How Retailers Engaged Shoppers Throughout the Pandemic

March 5th, 2021 | Retail News

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many retailers to reconsider their business plans. The market has changed drastically due to lockdowns, closures, morphing customer behaviour and retailers are unsure where to go next.

From November 2020 until January 2021, we asked retailers how their business has been impacted by the pandemic. 50% of the survey’s participants said that under the UK government’s current rules, their retail business was classed as essential. The remaining participants are considered by the UK government to be non-essential.

Pre-pandemic retailer profitability

To accurately gauge the other results of this survey, we asked retailers how their business had been profiting prior to the pandemic having an impact on their business.


Managing customer shopping behaviour during the pandemic

Each retailer surveyed said that they faced more than one challenge relating to the pandemic, and two were particularly prominent:

  • Ensuring customers used hand sanitising facilities upon entering the premises
  • Limiting the number of people on the premises to enable social distancing

Limiting the number of customers to enforce social distancing also had an impact on product ranges and stock levels, as many retailers said they had reduced their product range to allow enough room.

One wholesaler, in the hospitality industry, lost half its clients due to trading restrictions. They had to diversify from business-to-business sales channels to a business-to-consumer retailing model.

Other major challenges were reduced customer communications and attracting new customers. One helpful tip is to have a direct line of contact with your customers by collecting emails so you can send messages directly to their inboxes.

Retail benefits of the pandemic

Despite the challenges that retailers have faced due to the pandemic, many survey participants said that they had seen an upside to their business.

One retailer praised local customer loyalty, whilst another said their home delivery revenue had rapidly grown.

Those in the hospitality industry said takeaway services had steeply risen. This is to be expected, due to trading restrictions meaning customers have been unable to enter premises for large parts of the year, but this is due to an increase in new customers alongside regulars.

One local butcher said that during lockdown, sales increased by £2,000/week because people were apprehensive about visiting supermarkets. Once restrictions eased, many of these new customers returned to shopping in supermarkets, and the extra income disappeared from their books.

Business enhancements to suit new customer buying behaviour

Most retailers were forced to make changes such as adding hand sanitising facilities and upgrading signage and labelling so it could be read from a distance. However, some made additional radical changes to adjust their business to suit the behaviour of potential new customers and the economic climate.

The addition of home delivery and click-and-collect services enabled retailers to continue trading if they had to close their premises and support customers who had to shield.

The changing customer buying behaviour identified in this survey included:

  • Customers visiting shops less frequently
  • Customers spending less time in shops
  • Seeing new customers due to people prioritising shopping local

Most retailers run a gift card service, and the buying behaviour surrounding them was varied:

Respondents with an online shop that sold gift cards found that they sold a greater number of gift cards compared to those who only had gift cards available during times when their shop was open. Read more about the benefits of selling gift cards here.

Meanwhile, a third of participants said that they didn’t have a loyalty card solution in place, but were considering introducing one. Out of those who did, 50% said that more loyalty points had been awarded in 2020 due to an increase in sales from returning customers. This led to more loyalty points being redeemed, so retailers felt safer during uncertain periods knowing that their customers were likely to return.

Forecasts from the retailers who took part

The retailers who responded to the survey made several predictions for 2021. These included:

  • Local businesses will have to market themselves harder
  • Incentivising customer loyalty will be even more important
  • When the virus is under control, people will begin to visit their local high street retailers again

We would like to thank every participant for their honest feedback and hope that the results can assist retailers in streamlining or adjusting their business plans to suit the current climate, based on customer experiences and retail trends.

You can download the full results of the survey here.

Download Full Survey Results


If you’re interested in expanding your services by adding a gift or loyalty system, please get in touch by calling us on 020 8266 1600 or via the form on our Contact Us page.

Written by Lucy Wenham

Lucy is a customer loyalty expert, with experience in loyalty schemes for small independent stores, right through to our town and city-wide loyalty schemes.

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