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Research: Do shopping trends survive crisis situations?

Updated: May 8, 2021

The COVID19 crisis presents itself primarily as a crisis in the city center. There, the frequencies fell particularly during the restrictions on public life. At the same time, the trend towards urbanization took hold before COVID, especially in the food trade. While local suppliers used to prefer to settle in the outskirts in the form of large centers, special sales formats adapted to the shortage of space are increasingly shaping the quality of life in residential areas. They represent what today's customers want: short distances for frequent, flexible shopping.

How local suppliers can make greater use of the trend in the future and what municipalities can do to make residential areas more attractive with their help, was shown last year with the study “The reurbanization of food retailing” in cooperation with the partners BFW and discount retail chain Lidl.

But is the COVID crisis a disruption for the changed shopping and mobility behavior of customers, or will the trend towards local supplies close to the center continue? In a follow-up to this study, 1,006 test persons were asked in Munich about their preferences during the four phases of the corona pandemic: In the pre-COVID phase, in the hamster phase (after the first movement restrictions took effect), during the shutdown of Shops without a local supply function and - purely hypothetically - in the phase after COVID, for example no longer requires significant restrictions due to vaccination.

For example, the question of how many people preferred to order online during the restrictions on grocery shopping is interesting: Even before the corona pandemic, 20 percent of city shoppers in Germany regularly bought groceries online - in Munich it was even 28%. During the lockdown, however, the values ​​reflexively rose and then fell sharply again. It can be said that COVID has certainly given the online grocery trade a boost: The proportion of online grocery buyers rose by 2.9%. In view of the previously low market penetration and the volume behind every percentage point (grocery purchases are big and heavy), such an increase within a few weeks is considerable.

For several years it has been observed that the quality of the products has become significantly more important for shoppers than their price. In the two alarm phases of the COVID pandemic, this importance decreased somewhat. However, shoppers say they want to pay more attention to quality "after COVID". The same applies to the regionality of the food, which did not seem to play a major role in the alarm phase, but is now in high demand again.

Even before the COVID, the majority of people in Munich did not drive to buy groceries by car. Nevertheless, it has been shown that parking spaces are still important, especially for older people. It is surprising that both bicycles and cars as well as local public transport were lost as a means of transport during the alarm phases. While it was expected that the car gained in importance during the crisis, the opposite was the case. Public transport is currently still being avoided. The bicycle, on the other hand, has grown in importance late but massively. Shopping on foot is the clear winner, however, and according to the respondents, it will stay that way.

The frequency of shopping in food retail has been falling for years - shoppers who shop on foot come more often than car shoppers. During the alarm phases, however, the number of respondents who only go shopping once a week also increased significantly in Munich. In the opinion of the shoppers, the value will not return to the initial level even after the alarm phases. The average basket purchase has consequently grown.

When asked what criteria the shoppers used to select their local supplier during the alarm phases, all classic factors (e.g. the accessibility of the store) took a back seat. Shoppers were more concerned about the size and density of shoppers in the stores, probably mainly because they were afraid of infection. At the same time, however, many people were shopping in their own neighborhood, so they did not drive to the largest available store through the city.

Figure: Particularly important safety aspects when shopping for food among the respondents: "What makes you feel safer / more insecure when shopping?"

This was also noticeable in the choice of farm types. Large-area concepts such as hypermarkets could not benefit during the alarm phases. Instead, shoppers preferred their “good neighbors”, which was also due to the fact that providers such as Lidl communicated the hygiene measures in the shops to shoppers very well.


Despite the massive COVID restrictions, no significant changes in shopper behavior can be determined in terms of local supplies. The stationary trade remains by far the most important channel for grocery shopping in our inner cities. Online grocery retailing was increasingly in demand during the crisis, but was often unable to meet expectations. During the alarm phases of the pandemic, it can be seen that price sensitivity has increased. In the long term, however, it is becoming apparent that price alone is not the decisive purchasing criterion.

Another thing that remains unchanged is that shopping on foot is becoming more and more important to Munich residents. The close proximity to the customer is a decisive success factor and a quality feature of good local supply. Wide corridors, a spacious entrance area, many cash registers and a large area are important to customers for their sense of security. These factors will also play a major role after COVID.

In summary, it can be said that people in Munich want to buy their groceries as close as possible to their home on foot. The shop should then be as large as possible. Resolving this conflict of goals remains the exciting challenge for cities and the real estate industry.

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