Survey insights for UK grocery stores: how consumers want to shop during Covid-19

Ed Heal
by Ed Heal

On 25 September 2020 we surveyed 2,000 UK consumers about their shopping behaviours in grocery 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 queuing in 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, higher earning households and women.



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

Before Covid-19, 98% of the shoppers within our survey said they visited grocery stores. 72% said they did so often, 21% said they did so sometimes and 6% 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 visit supermarkets sometimes.

Consumers from lower income households are more likely to visit grocery stores often, while those from higher income households are more likely to visit stores sometimes.

Women are more likely than men to visit grocery stores often while men are more likely to visit sometimes.



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

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, 44% of grocery store customers are visiting these types of stores less than before. Half (46%) are visiting them the same as before. Only 10% of customers are visiting these types of stores more than before.

In addition to being their lowest level of visitors outside of the Coronavirus, Millennial and GenZ consumers are the most likely to reduce their visits to grocery stores during the Coronavirus outbreak. On the other hand, 10% of Millennial and GenZ customers have increased their visits.

Baby Boomers are the most likely to be visiting these types of stores the same as before.

In addition to being the largest visitor group outside of Covid-19, higher household income groups are the least likely to reduce their visits to grocery stores as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Almost a third (29%) of higher income households are visiting grocery stores more than they were before and only 32% are visiting grocery stores less.

This perhaps suggests a widening economic gap created by the Coronavirus 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. These results match our findings by showing that women are more likely to visit grocery stores less than before.


How customer avoidance of grocery stores compares to other store types…

On average, 64% of people said they were avoiding all store types where possible, so the percentage of customers avoiding grocery stores matches this average.

Grocery stores are less avoided by their customers than almost all other stores with the exception of other essential stores like supermarkets and banks.

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 69% of consumers stating this to be the case. This was followed by an increased use of online shopping (41%) and financial concerns (31%). All age groups are increasing their use of online shopping channels equally.

Financial concerns and, interestingly, environmental consciousness has proved greatest amongst GenZ consumers and lower household income.

The fact that younger generations are 3x more likely to avoid stores for environmental reasons than Baby Boomers or GenX customer is something grocery stores retailers need to become increasingly aware of, as it will effect the way consumers shop as they increase in spending power.


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

When it comes to visiting stores, customers’ biggest concerns are getting too close to other people (54%), other people not wearing masks (52%), touching products that other people have touched (43%) and queuing (36%).

A quarter (25%) of customers are concerned about having to wear masks themselves, half that of those concerned about others not wearing masks.

An additional 25% are concerned about the idea of having to queue outside of stores and 18% are concerned about queuing inside of stores.

These insights suggest that grocery stores who address these top 4 concerns and prioritise customer health could increase customer confidence and drive more footfall to their stores.


How queues effect grocery store sales before and during the Coronavirus

With queuing 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 queuing impacted customer behaviour 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 queue, even compared to before the pandemic.

Outside of the Coronavirus outbreak:

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

83% of customers have avoided entering stores or have walked out of stores without buying anything because of queues and waits for service: 10% said they would do so “often”, 38% said “sometimes’ and 35% said “rarely”.

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

Higher household income groups were also more than twice as likely to be deterred by queuing and waits for service than those in lower income brackets.

During the Coronavirus outbreak:

The lost revenue caused by queuing is further exacerbated, particularly amongst the key customer groups: younger generations, higher household incomes groups and women.


Do queues have a long-term impact on grocery 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 is queuing such a big concern to customers?

With wait times proving to severely impact immediate and long-term potential grocery store 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 minimise the revenue and loyalty loss caused by queuing, we asked shoppers what most concerned them about queuing in the present period and found that health and lack of comfort are the biggest reasons consumers dislike queuing:

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

High value consumers are also more likely to take queues personally:

The fact that these groups take queuing so much more personally (almost as an insult to them from the brand) suggests why they are both more likely to walkout of a store without making a purchase because of a queue and are also less likely to return to a store where they experienced a queue.

The fact that these valuable groups are so much more personally insulted by a need to queue shows that retailers need to work harder to minimise queues if they want to retain the long-term affection of these customer groups.


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

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

15% will only tolerate a wait of up to 3 minutes. 18% will wait between 3-7 minutes and 25% will be willing to wait between 8 and 10 minutes. In total, this means that more than half of grocery store shoppers (58%) 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 queues at grocery stores. They are more patient of longer waits, though less tolerant and also, more personally insulted if a wait exceeds their expectations.

Interestingly, the survey found that consumers from higher income households are more willing to wait, although less forgiving of the brand when returning. However, 24% of those from the highest income group aren’t willing to wait any longer than 3 minutes when waiting to enter a grocery store or to receive service.

Grocery store wait time tolerance is similar to that of grocery stores and high value stores like estate agencies and cycle stores.


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

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

  • Virtual Queuing Systems: To manage store capacity and to enable customers to queue 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 stores were as follows:

For Millennial and GenZ customers:

1. Virtual queuing systems (35%)

2. Contactless online order collections (34%)

3. Store appointments (27%)

4. Virtual appointments (17%)


For Baby Boomer customers:

1. Contactless online order collection (31%)

2. Virtual queuing systems (26%)

3. Store appointments (19%)

4. Virtual appointments (12%)

Overall Millennial and GenZ customers are more likely to find these solution useful. This pattern for was common across most retail industries.

Overall, consumers earning between £50k and £100k where the most likely to want Retail Choreography solutions from grocery retailers, especially click and collect software. Those earning up to of £50k were more likely to want store appointments and virtual queuing.

Female consumers were more interested in each solution than male consumers. This suggests that for grocery stores primarily targeting female consumers, there’s an even greater business case for investing in these in-store experience tools to drive sales.

When asked why customers would find virtual queuing 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 store customer spend, advocacy and loyalty?

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

This is particularly prevalent amongst Millennial and GenZ customers where an average of 77% state that the solutions would positively impact their interactions with retailers in one or more of the following ways:


Could Covid-19 be a catalyst for a new era of omni-channel grocery stores ?

Our survey found that Millennial and GenZ customers are 3-4 times more likely to find Retail Choreography tools useful within grocery retail stores.

When compared with Baby Boomers across all types of retail stores, these younger generations also report that if a retailer used such tools to manage their experience, they would be:

All this confirms what we all instinctively know to be true – Millennial and GenZ 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 from younger generations 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 realise the powerful business case benefits behind offering such tools.

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



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

Our survey also showed that, when compared with their lower household income peers, higher household income groups were 1.6 times more likely to be driven to buy something online or in-store as a result of a retailer using these tools.

21% said they were more likely to make an in-store purchase and 19% were more likely to shop with the retailer online, compared with 12.5% of those from lower household income groups.

Overall, our survey shows that a long wait time is more likely to deter younger generations 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 profitability and driving lasting brand relevance

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

Our many case studies with leading grocery stores 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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