5 minutes

The online vs the offline retailer – who wins post lockdown?

With lockdown restrictions on non-essential shops about to be lifted, the question so many retailers are pondering at the moment is, will shoppers return to physical stores? And the answer is undoubtedly, yes, they absolutely will. But will this be anything like pre-Covid levels? 

The rise of online shopping has been well documented over the last year and without it, many businesses would have failed. Ecommerce has been on the rise for years and this was the catalyst that tipped it over the edge. The grocery sector has had a brilliant year online and offline, with those stores being some of the few that we have been allowed to visit. Ocado reported a 35.3 per cent growth in revenue, driven by the pandemic. 

In the last 12 months, there’s been a shift in consumers’ social conscience. Research carried out by PWC indicates that we will spend less on every category (excluding groceries) in the next 12 months, but instead of trading down, we’ll just shop smarter; wasting less, buying less. Google Trends also shows a 100% peak growth YoY for terms such as ‘sustainable fashion’; as consumers become more conscious of their purchasing decisions. 

People are more for helping the little local guy or a smaller independent business than the big brands. ‘Near me’ (shopping) searches remained strong throughout the last year – partly prompted by convenience, but also by a drive to support businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Quality and sustainability are still going to be important to consumers.

During the last 12 months, if you’re an online retailer, the chances are that you will have picked up new customers. Yes, some of your existing customers will have been buying online, but there will be new ones in the mix too. It’s important that you know who your customers are now and that you have plans in place to keep them. We’ve seen from some of our own clients that the ‘typical’ customer has changed and yours may not be what you expect when you analyse your audience data.

Consumers will visit shops again. Just look at the increases B&Q have reported: 634% profit increase in the last 12 months. It was the only place open other than the supermarkets, so no wonder so many of us decided that we needed more ferns and cheese plants and that the dining room/spare room/corner of the bedroom that’s now the office needed a lick of paint.

People get excited when shops reopen. We saw it back in June and again in December when we last had some lockdown rest bite. Some of our own client’s research supports this fact, in that their customers are wanting to return to stores again. But all stores will have to open in a Covid safe way and be clear with consumers what that means. 

‘When will the shops reopen?’ Google Trend analysis March 2020 – March 2021


So back to the original question; online or offline, who wins post-lockdown? Both do. 

After shopping online for so long, this learned behaviour is bound to stick and the growth of ecommerce is set to continue. So don’t take your eye off the digital ball for a second, but don’t expect the growth to be as steep as 2020. Although it is expected that consumers will return to stores, we won’t have the Black Friday scenes of c.2010 just yet. 55% of people think that the virus will only stop impacting their lives when most of the population have been vaccinated (EY.com). With that in mind, ‘normal’ shopping is more likely to be seen at the end of summer, once the vaccination roll out is closer to completion. 


Our top tips for brands looking to drive footfall in to their stores when they are re-open

If you do have physical stores that you want to drive customers to, here are some ways that we’re supporting our clients to drive demand and footfall in to their stores: 

  • Use Google Local Actions and Facebook Store Visits objectives to help drive footfall
  • Make sure you have updated your opening hours on GMB and Bing Places
  • Are you offering click and collect? Update your messaging online around this
  • Make sure call extensions are live for each of your stores and times for these to run are up-to-date
  • Add location extensions to your campaigns.
  • Use Display Ads to target current customers/previous visitors in the local area that inform them that your store is re-opening/open
  • Ensure your health and safety plans in-store are well communicated online to build customer reassurance