This time last year, V360° presented Irish Retail Landscape Reimagined 2024 at MII DMX. Examining four fundamental themes of retail – Convenience, Curation, Experiential and Social, we looked through our crystal ball to what the future retail landscape in Ireland is likely to be in 2024.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact i. So one month into the strict Covid-19 lockdown measures, is a timely moment to revisit this work from 12 months ago, and see how the forced Covid-19 Lockdown restrictions are likely to shape the Irish retail landscape going forward. By understanding how retail is likely to evolve, we can provide a useful framework for developing commercial marketing plans and activations going forward, for both brand owners and retailers alike.

CAVEAT EMPTOR. Our job at V360° is not to predict exactly how things will turn out in the coming months or years, but to help prepare our clients for the outcomes that are reasonably possible. To that end, this blog is intended to provoke positive discussion to help navigate the current crisis and prepare for the future. It’s fair to say that we do not have any clairvoyant powers to predict what’s going to happen in the next 15 minutes, let alone 5 years. However, we have a good idea, based on our expertise and experience in shopper and retail what is likely to transpire.

The first of our four themes that we’ll examine is Convenience, which we will do over two blog posts: Re-Evaluating The In-Store Shopper Experience followed by Accelerating Grocery eCommerce.

Retail Convenience is driven by the long-term consumer trend of ‘Busy Lives’ – people increasingly claim to be time-pressed in their day-to-day lives. The increasing demand for products and formats that can make life easier or help people control what they buy, store, prepare, serve and consume is clear evidence of the value people play on convenience.

For many, the reward for shopping is getting the job done, with the minimum of fuss, so they can get back to their daily lives. A rising number of shoppers are becoming accustomed to on-demand services such as Amazon Prime, Buymie and Deliveroo providing almost instant gratification creating the Verruca Salt (from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) – ‘Don’t care how, I want it now’ shopper mindset’.

This demand for instant gratification or fulfilment, next day, same day, or within the hour has been diluted by Covid-19 but it hasn’t gone away. For many Convenience has taken a back seat to our desire to shop in a safe, hygienic, location and the requirement to maintain a safe social distance of 2m from people.

Retailers have been investing in technology that enables shoppers to complete their shopping trip in less time.

While some may have more time in the absence of commuting, school runs, social, sporting and leisure activities, many are as busy if not busier than ever, with added stress of the demands of being a parent, teacher while working from home and / or looking after friends and family that are vulnerable to Coid-19.

Either which way queuing for supermarkets and grocery stores isn’t how most of us would like to spend our time.

Shopping Behaviour Is In A State Of Flux

The first series of societal lockdown measures implemented, in mid-March, triggered the single biggest shopping day in the Irish Grocery market – EVER!ii Since then our shopping behaviour has evolved from initial panic buying and hoarding to a more controlled and planned stock-up shopping behaviour, as we purchase for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for 7 days of the week.iii

Shopping under a Covid-19 cloud, people are concerned and conscious of their personal safety. This is particularly so for the elderly, especially those over 70 years old, many of whom are afraid to go outside, let alone to shop for groceries. Hygiene and cleanliness consistently feature among the reasons for positive shopping experiences.iv These factors are likely to remain important for the foreseeable future, as people decide on whether or not a shop is safe to visit and whether they need to visit.

Measures adopted by retailers to enforce social distancing and hygiene measures, while caring for those that need extra help.

Enforced measures to minimise risk to both retail staff and customers:

  • Queuing, 2 metres apart, prior to entering a store – up to an hour if unlucky.

  • Once inside, shoppers are ‘waltzing’, trying to stay 2m apart each other.

  • Interfacing with staff through screens and barriers.

  • Contactless payments –encouraged instead of cash / Chip & PIN.

Shoppers adopting new behaviours:

  • Big Shop (Stock Up) and Seldom has replaced ‘Little and Often’.

  • In-store shopping behaviour driven by ‘Grab‘n’Go’ and less browsing.

  • Much more pre-planned shopping trips, in line with our ‘lockdown lives’.

  • Agency Shopping (buying for others) both in terms of other people in household and for neighbours / family who can’t go out.

  • Surge in demand for online shopping, dramatically outstripping capacity for supermarkets, with two week delivery wait times.

Not surprisingly these enforced measures to the store environment has raised many peoples level of stress and anxiousness.

Surviving The Now To Thrive In The Future.

The enforced social distancing measures of Covid-19 are set to be with us for the foreseeable future, probably until a vaccine is made widely available, which could be 12-18 months away. More and more retailers that initially pulled down their shutters, in anticipation of the lockdown being short term, are reopening for business. Some are setting up local delivery, Click‘n’Collect, contactless payments to minimise risk to their staff and customers alike. Others are investing in store refits to comply with health and safety requirements, many are doing both.

Shoppers are also adopting new coping mechanisms to deal with intermittent availability of their regular purchases, looking for ideas for breakfast lunch dinner and snacks, as well as navigating the store, without bumping into people.

