Picture: 123RF/HXDBZXY
Picture: 123RF/HXDBZXY

Covid-19 is having a radical impact on how South Africans shop. As week 1 of the lockdown ends, 22% of them say they are now using online shopping more frequently, according to new analysis from research agency Kantar.

Ivan Moroke, CEO at Kantar’s insights division, says: "This new reality is overwhelming for brands and businesses. It’s now essential for marketers to tap into how consumers’ needs and purchasing habits are changing, to ensure these are well met when we finally start to come out the other side."

According to the Kantar research, 42% of people under 35 say they are shopping less at physical outlets in favour of e-commerce. Online delivery services from major retailers are flourishing, and smart retailers are rapidly expanding their offerings. Online florist Netflorist has launched next-day delivery of fresh produce, with prepared meals coming soon.

Furthermore, Kantar predicts consumers will increasingly shop closer to home, with a shift from crowded malls and chains to local convenience channels.

The agency believes once the crisis is over retailers should expect that some new habits will endure, and brands will need to be ready for new omni-channel behaviours as shoppers explore, compare and buy interchangeably across online and bricks-and-mortar stores.

Kantar says we’re also likely to see a shift in the types of products purchased during and after the crisis. "Even consumers focused on fashion, luxury and beauty purchases prior to Covid-19 are now shifting their wallets towards toilet paper, hand sanitiser and staples," the agency says.

"While panic buying will lead to short-term spikes, it is the more fundamental shift towards essentials that will prevail. Concerned about their physiological needs, consumer-spend will move towards categories like groceries, cleaning products and airtime."

Faced with uncertain times, 66% of South Africans are expressing fear about money — and are likely to become more open to financial services products to be better prepared for the future. Kantar says in the face of these shifts, luxury products will be hardest hit, while sales of products consumed socially — such as alcohol — will drop sharply in the short term.

Moroke says: "Now is a time for brands to step up to serve consumers better." He says 32% of consumers want brands to offer practical help in response to Covid-19. "In these trying times, it is not enough for brands to offer personal benefits to consumers — great brands will reach beyond their functional promise for individuals to demonstrate their positive impact on society as a whole." Brands will also need to consider how to invest effectively during this unusual time.

"Already, we see consumer media-behaviour shifting significantly as people isolate themselves in their homes. Digital media usage is up with over 40% of people spending more time on websites, social media and WhatsApp to stay connected and inform themselves on the status of the world around them. Smart brands need to maintain presence and awareness during the crisis, preparing themselves for the future by ensuring [they] remain top of mind."

Lynne Gordon, managing partner at Kantar’s consulting division says: "For brands and business, it is a challenging time. The demands of the rapidly changing world require fast responses and deliberate choices today. But opportunities abound to respond to the shifts — maximise impact for people, shoppers and organisations, and emerge prepared to play a leadership role in the recovery."