FMI research finds normalcy is not in the cards, not yet

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Aug 27, 2021

In a blog post, Steve Markenson, director, research & insights at FMI, remarks that Labor Day typically denotes a return to normalcy as summer vacations end, kids return to school and adults resume their daily work lives. Normalcy has become a relative term since COVID-19 hit the U.S. last year. There was certainly nothing approaching what we once considered normal following Labor Day 2020, and there is no sign of its impending return this year, either.

FMI’s latest “U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker: Back to School/Back to Office” shows that more than half of Americans are very or extremely concerned about the spread of the virus and what variants could come next.

While vaccinated individuals can take some comfort from having added protection, many express legitimate concerns about indoor shopping and eating environments. Consumers know, based on roughly 18 months of evidence, that open spaces, masks and social distancing measures help to thwart the spread of COVID-19. That means that many who have increased the percentage of purchases made online are likely to continue doing so and many restaurant patrons will choose takeout or outdoor dining rather than asking to be seated indoors.

Half of those surveyed believe that their current shopping behavior is what will pass for normal for the time being with another third not expecting a return to something resembling pre-pandemic normal until next year. One-sixth are more optimistic and expect life to go back to what it once was between now and the end of the year.

The group most likely to expect a shift toward normalcy this fall are parents with school-age children. About one-third fully expect that school life will normalize between the start of school and the end of 2021.

Parents are, in fact, twice as likely to believe that a sense of stability will return, not only to school, but other parts of their lives over the next several months. Sending kids to school has become a reality even for parents who have reservations about their unvaccinated children going back to the classroom. Vaccinations are not yet approved for children under the age of 12 and only about 25 percent of kids between 12 and 15 have received both shots of the two-dose vaccines on the market, according to a U.S. News & World Report article.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What shopping habits do you think have been permanently changed in the U.S. as a result of COVID-19? Are retailers and their suppliers prepared for the pandemic to extend into next year?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Navigating inventory management and demand forecasting between all channels should be a key priority in this new era of retail."
"All signs point to logistics and distribution being even more difficult Q4 2021 than it was Q4 2020."
"It only takes a short time for customers to adopt new methods of engagement, shopping, and how they interact with retailers and brands."

Join the Discussion!

16 Comments on "FMI research finds normalcy is not in the cards, not yet"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

What we considered “normal” before the pandemic’s onset has changed based on shifting customer behaviors. It only takes a short time for customers to adopt new methods of engagement, shopping, and how they interact with retailers and brands. A digital-first operating model is here to stay. This includes the emergence of BOPIS, curbside pickup, leveraging QR codes, social selling, live streaming, and digital personalized marketing.

Resiliency, adaptability, and leveraging multiple shopping channels have been the prevalent themes from the customer’s perspective. Customers have learned to adapt how they shop when dealing with retailers facing significant supply chain shortages and longer lead times. In parallel, retailers have adapted their operating models to offer a wider assortment of products when their core vendors are experiencing supply chain challenges.

We may never truly return to whatever we considered the old “normal.” We have to prepare contingency plans for when things don’t go according to plan.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I was going to say that we’ve learned to be more flexible when products are out-of-stock – we’ll find substitutes. And we get that prices are higher on some stuff because we’re paying people more to deliver to the stores and work in the stores. But then, I don’t think this is permanent either. At some point, someone’s going to figure out how to have full shelves of products people want (or are willing to buy) at a reasonable price and we’ll go back to how we thought before. I’m sure online will continue to be a good source for those who can afford it and can manage it operationally in their lives, but this remains a more elite long-term habit.

Clearly we are not prepared for the pandemic to extend, as I walked by empty shelves in Walmart, Target, and Kroger this morning.

Al McClain
Staff

There are so many factors to consider regarding consumers and their shopping habits that we never even thought of 18 months ago. Such as: willingness to risk health to make in-person shopping trips, risk vs. reward tolerance and calculation, virus transmission levels down to the zip code level, online and social media misinformation levels, entrenchment of new and old habits, etc. In a nutshell, it varies widely by locality and personal tolerance for risk and perceived risk. And, so it goes………..

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Shoppers will remain off-balance for months if not years. But never underestimate the need of the human psyche to become comfortable with our environment. We will find ways to normalize our new lives — even if that is substantially different from our previous routine. The greatest impact will no doubt be in our comfort level with online shopping. We will only return to stores for things that interest us or provide some sort of tangible enjoyment. Food shopping is one of those for most of us, so grocery and convenience are the most likely channels to return to pre-pandemic traffic levels.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

I agree. Prior to the pandemic, consumers struggled to understand why they would engage in curbside or in-store pickup services when they could either just order online or shop in a store. Our necessary reliance on omnichannel shopping taught us how well it actually fits in our daily routines. The convenience experienced by these paths to purchase mean that omnichannel shopping is the new normal.

I don’t feel retailers and suppliers have fully set themselves up for success here just yet though. Many omnichannel initiatives were in the works but not in existence until the last year, which means there are still a lot of tweaks to be made. Navigating inventory management and demand forecasting between all channels should be a key priority in this new era of retail.

