Shopper behaviour has changed over the past year in response to the new economic, societal and psychological dynamics largely triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, we continue to observe shifts in shopper behaviour driven by shopper’s needs, but also influenced by retail offerings that continue to evolve.

Before and during the early days of the first COVID-19 lockdown, shoppers flocked to stores to stock up on shelf-stable groceries and household essentials in what has been termed as ‘pantry loading’. This departure from the regular pattern of mid-month top-up basket shopping and month-end full trolley shopping occurred as consumers were stocking up to mitigate the risk of out-of-stocks of essential goods, while at the same time, reducing shopping frequency to avoid the risk of infection in crowded retail stores.

Grocery shopping patterns have subsequently changed again, with more South Africans purchasing groceries online and shopping closer to home to avoid unnecessary trips to malls and large supermarkets. One would think that this would lead to less top-up basket shopping and more full trolley shopping. However, recent observations in retail have shown a reduction in full-trolley shopping, even at month-end when one would expect it after pay day.

Since many cash-strapped South Africans are feeling the economic pinch amplified by COVID, retailers have responded with more regular value offerings communicated through broadsheet advertising of combo-deals, hamper deals and deep discounts of grocery essentials across all key categories. This may explain the reduction in full-trolley shopping as value deals advertised on retailer broadsheets have found their way onto South African shopping lists all through the month. 

The Food & Groceries Retail Insights survey by the Publisher Research Council last year showed that 61% of South African household shoppers use retailer broadsheet adverts to compare food and grocery prices between different retailers, whilst 53% use them to plan their shopping. Shoppers are regularly seen using broadsheets in store to select discounted products off the shelf, and will also shop across multiple stores during one shopping trip. Of course, online shopping plays a role too in the change in behaviour too, but given the still low penetration of online grocery retail in South Africa, the key changes in shopper behaviour are the ones being seen in store and broadsheet promotions seem to be the key driver of this.

Key take-out: If your product offer is not on broadsheets across the country, how is the South African shopper expected to know about it?

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