New Deloitte study finds retail sector needs to do more to adapt to post-pandemic priorities

The retail sector has made enormous strides in reshaping, refocusing, and resetting itself in the past year amid increasing changes in consumer behaviour, a study finds. But the industry needs to do more to ensure it is responding to new working patterns and the post-pandemic priorities of their customers.

The ‘Our Plan for Change’ report, published by Deloitte in partnership with World Retail Congress, has ‘taken the temperature’ of consumers in 21 countries around the world and found that the pandemic has led to a sharp shift in how people are choosing to spend their time.

“We have had a lot of time to think and we are thinking a lot about time,” it says. “Lost opportunities and daunting health concerns made many of us realise just how precious our time is and how careful we should be about how we choose to spend it.”

The report, based on 21,000 respondents, found that almost half (44%) felt that they have become more focused on personal changes in the past year with 36% of consumers noting that they are prioritising wellbeing, mental health and happiness and pursuing a better quality of life. This trend, signalling some discontent, hints at a bigger, more global reset, says the report.

Improving their work-life balance has heavily influenced consumers’ decisions as they rethink how to allocate their time. Compared to last year, the number of consumers who feel they are finding more time to enjoy today (34%) significantly outnumbered those who feel they are working harder to get ahead (22%). There is also evidence that consumers are less focused on financial rewards with 28% of respondents prioritising a more purposeful goal- compared to 18% focused on earning more.

Such findings illustrate a significant shift in daily life, from where to how people shop for products, forcing retailers to think again about how they can better serve consumers to whom time has never been more precious.

As the retail industry continues to adapt to an omnichannel and frictionless experience, retailers should prioritise the digitization and innovation around customer engagement ‘in ways never imagined’, according to the report.

The report also highlights the need for retailers to respond to changing attitudes to work and prevent the ‘Great Resignation’ trend from leaving the industry short of talent.

The report found that whilst there has been some drift back to offices, people are still working an average of almost three days a week from home and in every country polled people would increase that proportion if they could.

This not only presents retailers with a challenge of switching supply, with demand shifting to more local centres, but also requires new strategies to hold on to workers.

“In rapid fashion, the physical location where hundreds of millions of people around the world spent their time changed. With each passing month, these changes appear more permanent and the implications span both customer and employee.

“If time has more value, people are likely to go to greater lengths to own it or at least better control it. For the retail industry, where the majority of employees can’t work from home, employees could seek more workplace flexibility as a means of better control.”

Sustainability continues to be front of mind for consumers. Three in five consumers (60%) have changed at least one aspect of their behaviour to help address climate change and almost the same number has purchased a sustainable good or service in the past month. With consumers prioritising time, retailers need to make sustainable choices easier for consumers, according to the report.

The report shows that retailers need to respond and cater to consumers that are more aware of the value of time- from where they spend it, to what they spend it on.

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