Ian Leslie
BrainTrust

“Are retailers and their suppliers prepared for the pandemic to extend into next year?” Definitely not. All signs point to logistics and distribution being even more difficult Q4 2021 than it was Q4 2020. People are saying if you want your holiday gifts in time for December then you better order them in September. The brands that are best able to deal with these issues are going to come out on top with a lot of new, loyal customers.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Retailers are in a delicate place right now with rebuilding lost ground and figuring out what changes to shopping habits they need to prepare for in the future. If the pandemic worsens to the point where lockdowns are necessary, many retailers won’t survive. If we can hold COVID-19 at bay for another six months, more retailers will have time to update their business models to incorporate the aspects of brick-and-mortar that are most tied to making e-commerce profitable, namely click & collect, return kiosks, ship from store, reserve online/try in store, curbside, micro-fulfillment and last mile consolidation.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Agreed! “more retailers will have time to update their business models to incorporate the aspects of brick-and-mortar that are most tied to making e-commerce profitable…” any that do not update will become a future RetailWire discussion topic.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

The perception and appreciation of convenience really changed during the pandemic. Shopping habits now embrace technologies, services or products that deliver on that promise to a greater degree, whether it is home delivery, curbside pickup, breadth of assortment in stores, meal kits etc. – the list goes on. The challenge for retailers will be to be able to provide the goods or services in a consistent and meaningful manner regardless of the operating conditions. Transparency is also important, so that customers feel they can make good decisions about products or services and follow the status of orders.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Overall, the pandemic permanently heightened consumer expectations for omnichannel excellence.

We now expect retail businesses of all sizes to have a digital presence. E-commerce, BOPIS, curbside pick-up, fast delivery, ship-from-store are evolving into table stakes.

Physical stores have adapted to support these digital service options, as well as more rigorous health and safety protocols.

Also, home is our hub, as we increasingly buy local and embrace convenient home delivery for merchandise and meals.

As the pandemic persists, costly omnichannel essentials, product shortages and inflation will threaten unprepared companies.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

We live at the corner of 1st Ave and 57th Street. The Bloomingdale’s flagship store is at 59th and 3rd. Really close! Yet 100 percent of my wife’s Bloomie purchases are online. Why? “There are so many things online that they don’t have in the store.” We can repeat this example for any number of retailers.

The pandemic certainly surfaced this discovery. But as the virus wanes, it is quite unlikely that this new behavior will revert to in-store shopping. Even those who were wary of online shopping prior to the pandemic have now gotten more comfortable and appreciative of the ease and convenience it offers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all, one of the backdoor gifts of the pandemic is that it has shaken us all out of our smug complacency and cliched views of consumers and their behaviors, and that is good. Secondly, consumers have demonstrated what we should have already known – that human beings are almost infinitely adaptable and capable of negotiating around nearly any challenge. Third, what COVID-19 did was accelerate some behaviors that were already changing, including ordering online, home delivery, BOPIS, use of interactive technologies, and the demise of “classic” brand loyalty. Retailers and branders didn’t want to acknowledge these changes were in motion until they had their faces rubbed in them, but hopefully – going forward – nobody will ever make the patently false assumption that the future is likely to be just a linear extension of the past and present.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

Grocery shopping online has “jumped the shark” in the past year, and consumers will continue to purchase for delivery and for pickup at a much higher level than pre-pandemic. Also, as retailers continue to shorten delivery times and expedite returns, consumers will not return to the malls in the coming year in the quantity that did before. When consumers do return, they will come for more single-point shopping — to a specific store to fill a specific need, rather than mall browse. Finally, I think the days of business suits and more formal women’s wear may be ending (outside of DC, that is). When you encourage employees to come in business casual, it will be hard to get them to go back!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m confused by use of the term “prepared”; does this mean “realize it might happen” or “able to overcome adversity” or “making contingency plans” or … well, whatever.

It is, at the moment, a remarkably weird world: we have many people, companies, agencies acting like everything is business as usual — just the other day we had someone offering up YoY comps to 2020 (!) — while it should be obvious to everyone it’s not business as usual. But then many of us said the same thing about (effectively) zero interest rates … and that was a decade ago.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

I believe shopping habits were changing before the pandemic. Covid-19 hastened the process. Online ordering, particularly grocery items, with the attendant delivery options, e.g., ship to home, ship to store, drop box, etc. moved from its infancy to mainstream. Seamless and contactless purchases are becoming more of the ante. The continued shift from branded to own label has accelerated in the last 18 months. Retailers and suppliers need to recognize that we are not going back to pre Covid shopping behavior. The “new normal” is certainly new but not normal.

Allison McGuire
BrainTrust

Certainly online shopping will remain strong and the convenience of grocery and food delivery has been a wonderful revelation for many. As we return to work, we’re going to feel like we have less time and those added conveniences will remain in place for the future.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Navigating inventory management and demand forecasting between all channels should be a key priority in this new era of retail."
"All signs point to logistics and distribution being even more difficult Q4 2021 than it was Q4 2020."
"It only takes a short time for customers to adopt new methods of engagement, shopping, and how they interact with retailers and brands."

Take Our Instant Poll

How optimistic are you that retailers and their suppliers are prepared for the pandemic to extend into next year?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...