During this time of dramatic change to the retail landscape it’s important to remember that this is temporary and that the fundamental needs of shoppers in terms of Cost, Choice, Customer Service and Convenience remain. However their expectations as to how these needs can be meet are fast evolving.

IMPLICATIONS FOR RETAIL LANDSCAPE POST COVID-19.

Below are nine areas in which Covid-19 will either accelerate existing retail store practises and the use of technology to reduce friction for shoppers or indeed transform the in-store shopper experience.

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    Helping Shoppers Find What They Are Looking For – Getting the fundamentals of ‘Ease of Shop’ has never been more crucial, especially given the ebb and flow of stock availability and the need for shoppers and staff to coexist in store. From intuitive signage that helps shoppers navigate the store, while keeping their social distance, to visual cues that help them locate their desired purchases. All the while ensuring that shoppers feel that they are in safe environment.

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    Increased Reliance On Frictionless Payment – Retailers in Ireland have now increased their cap for tap card payments from €30 to €50 as shoppers are encouraged to use their card to tap or Chip & PIN instead of using cash. According to the Central Bank of Ireland the value of card spending is down by almost one-third and ATM withdrawals are down by 57 per cent, highlighting the increased preference of people using cards in lieu of cash to pay for purchases.v

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    Booking A Slot To Shop – For larger store formats booking shopping slots in advance, just like the hairdressers or tee off times at a golf course, could help reduce queuing both outside store and at the tills. It would also reduce shopper stress levels by allowing them to plan their shopping trips in advance. Maintaining a walk-up option would be important to maintain. As indeed would a priority queue for frontline workers.

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    Click ‘n’ Collect + Drive-Through For Groceries – O’Brien’s Off Licence will offer to put customers’ orders into their car boot, with customers either pre-paying or using contactless payment, minimising staff interaction and reducing the need for customers to visit the store. Ger Roche, owner of Vista Allcare Pharmacy Naas, introduced the innovative drive through service last week in response to the spread of the coronavirus. “It’s a simple system; we’ve introduced a drive-up hatch for motorists – they just ring the hatch bell, and an attendant will come to the hatch to serve them’.

Helping Shoppers Find What They Are Looking For – Getting the fundamentals of ‘Ease of Shop’ has never been more crucial, especially given the ebb and flow of stock availability and the need for shoppers and staff to coexist in store. From intuitive signage that helps shoppers navigate the store, while keeping their social distance, to visual cues that help them locate their desired purchases. All the while ensuring that shoppers feel that they are in safe environment.

Increased Reliance On Frictionless Payment – Retailers in Ireland have now increased their cap for tap card payments from €30 to €50 as shoppers are encouraged to use their card to tap or Chip & PIN instead of using cash. According to the Central Bank of Ireland the value of card spending is down by almost one-third and ATM withdrawals are down by 57 per cent, highlighting the increased preference of people using cards in lieu of cash to pay for purchases.v

Booking A Slot To Shop – For larger store formats booking shopping slots in advance, just like the hairdressers or tee off times at a golf course, could help reduce queuing both outside store and at the tills. It would also reduce shopper stress levels by allowing them to plan their shopping trips in advance. Maintaining a walk-up option would be important to maintain. As indeed would a priority queue for frontline workers.

Click‘n’Collect + Drive-Through For Groceries – O’Brien’s Off Licence will offer to put customers’ orders into their car boot, with customers either pre-paying or using contactless payment, minimising staff interaction and reducing the need for customers to visit the store. Ger Roche, owner of Vista Allcare Pharmacy Naas, introduced the innovative drive through service last week in response to the spread of the coronavirus. “It’s a simple system; we’ve introduced a drive-up hatch for motorists – they just ring the hatch bell, and an attendant will come to the hatch to serve them’.

Irish retailers pivoting to stay relevant during Covid-19.

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    Robots Helping Staff And Customers – Retailers are turning to robots to assist them in restocking shelves, cleaning aisles, scanning and sorting inventory, and preparing food in order to improve efficiency and relieve store staff.vi It is expected that retailers who have adopted this robotic infrastructure will continue to use and develop it after the eye of the Covid-19 storm passes. Many of these robots are equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) software and sensors to effectively carry out their tasks. Walmart US is expanding its use of robots and AI technology by introducing self-driving robots to 1,860 of its stores and 1,000 restocking robots to its fleet by the end of the year. Robots also assist customers by telling them what items are in or out of stock and when they will be back in-store.vii

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    Use Of Surveillance Technology For Shoppers – Grocery retailers in the US are using a device called SmartDome that surveys shoppers as they enter the store, complete their shopping mission, and check out. It is like a security camera and sends messages to shoppers that are disobeying social distancing rules such as reminders to maintain six feet of social distance for their safety. It is likely that retailers will continue to use technology in this way as we move into living a ‘new normal’ and keep safety and bio hazards top of mind.

