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Consumer Behaviours - Evolution or Revolution?


The pandemic has changed how we work, travel, communicate and shop. Some of these changes were sudden and involuntary but for others it has accelerated what was already in motion.  

In our latest Taking Stock blog, we explore the ever-evolving behaviours of consumers, the impact these may have on the retail industry generally and on claims risk, plus what retailers can do to help mitigate the shifting claims dynamic.

Accelerated trends

Retail is one of, if not the most, forward thinking and transformative sectors, mainly as a result of keeping pace with, or staying ahead of, changing consumer behaviours. However, the pandemic has put the spotlight on how consumers want to shop and even interact with retailers, forcing them to accelerate change. The resultant effect is an inevitable impact on business models which in turn directly influences claims.

What has changed?

According to Consumer of the Future research by McKinsey, the pandemic had already led to deep and perhaps lasting impacts on consumer behaviours by August 2020. 

Undoubtedly, a shift to online shopping was already happening, with retailers experiencing more than 50% growth in online sales between 2013 and 2018 (based on expenditure). However Covid-19 has provided a further catalyst, resulting in an increase of 125%–150% in online sales and accelerating the pace of that change. In 2019, a Retail Economics report forecasted online shopping to account for 53% of retail sales by 2029 but the impact of 2020 alone has pushed retailers much closer to the predicted 2029 online sales presence than anticipated, and early indications suggest that online shopping is not going to drop back to pre-Covid-19 levels. 

This accelerated shift to online shopping has inevitably meant less footfall in stores, another trend which pre-dates the pandemic yet has also been exacerbated by it. Beyond online, locations such as retail parks and shopping centres have been favoured over the high street, whilst a move towards “love for local” has resulted in a desire to support community stores and use locally sourced products.

There is also more pressure on home delivery functions, click and collect offerings, warehouse and back-up areas. Indeed, new research from Savills has shown that large warehouse space in the UK has risen by 32% since 2015, with demand up 232% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Combined with the creation of a different store environment and experience, this transformation in shopping behaviour has inevitably led to rapidly changing business models and a shift in claims risk.

Top three potential risks

1) Less peak time shopping

Rather than spikes in sales at certain times of day, retailers are now seeing more of a constant and steady flow of customers. Working from home appears to be here to stay for many businesses and as a result peak time shopping could be a thing of the past, placing constant time pressures on stores and creating an inevitable conflict between customer service and health & safety.  For example, where replenishment tasks were scheduled for quieter footfall periods, this may no longer be possible. A decrease in focus on health & safety could have serious ramifications, resulting in an increase in incidents, or even more serious incidents, and with it an increase in claims and less of those claims capable of being defended.


It is key to review what the core store activities are, when they are currently carried out and whether that remains appropriate when overlaying up-to-date footfall data.

2) Increased footfall in local/convenience format stores

The pandemic has amplified the desire for convenience. The idea of grabbing extra food items or picking up click and collect local to home and where parking is not an issue looks set to stay.  Local/convenience locations are seeing footfall like never before, changing a retailer’s risk profile.  Employees may also feel overworked and policies and processes may no longer fit the store format.  This could result in an increase in stress, bullying and harassment claims, which are often costly and difficult to defend. Retailers may also see a spike in reported incidents such as slips and trips or manual handling injuries.


Any change requires a review of risk assessments. The shift in footfall has naturally evolved but is a significant change and it is imperative that risks assessments are considered in light of it.

3) Increase in home delivery demand

Hand in hand with online shopping, there has been an inevitable increase in home delivery demand which does not appear to be waning.  This impacts two specific areas.


To cope with increased demand at short notice during the initial phases of the pandemic, staff were redeployed to assist with home deliveries and agency workers were taken on to plug the gaps of those vulnerable and shielding, often with little or no retraining. These are likely to remain high turnover areas, increasing the risk of manual handling, struck by and collision accidents – claims cause types already on the rise and often difficult to defend.


Retailers operating fleets have seen exponential growth in fleet numbers during the pandemic as a bi-product of home delivery. Adapting to the situation, many of these fleets have seen a significant increase in inexperienced drivers (including agency and, during the height of the pandemic, a new workforce of drivers who chose to adopt a different career in a seemingly buoyant sector) unfamiliar with routes and under time pressures to ensure delivery slots are made. Together with an increase in parked cars on the road this made deliveries more difficult, leading to more motor incidents and property damage claims, some seeing a 130% increase in claims compared to pre-Covid levels. Whilst movement of cars is increasing as restrictions ease, a higher proportion of fleets on the road would suggest that claims levels are unlikely to fall back to pre-pandemic numbers.


Suitable training and retraining is absolutely imperative as well as behaviour management processes via on the job monitoring. If operating a fleet, a good FNOL process is essential to enable intervention at the earliest possible stage as well as gleaning lessons learned.

Be prepared

Retailers are constantly operating in a state of flux. It is abundantly clear that, whilst the pandemic has only accelerated change, companies were already experiencing or anticipating the way in which consumers now shop. It is also extremely unlikely that such activity will revert to anything like pre-pandemic behaviours. As a result many retailers are now operating under entirely different business models. Now more than ever, a clear, data led, line of sight into both incident and claims is vital. This will allow retailers to flex as consumer behaviours continue to evolve and, importantly, manage risk profile, directing health and safety programmes and risk initiatives, whether they are focused on accident type or location.

With ongoing changes shaping the claims landscape at such a rapid pace, the steady evolution of the consumer has snowballed into something more immediate. Our Taking Stock series will continue to keep you in the loop over the coming months as the sector team analyse data and trends from across the industry.

For more information, please contact Kari Hansen, Partner, Head of Retail.




Kari Hansen

Kari Hansen
Head of Retail


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