Panic buying is not a new concept. Before COVID-19 emerged two years ago, generations of shoppers flocked to brick-and-mortar stores (and later, supermarkets and superstores) to stock up on milk, bread, and other essentials in anticipation of severe weather like hurricanes and blizzards.
What the pandemic brought was the first global supply chain crunch, which for the first time precipitated panic buying on a large scale. Previously, panic buying only took place in certain areas, such as where a major storm or natural disaster was projected to hit.
Pandemic panic buying may have started in March 2020, but two years later shoppers are still buying in bulk to feel a sense of control after more than two years of hardship and uncertainty.
As the industry and consumers continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic, we must assess the current challenges retailers are facing, how they’re driving new shopper habits, and the steps retailers can take to prepare for these trends.
The external factors challenging retailers
Panic buying isn’t taking place in a vacuum. Rising prices, the supply chain crunch, and the ongoing labor shortage have contributed to the overall hysteria shoppers feel as inflation, war and Covid-19 cases continue to impact the economy. Ongoing media coverage of empty grocery stores contributes to shoppers’ feelings of uncertainty and unease.
The price of almost every necessity is rising as inflation increases at the quickest rate in 40 years. Weeks (and sometimes months) long delays have caused shoppers to buy items they may not need just to make sure they won’t run out in case of an emergency. With experts predicting that shipping costs will remain high well into next year, this trend doesn’t look like it’s dying down anytime soon.
The hike in prices means that Americans are shopping with a closer eye on their budget. Shoppers are going to great lengths to find the cheapest price. Many are also forgetting previous brand loyalty, as 65% of shoppers say lower prices have caused them to abandon brand loyalty altogether.
The in-person shopping experience is also suffering. The ongoing labor shortage has caused customers to wait longer to check out and stores to reduce their hours of operation. Lines are longer than ever; customer frustration is reaching new heights.
How new retail dynamics have evolved shopper behaviors and demands
In 2020, globally, shoppers adjusted how often they shopped in person, reporting reduced in-store trips, or only going in-store if it’s an emergency. Consumers saw services like curbside pick-up as a solution to shopping during the early stages of the pandemic, when strict social distancing guidelines prevented shoppers from entering stores. However, shoppers have grown accustomed to the convenience of these pickup options, and they are here to stay far beyond the pandemic.
Now, new forms of shopping also help buyers get their items fast – and before desired items go out of stock. Now, buy online, pickup in-store and same- or next-day delivery services are shaking up shopping patterns. While many viewed services like Instacart as a luxury before the pandemic, it’s now becoming normalized, especially as traditional retailers like Walmart adopt similar delivery options.
How retailers can anticipate and prepare for the next wave of panic buying
By keeping a pulse on panic buying trends, retailers can better prepare for the next wave of panic buying, whether it be customers scooping up over-the-counter medicine and COVID-19 rapid tests or kitchen staples like pasta and canned vegetables. To make sure retailers are ready to meet this demand, there are a number of strategies they can deploy, including:
1. Analyzing shopper trends to anticipate needs.
Data around shopping behaviors and patterns can help retailers determine when there will be increased or decreased demand for certain markets and/or kinds of products. By consulting the data, retailers can offer customers what they are looking for, at the right time.
2. Prepare for out-of-stock challenges.
Nothing frustrates customers more than longer-than-expected shipping times. To mitigate this, retailers can clearly communicate possible delays in shipping, as well as offer similar products when the desired item is out of stock. It’s all about helping customers get what they need even if their first choice is unavailable.
3. Improving the mobile shopping experience
With the rise of mobile shopping, customers are making fast and impulsive purchases, especially since they can buy items with just one tap, right from their phones. To better prepare for the next wave of panic buying, retailers must nail down their mobile shopping experience by offering more personalization and creating seamless UX designs.
Panic buying isn’t just something retailers must withstand, it’s an opportunity to improve their shopping experience and relationship with their customers. After more than two years of COVID-19, we know that panic shopping is permanently reshaping consumer behavior, so brands must be ready to adjust on the fly. Being able to meet consumer demand in a seamless and positive way will foster brand loyalty and be a driver for withstanding the next big shopping disrupter.