Survey insights for US grocery retailers: how consumers want to shop during Covid-19

Ed Heal
by Ed Heal

On 26 October 2020 we surveyed 2,000 US consumers about their shopping behaviors in stores and online during Covid-19 and unveiled some interesting insights for grocery retailers.

Our insights show that most consumers are avoiding grocery retail stores as a result of health concerns caused by the Coronavirus. The insights show that getting too close to other people and waiting in lines inside and outside of stores are key customer concerns that are costing grocery retailers revenue opportunity across multiple channels, both before and during the pandemic. The survey suggests that grocery retailers who combat these challenges by using digital tools to choreograph their customer experience will see significant business case benefits through improved omni-channel sales, greater loyalty and advocacy amongst some of the highest value customer groups: younger generations and higher earning households.



Who normally visits grocery retail stores outside of the pandemic and how often?

Before Covid-19, 98% of the shoppers within our survey said they visited grocery stores. 76% said they did so often, 19% said they did so sometimes and 4% said they did so rarely.

Older age demographics are more likely to visit grocery stores often, while Millennial and GenZ consumers are more likely to never visit grocery stores.

Consumers from households earning between $50 and $100k are the most likely to visit these stores often.

Women are noticeably more likely than men to visit grocery retail stores often.


Customers are visiting grocery retail stores less as a direct result of the Coronavirus outbreak….

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, 31% of grocery retail customers are visiting these types of stores less than before. Half (50%) are visiting them the same as before. Only 19% of customers are visiting these types of stores more than before.

Baby Boomers are the most likely to reduce their visits to grocery retail stores during the Coronavirus outbreak, at 34%. On the other hand, 28% of Millennial and GenZ customers have reduced their visits.

50% of these younger generations are continuing to visit grocery retail stores as much as they did before and 22% are visiting more than before.

Higher household income groups are the most likely to increase their visits to grocery stores as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, with 29% visiting grocery stores more than before the pandemic.

This perhaps suggests a widening economic gap created by the Coronavirus pandemic in that the higher income groups are disproportionately less financially impacted by the crisis.

Throughout our survey we found that women are more cautious and concerned by the health impact of the Coronavirus outbreak than men.

Why are customers avoiding grocery stores

We asked customers why they were avoiding stores in general and found that health concerns are the main reason, with 81% of consumers stating this to be the case. This was followed by an increased use of online shopping (51%) and financial concerns (36%). All age groups are increasing their use of online shopping channels equally.

Financial concerns and, interestingly, environmental consciousness has proved greatest amongst younger generations of consumers.

The fact that GenZ consumers are 2x more likely to avoid stores for environmental reasons than Baby Boomers is something grocery retailers need to become increasingly aware of, as it will effect the way consumers shop as they increase in spending power.

A number of brands are even bringing sustainability offerings into their product range/store environment. For example, Burberry has become carbon neutral across 85% of its sites and is procure 83% of its total energy from renewable sources, and has also reduced emissions in its supply chain by more than 1600 tonnes of carbon.


What concerns people about shopping in stores in the Coronavirus era?

When it comes to visiting stores, customers’ biggest concerns are other people not wearing masks (56%), getting too close to other people (55%), touching products that other people have touched by other people (45%) and having to wear a mask (28%).

A quarter (24%) of customers are concerned about having to wait in lines inside or outside of stores.

These insights suggest that grocery retailers who address these top concerns and prioritize customer health could increase customer confidence and drive more footfall to their stores.


How lines effect grocery retail sales before and during the Coronavirus

With wait lines proving to be one of the top concerns for customers when visiting stores during the Coronavirus era, we wanted to find out more about how lines impacted customer behavior and why it was a problem.

Our report found that not only are customers visiting stores less because of the pandemic, but when they do visit stores they are less willing to line up, even compared to before the pandemic.

Outside of the Coronavirus outbreak:

Retailers of every type are losing revenue as a direct result of lines, particularly from some of their key customer groups (younger generations and higher household income groups).

85% of customers have avoided entering stores or have walked out of stores without buying anything because of lines and waits for service: 14% said they would do so “often”, 33% said “sometimes’ and 35% said “rarely”.

GenZ, Millennial and GenX age groups were the most likely to avoid entering stores or walkout of stores without purchasing because of lines and waits for service.

Higher household income groups were also more than twice as likely to say they have left stores “often” because of wait lines and waits for service than those in lower income brackets.

During the Coronavirus outbreak:

The lost revenue caused by wait lines is further exacerbated, particularly amongst the key customer groups.



Do lines have a long-term impact on grocery retailer sales?

To add to this challenge, our survey showed that not only do retailers stand to lose immediate revenue opportunity due to long waiting experiences, but they also lose out on future repeat visits and resulting revenues;


Why are wait lines such a big concern to customers?

