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Retailers – It’s time to adapt to the age of Covid and new consumer behaviours

Words of wisdom | Oct 22, 2020

A participant in the latest TAG - Le commerce à l'ère du numérique* event on commercial business and the digital world, Martin St-Pierre, Director of Business Development at PME MTL Est-de-l'îlelets us in on some of the highlights, tips and insights drawn from this seventh annual conference.

One effect of the pandemic has been to accelerate a change in consumer behaviour that was already under way for some time. Stores that had taken steps to integrate digital technologies among their marketing tools found themselves in a position to deal with this change when the pandemic started. Those that had not done so found they had a lot of catching up to do.

We should note, however, that the new behaviour we are seeing is not just technology-related, it is actually deeper change on a human level. The fact is that now, more than ever, people are expecting to get an exceptional experience when they shop. According to a study conducted by the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail, 86% of Québecers would even be willing to pay extra for that experience.

In addition to that, people want more contact with other humans. People want to see, and even talk to the owner. No more settling for a sales rep who stays hidden behind the counter.

An exceptional experience means having a store owner who really understands the customers’ needs and offers only products suited to those customers and nothing else. For example, a big player like BMR Hardware understood this when it opened two small boutiques called La Shop, one of which is located in the Griffintown neighbourhood. Because it's located in an area full of condo buildings, this branch carries a lot more decor items than renovation materials. Customers feel that they are important to the store owners when decisions are made to adapt the store’s offer to their circumstances.

Simplify digital for your customers

The pandemic showed us that many stores were not ready for part of their customer base to suddenly start making their purchases online. The worst mistake was when stores failed to make their digital platforms easy to use for certain categories of consumers.

Older people especially were not used to buying online and it many found it hard to navigate their way around. A few TAG participants even admitted to having some work to do to make their site navigation easier and more intuitive. Easier site navigation is especially important for food retailers, who offer hundreds of different categories, more so than for the SAQ, for example, where the offer is fairly uniform.

Updated consumer profiles

The Conseil québécois du commerce de détail (CQCD) recently launched Baromètre CQCD, a business intelligence tool designed to provide greater clarity to retailers in terms of data and statistics.

Each month, the survey is given to more than 1,000 Québecers who are primarily responsible for making household purchases, in order to quantify changes in consumer behaviour, especially during a pandemic or during implementation of health measures. The objective is gain a better understanding of the consumer’s profile and purchasing behaviour.

The first survey, conducted in September, was very revealing. For example, we learned that Québecers made more purchases on the Internet than the previous month in furniture and household appliances (65%). This category surpassed food (60%), jewelry and accessories (52%), electronics and computers (48%), household and decorative items (48%), shoes (47%) and clothing (46%).

Speaking of shoes and clothing, the “barometer” showed that many consumers are now willing to take the risk of buying without trying. This behaviour is directly due to easier online return policies and procedures implemented by stores.

That said, there will also be some adjustments needed to make people feel like going out shopping again. Baromètre CQCD tells us that 44% of Québecers are shopping at stores much less often than they did before the pandemic. Those who are shopping less than before are 45-54 year-olds (48%), 55-64 year-olds (49%) and people 65 and over (54%).

Even more worrisome, in a context where the importance of a good shopping experience is being emphasized, two out of three Québecers (66%) are less happy shopping in the current environment than they were before the crisis. The main irritants are the attitude of other shoppers, as well as line-ups to enter the store and line-ups to check out.

The shopping experience: it has to be good

It is clear that, nowadays, people don't actually plan to buy something every time they go out shopping. They want stores to act as showrooms where they can take their time to view what is on offer.

A number of retailers have already made adjustments in that direction. There are also several other kinds of initiatives worth noting. Like the Kanuk coat brand, which installed a cold room to create winter weather conditions where customers can test the quality of the products that interest them. Not only does this reassure buyers about their choices, it also cuts down on the management and paperwork surrounding returns.

In the same vein, consider sporting goods retailers that allow shoppers to test their golf clubs and tennis racquets on mini-courses. Or even hop on an artificial ice surface to test out a pair of skates.

Helping you find your way

Are you having trouble delivering the right in-store experience? Is the pandemic adversely affecting your sales? Do you want to know and understand more about new consumer behaviours?

Each of the six offices of PME MTL has a business development consultant to help you navigate through the many facets of life as a store owner. In times of crisis like these, it is good to be able to count on a different perspective from your own, and talk to someone who can help you with problems that can seem insurmountable. Feel free to contact us to for help with making the right choices and adopting the best strategies.


This article was written in collaboration with Martin St-Pierre, Director of Business Development at PME MTL Est-de-l'île

* On October 7 and 8, the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail held TAG - Le commerce à l'ère du numérique, an event for retailers, entrepreneurs and members of Québec's digital ecosystem. More than 50 national and international speakers addressed issues related to the digital transformation of retail stores and other businesses.

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