COVID-19 upends how we shop

Retailers must adjust where, when and how they sell products right now
Coronavirus Resources

NRF is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic. For updated information and guidance for retailers, check out our resource page. 

The shopping habits of most American consumers have been turned upside down and retailers have no choice but to quickly and creatively adjust by changing where, when and even how they sell their products.

That is the conclusion of two national consumer surveys conducted in March — one by the National Retail Federation and the other by Shopkick — which mirror each other’s eye-opening data and offer critical recommendations for retailers.

“Retailers, like all of us, are adapting to this new environment and what it means for people to pick up the items they need or want for themselves and their families,” says Katherine Cullen, NRF’s senior director of industry and consumer insights. “It’s a different set of expectations and needs than it was three months ago.”

More than 9 in 10 consumers have changed their shopping habits due to COVID-19.

NRF survey

Here’s why:

  • According to a benchmarking survey done online by NRF, more than nine in 10 consumers have changed their shopping habits.
  • More than half of consumers have ordered a product — or products — online that they would normally purchase at the store, says the NRF survey.
  • Nearly half of consumers say they are stocking up on essential items, some 78 percent of whom said it makes them feel “safer,” according to the consumer survey by Shopkick, a shopping rewards app whose clients include Kraft-Heinz, Kellogg’s and Best Buy.
  • Nearly six in 10 consumers say they are worried about going to the store — and 92 percent said when they do go to the store, they are disinfecting their shopping cart, said the Shopkick survey.

Almost all respondents to the Shopkick survey noticed that household essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are missing or in low supply at the store.

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Shopkick and NRF offer retailers some creative options for responding to these new and urgent shopper needs:

  • Create and promote a clean store environment. Shoppers are very hesitant to touch shopping carts or self-checkout screens so retailers must create and promote special sanitation stations at store entrances that are overseen by helpful employees who hand out wipes and who clean carts for customers, says David Fisch, general manager at Shopkick.
  • Use creative merchandising on essential aisles. Consumers can get upset when store aisles are empty of essential products. But there are ways for retailers to help them — and themselves. A grocery store might be out of many sanitation products, but that doesn’t mean they can’t direct consumers to other such products.
  • Promote similar products. Bottled water is nowhere to be found in most grocery stores, but savvy grocers can post signage that might lure shoppers to seltzer water or flavored waters, most of which are still widely available, Fisch says. Similarly, paper towels might not be available in many stores, but retailers might promote dish towels on that same shopping aisle as an alternative.
  • Keep customers up to date. If you are a retailer and know which store expects to receive a big toilet paper delivery, perhaps you can advise customers near that store in advance, Fisch says. If you’re a retailer who relies more on customer services, Cullen says, it’s smart to connect socially with customers by phone or online for consultations.


NRF is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic, coordinating with government agencies, health experts and retailers as the situation continues to evolve. For updated information and guidance for retailers, check out our resource page. 

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