With wait times proving to severely impact immediate and long-term potential grocery retail revenues, the second part of our survey focussed on understanding how customers felt their experience could be improved.

To help grocery retailers to understand how to improve their waiting experience to minimize the revenue and loyalty loss caused by lines, we asked shoppers what most concerned them about waiting in line in the present period and found that health and lack of comfort are the biggest reasons consumers dislike the experience:

These insights suggest that customers most dislike lines because it makes them feel out of control, uncomfortable and like they are wasting time. Grocery retailers could allay these concerns by using virtual wait line systems and appointment booking solutions, as this would allow them to offer safer, more comfortable and informed waiting experiences that don’t waste customers’ time.


How long customers are prepared to wait for service within grocery retail stores…

When asked how long customers are willing to wait in grocery stores we found that:

14% will only tolerate a wait of up to 3 minutes. 19% will wait between 3-7 minutes and 21% will be willing to wait between 8 and 10 minutes. In total, this means that more than half of grocery shoppers (54%) will only wait up to 10 minutes for service.

These insights demonstrate that the wait time does not need to be long before significant revenues can be lost.

Interestingly, despite being more likely to walkout without buying anything and less likely to return to the store if they are forced to wait, Millennial and GenZ customers have a higher mean wait time threshold than older generations when it comes to waiting in lines at grocery stores. They are more patient of longer waits, though less tolerant and also, more personally insulted if a wait exceeds their expectations.

The same applies to consumers from higher income households. They are less likely to leave stores because of long wait times, but are also less forgiving and less likely to return to the stores afterwards.


Grocery retail wait time is similar to car dealerships and pharmacies.


How do customers want their experiences to be managed within grocery stores…

To understand how Qudini can help our grocery clients at this important time, we sought to understand which of our five key Retail Choreography tools customers wanted to see within grocery retail stores to better manage their experience. So we surveyed customer opinions on:

  • Virtual wait line systems: To manage store capacity and to enable customers to line up virtually using their phone or through a host with a tablet.
  • Appointment scheduling software: To enable customers to schedule store visits and in-person service or virtual service 24/7 from any channel.
  • Contactless collection check-in: To enable customers with online orders to check-in when they arrive at store so that store teams bring their order to them outside of the store.

How do customers want their experiences to be managed within grocery stores…

Customer priorities of these tools specific to grocery retail stores were as follows:

1. Contactless online order collections (54%)

2. Virtual appointments (46%)

3. Store with host app (42%)

4. Virtual wait line systems (40%)

5. Store appointments (31%)



Consumers earning between $100 and $300k where the most likely to want Retail Choreography solutions from all retail types.

Female consumers were slightly more interested in contactless curbside collection, while males were more interested in virtual appointments.

When asked why customers would find virtual wait line systems and appointment booking software useful within retail stores during the pandemic, it was clear that most customers felt the solutions could alleviate their health concerns, alongside their concerns around wasted time, poor weather conditions, lack of information and fair process.


What impact would using these solutions have on grocery retail customer spend, advocacy and loyalty?

The survey responses also indicate that grocery retailers who use any of these five solutions to choreograph their customers’ experience stand to gain significantly through improved revenues and brand relationships across channels.

The solutions would positively impact consumers’ interactions with retailers in one or more of the following ways:


The survey insights showed the powerful business case benefits for Retail Choreography tools within grocery retail

Our survey found that customers are more likely to find Retail Choreography tools useful within grocery retail stores.

All this confirms what we all instinctively know to be true – customers want retailers to use digital tools to improve their experience, and they will be driven to spend more and to engage more across a retailer’s entire omni-channel offering in return.

The significantly greater interest in Retail Choreography tools suggests they may have wanted these kinds of tools all along and that Covid-19 will prove to be a catalyst for a new era of omni-channel retailing as retailers realize the powerful business case benefits behind offering such tools.

To further add to the business case benefit of using Retail Choreography solutions within grocery retail and the conclusion that Covid will prove to be a catalyst for a new era of omni-channel retailing where lines are eliminated and in-store or virtual appointments and curbside pickup become the norm.

Overall, our survey shows that a long wait time is more likely to deter consumers, especially younger consumers and those from higher household income groups, from visiting stores or returning in the future. To combat this, the insights show that Retail Choreography tools offer a powerful antidote, as these same demographics are also the most likely to be driven to purchase in-store and online across a retailer’s channels, and the most likely to return again as a result of a retailer’s use of digital tools to choreograph their experience.


Improving grocery profitability and driving lasting brand relevance

These insights show that both during and outside of the Coronavirus, grocery retailers have much to gain by using Retail choreography solutions to manage lines, to offer in-store and virtual appointments and to provide contactless pickup services.

Our many case studies with leading grocery retailers have also shown the same. For more information on how we can help your brand take a look at our customer success stories or get in touch with our team for a demo at


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