Robots Helping Staff And Customers – Retailers are turning to robots to assist them in restocking shelves, cleaning aisles, scanning and sorting inventory, and preparing food in order to improve efficiency and relieve store staff.vi It is expected that retailers who have adopted this robotic infrastructure will continue to use and develop it after the eye of the Covid-19 storm passes. Many of these robots are equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) software and sensors to effectively carry out their tasks. Walmart US is expanding its use of robots and AI technology by introducing self-driving robots to 1,860 of its stores and 1,000 restocking robots to its fleet by the end of the year. Robots also assist customers by telling them what items are in or out of stock and when they will be back in-store.vii

Use Of Surveillance Technology For Shoppers – Grocery retailers in the US are using a device called SmartDome that surveys shoppers as they enter the store, complete their shopping mission, and check out. It is like a security camera and sends messages to shoppers that are disobeying social distancing rules such as reminders to maintain six feet of social distance for their safety. It is likely that retailers will continue to use technology in this way as we move into living a ‘new normal’ and keep safety and bio hazards top of mind.

Technology creating a safer AND convenient retail environment.

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    Smart Vending Machines – JD is providing unique AI vending machines to a residential compound in Beijing’s Tongzhou district, offering residents 24/7 access to fresh fruit, vegetables and more sourced from JD’s 7FRESH supermarket nearby. The company has provided five such machines in the compound to date. Customers can select products displayed on the transparent door of the machine and use mobile phones to scan a QR code. The door will open once scanned, and payment will be processed automatically after customers select their produce and close the door. The entire process is convenient, requiring no human-to-human contact. viii

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    Autonomous Trolleys – Meet Caper the AI self-checkout shopping cart. A shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, that is also finalising the technology to automatically scan items you drop in thanks to three image recognition cameras and a weight sensor. A more cost effective alternative to Amazon-Go. ix

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    Robots That Create A Safer Store – One of China’s omnichannel retailers JD.com is looking to a safer future through robotics. They have formed a strategic partnership with Gree, a state-owned major manufacturing enterprise to develop three unique types of robots for disinfection and inspection to aid the fight against Covid-19. One proposed robot would use an infrared sensor to discern people’s body temperatures in densely populated indoor environments such as stores, hospitals, airports, schools and office buildings. The companies are also working together to develop robots that can disinfect both indoor and outdoor environments. x

Smart Vending Machines – JD is providing unique AI vending machines to a residential compound in Beijing’s Tongzhou district, offering residents 24/7 access to fresh fruit, vegetables and more sourced from JD’s 7FRESH supermarket nearby. The company has provided five such machines in the compound to date. Customers can select products displayed on the transparent door of the machine and use mobile phones to scan a QR code. The door will open once scanned, and payment will be processed automatically after customers select their produce and close the door. The entire process is convenient, requiring no human-to-human contact. viii

Autonomous Trolleys – Meet Caper the AI self-checkout shopping cart. A shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, that is also finalising the technology to automatically scan items you drop in thanks to three image recognition cameras and a weight sensor. A more cost effective alternative to Amazon-Go. ix

Robots That Create A Safer Store – One of China’s omnichannel retailers JD.com is looking to a safer future through robotics. They have formed a strategic partnership with Gree, a state-owned major manufacturing enterprise to develop three unique types of robots for disinfection and inspection to aid the fight against Covid-19. One proposed robot would use an infrared sensor to discern people’s body temperatures in densely populated indoor environments such as stores, hospitals, airports, schools and office buildings. The companies are also working together to develop robots that can disinfect both indoor and outdoor environments. x

Lets Talk

To find out more on this topic, arrange a presentation or discuss how we can help your business navigate through Covid-19 and the post Covid-19 retail landscape, please contact:

robert flavin

ROBERT FLAVIN

Director, Strategic Planning at V360°

i European Journal of Social Psychology. ‘How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world†’ Philippa Lally Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld Henry W. W. Potts Jane Wardle. First published:16 July 2009.

ii March busiest month for Irish grocery sales on record’. The Irish Times. Peter Hamilton. 6 April 2020.

iii The Post-Covid-19 Consumer- An Amárach Briefing: April 2020.

iv Reimagining food retail in Asia after Covid-19, McKinsey & Company, April 2020.

v The Central Bank of Ireland. ‘How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected daily spending patterns?’ April 2020.

vi CNN. ‘Grocery stores turn to robots during the coronavirus’. Nathanial Meyersohn. 7 April 2020.

vii In-Store Device Ensures Social-Distancing – Springwise 13 April 2020.

viii JD Corporate Blog. ‘JD’s vending machines provide 24/7 “unmanned” access to fresh produce.” Ling Cao and Tracy Yang. 21 February 2020.

ix Techcrunch ‘Meet Caper, the AI self checkout shopping car’. January 2019.

x Winsight Grocery Business. ‘Can robots make us safer? Chinese retailers JD.com thinks So’. Jon Springer 3 April 2020.