The Fragmented Shopper

The Pandemic has Changed Shopper Behavior

There’s no doubt that shopper behavior has changed due to the pandemic. Studies everywhere show that e-commerce has grown enormously, and people are doing larger, less frequent shops in supermarkets. The problem is these are just generalizations and don’t really provide any meaningful insights.

Post-pandemic, It’s Even More Complicated

The reality is that predicting what will happen next is hard to do. Some people will continue to shop online because of the convenience, but not all – maybe they still want to pick their own produce, or maybe they just had a bad experience. Others will continue to pay a delivery fee because they had no choice during the pandemic and have gotten used to absorbing this cost, while others will venture into the store to save the delivery fee. Some people will continue to work from home and that weekly trip to the supermarket to get out of the house will continue to be a welcome distraction while others will return to work and shop online in order to save time. Not everything we’ve seen during the pandemic will stick.

A Fresh Look at Shopper Behavior

Perhaps the biggest change in shopper behavior is fragmentation. This is where shopping trips are divided across several channels or trips. The big weekly shop is being broken up amongst different retailers. Some items are bought in discounters, some online, some via subscription, and some in a supermarket. This change existed even before the pandemic, but it has now accelerated.

Although there are fewer trips on average, there is still plenty of fragmented shopping. Proof of this can be seen by the huge growth of Shopify which supports many smaller online retailers each vying for a piece of the shopper pie.

As shoppers have access to more options, they realize that no one option is perfect for every shopping trip. Online is convenient, but not if you need the product immediately. Supermarkets are pretty good for most categories, but not all, and subscriptions carry a very limited number of items. To make matters more complicated, fragmentation isn’t a universal trend. Not everyone has fragmented their shopping. Many shoppers still do a weekly big shop just like they did before the pandemic.

The main takeaway is that the variance in our shopping patterns has increased. More shoppers will be shopping in more varied ways than ever before. Some will maintain their habits; some will have changed their habits while others will remain somewhere in the middle.

The Path Forward for Brands and Retailers

So, what should retailers and brands do? It’s a headache for retailers but an opportunity for brands. Retailers, particularly big-box retailers, will have a hard time trying to be everything to everyone as they are not set up to cater to shoppers wanting to make quick trips. On the other hand, specialty retailers will find it hard to attract those wanting to do a big shop because of the limited selection they carry. Even harder, how do retailers try to make it work for smaller shopping trips and larger trips at the same time?

For brands to be successful they need to target and differentiate. There’s no point trying to go after every shopper. Customizing their activities to go after that subset of shoppers they are trying to appeal to will win the game. This begins with identifying which shoppers use which channels and then tailoring activity to fit with that. It’s clear that this doesn’t always happen when we see brands using the same activity across all channels, regardless of whether the channel is targeting a quick shop or a big shop.

Shoppers and their missions continue to become less homogeneous. The only way to win is to target shoppers and tune your investment and efforts towards influencing them. It’s not easy but the reality of the fragmented shopper dictates that it’s the only way forward.

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