up to April 19th, an increase of 17%. The average household visited grocers a total of 19 times, two times fewer than the period the year before indicating consumers are doing bigger yet fewer shops.

As people are spending significantly more time at home, baskets continue to get fuller with shoppers adding an extra 4 items to their basket during a shop and have increased their monthly bill by €118 on average.

The items or products that people are purchasing has also altered and changed as we progress through the lockdown. Signs of stockpiling and panic buying in the first wave of lockdown have ceased. Popular ‘stockpiling’ products such as hand sanitisers (-48%), toilet tissue (-41%) and soap (-39%) have seen declines in sales Nielsen revealed.

Clear Channel’s analysis of Tesco’s sales figures for the 9-week period up to Easter Sunday shows non perishables such as canned goods and pasta are still in huge demand with triple digit growth.  Customers aiming to combat the effect of hand sanitiser and the increase in handwashing has led to a 160% growth in handcare’s value in the latest 4 weeks, enough hand cream to fill 30 standard bathtubs.

The latest grocery figures from Kantar shows all households have bought baking supplies in the past four weeks as they spend more time indoors with supermarkets reporting that sales of flour are up by 52% while sugar is up by 43%.

With non-essential retail businesses closed, we are seeing consumers replicating experiences at home with sales of alcohol, coffee and cooking sauces/aids all seeing an increase in demand. The ESRI estimates we are spending almost twice as much on drinking at home in a pandemic week versus a normal week, that’s €21 on drinking at home versus €11 normally.

With hairdressers also closed for a lengthy period, consumers are looking to DIY solutions contributing to 107% unit increase in home hair treatments.

Consumers have also opted to shop locally and have placed an importance on purchasing Irish products at this time. A Nielsen survey revealed 68% of Irish shoppers claim they try to choose products produced in Ireland when grocery shopping.

With financial pressure starting to take effect, the study also revealed that 49% of Irish shoppers would switch to cheaper grocery brands as a way to save on household expenses and there has been a surge in demand for private label items.

The Kantar figures also revealed Supervalu as Ireland’s top supermarket in the 12 weeks to April 19 with market share of 22.2%. The retailer benefitted from its large portfolio of local stores as shoppers opt to shop closer to home. It was the only retailer not to experience reduced footfall in the last month.

Lidl was the fastest-growing retailer during the full 12-week period, boosting sales by 22.1 per cent and increasing its market share to 12 per cent. Aldi grew by 15.6 per cent to an 11.8 per cent share.

As we begin to move between lockdown phases and the government’s detailed roadmap announced, audiences are seeking a return of other retailers. Google Trends has released a list of the most searched questions on search engines in Ireland. It shows consumers are missing others in the retail sector such as hairdressers, pubs, McDonald’s and the national institution that is Penney’s.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is having huge implications for advertising. However, it is imperative for retailers at this time as they continually communicate the measures and steps they’ve taken to ensure customer and staff safety.

Currently, the retail environment is experiencing an ever-present audience with long dwell times and queues forming outside stores. Brands can leverage this key POS environment to advertise products and create meaningful communications with audiences looking for welcomed distractions as they join the queue.