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Living in Lockdown: Good for our high street?

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Opinium question whether the reopening of the high street will signify a return to shopping.

The re-opening of the high street has seen shoppers up and down the country queuing to enter their favourite stores. But is the public keen to return to their old habits, or has Covid-19 altered consumer shopping behaviour for good?

Results from Opinium's latest Retail Tracker found that shoppers’ habits and their decisions on where to shop, have been significantly altered due to the lockdown.

Before 23 March, many shoppers would visit the same stores on autopilot – out of habit, convenience, and reluctance for change. The enforced change in our behaviour, however, has meant consumers have developed a more conscious and empathetic approach to shopping and awareness of local high streets and independent businesses has increased.

As one door closes, another door opens

The lockdown has, unsurprisingly, been a major catalyst in the inevitable leap towards online shopping becoming the leading point of purchase for consumers.

Opinium’s Retail Tracker found that nearly half (49%) of UK adults claim to have shopped online more during the pandemic than they did previously. With online delivery services continuing to operate, despite the huge increase in demand, there has been a 10% rise in shoppers switching from buying groceries in-store to now ordering online.

Is there still a need for the physical high street shop?

In a time when social distancing has become the norm, the importance of togetherness and community spirit has been a huge highlight of lockdown. Volunteers have offered their time to help the vulnerable, neighbours have clapped for the NHS and streets have held parties for momentous occasions. This kindness has also been reflected in the way people have decided to shop as more people have been making the increased effort to shop locally and support small businesses.

Nearly a third (32%) of UK adults claim to have shopped in local stores during the pandemic. Moreover, two in ten (22%), admit that they had not considered shopping locally before the lockdown began. This trend is supported by over three quarters (76%) of UK adults agreeing that it is important to support local businesses at this time – a belief that has been reflected in shoppers’ actions as more reconsider their habits and make conscious decisions on which stores are best to invest their time and money in.

How bright is the future of local shops when lockdown ends?

But will this trend continue after lockdown measures are lifted? The good news is that the future of local high street shops looks much brighter than predicted before the pandemic.

Although 40% of UK shoppers are concerned about social distancing inside stores, nearly two-thirds (64%) of shoppers who have been shopping locally said they intended to continue to use those stores once restrictions have been removed.

So, while lockdown measures ease and consumers return to high street shops, will the role of shopping will be the same as it once was?

As the rise in online buying increases and consumerism develops virtually, shopping in-store may now fulfil a different purpose: supporting the community in which we live, rather than consumers bargaining for a good price or sale.

Alice McTiernan, researcher at Opinium.

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