Changes in grocery shopping in SEA because of COVID-19




With COVID-19 spreading its roots around the world, it has turned into a global pandemic – and is more likely to be one of the most defining moments in the year 2020 – but what’s more pronounced is the response of the behavior of the Asian consumers.


The advent of COVID-19 has forced many a consumer to change their shopping habits - in a community consisting of nations such as South Korea, China, Indonesia, and Singapore, to name a few, earlier they were teeming with consumers, but now with the spread of COVID-19, the malls and the supermarkets in those nations have been impacted badly. No longer do people deem it safe to gather in a single place and the numbers have dwindled from thousands to mere hundreds, and now, to a measly ten.

As depressing as this situation is that the traditional retail stores are facing, on the other hand, however, the face of online stores is changing.


With more and more cities undergoing a lockdown, the Asian consumers are now becoming more aware of hygiene and immunity – how can they maintain hygiene and on what they should take to improve their immunity is best becoming their daily norms, and as such, it’s seen that the Asian consumers are focusing on the daily essentials.

But what’s important to note is that the Asian consumers, though, are opting for only the essential items, they have moved their shopping needs online – this means that the consumers are becoming well aware of the situation that they all are in.

Asian consumers opting to go online

Before COVID – 19, research has shown that the Chinese consumers took the help of social media to connect with family and friends, and even after the outbreak, that has not changed – what changed is that with people in lockdown, according to Mintel, people are now relying on social media (such as WeChat Moments) to get information on healthy food and sharing it with their loved ones.

But what’s interesting is that even the food and home delivery section is also changing – a study has found out that people in the SEA community are now rethinking and re-prioritizing their place of eating, and with more than 80 percent of people in China agreeing that they will prefer to eat at home rather than in restaurants even after post-pandemic, and the best part is that Hong Kong and other fellow SEA nations such as Vietnam, South Korea, and Malaysia are following close behind with 77 and 62 percent respectively.

Furthermore, changes in-home deliveries are also seen – the study has also found out that with the spread of COVID-19, SEA nations such as Thailand, Hong Kong, and South Korea are now in favour of their food to be delivered at home, even though, they earlier used to enjoy the convenience of on-the-go food offerings used to bring, and even though, this trend was not earlier seen, perhaps aside from Singapore, but now, the trend is quickly becoming the norm amongst many SEA nations.

So, then, what does it means for the retailers?

What should retailers do?


With COVID-19 playing havoc on the general population, it’s time for the retailers to do their bit too – the food retailers should have to re-think their strategy and reimagine their safety and health of their stores.


With more and more consumers choosing to be more hygienic than ever before and preferring to do online grocery shopping, data has shown that Asian consumers are seen leaning more towards fresh food, dairy, eggs, and even bottled water, and with a significant drop in snacks and alcoholic drinks.

As such, the study suggests that retailers should have to change their strategy and offer healthier and locally produced products.

Go Online, Now!

To curb the losses, what the retailers should do – if they hadn’t done it till now – they should move to an online platform, if they were an offline-exclusive store. After all, an online market place is not an old concept.


A study has only proven this fact – more than 45 percent of all digital commerce sales in Asia are made through marketplaces in 2018. The owners of supermarkets and shopping malls should move their stores online, and choose to pursue an ‘O2O’ strategy, also known as ‘offline to online’ dual strategy, that will help them to add a new channel of distribution, plus will also help them to cope up with losses at the physical stores, and as such, the retailers should also consider it a must to convert some of their existing retail stores into dark stores during the crisis. The loyal and regular consumers would now be able to avoid the crowds and catching the virus, and thus, can shop from their favorite retailers from the comfort of their home.


That’s not all – the retailers, if they plan to go online, and which they should be, there are a few more issues that they need to look into. They should consider making the online store easy to use – for both elder and younger consumers – as it will promote increased adoption and engagement.


Learn from existing customer behavior and preferences

Secondly, the retailers should be well aware that their loyal and regular consumers may hesitate in ordering items from online, and thus, it should occur to them as to how they can make this process an easy one for their loyal consumers plus what they can do to make it healthy and safe upon its arrival. And it helps the retailers to know that according to World Health Organization, there is very little chance of getting infected by COVID-19 from commercial packages even within an area where COVID-19 has been reported, and as such, they should educate their consumers, less they are afraid to order online.


Aim for the essential to anchor sell out and ease online shopping experience

Thirdly, the retailers should make it a point to re-imagine the meaning of money’s value – with people concerned about how the pandemic will affect their personal income; it’s seen that many of them are willing to forgo the planned future purchases. To address this issue, the retailers should re-think their promotional strategy and safeguard their marketing budget, and use them for the promotion of essential items when they are in demand to meet the consumer’s desire for value.


Taking the above points into consideration, it’s safe to say that online retailers should consider transitioning their offline stores to an online one, during this time of crisis.

A survey conducted by Engine has shown that people are already spending 10 to 30 percent of their shopping time online. Data, taken from Rakuten Intelligence, also shows a staggering spike in online sales, mainly in the grocery section, with medical, baby and cleaning products following close behind, as provided by Common Thread Collective.

Despite what WHO has stated in their website, that there is very less chance of getting infected by COVID-19 from any commercial packages, but still, there are a few steps that the consumers ought to take, to limit the spread of COVID-19, just to be sure.


Focus on Bulk Purchase and planned or Subsciption based offers.

According to Consumer Reports, if the grocery is being ordered online, then, it’s a must the items must be delivered either to the consumers’ doorstep or have them dropped off at a nearby place, plus, the consumers should always consider ordering their groceries earlier, just so that they don’t have to face the ‘limited stock’ on the homepage. Also, the consumers must remember to wipe the counter or any other surfaces that are touched while handling the grocery packages. Even though evidence says that COVID-19 can’t spread from any commercial packages, according to FDA, it still won’t hurt to wipe down the packages and containers in which the groceries are sent to the consumers – and after which, it’s of utmost importance to wash the hands thoroughly.


The rise for health and hygiene needs.

The Director of Food Safety Research and Testing of Consumer Reports, J.E. Rogers further adds, that aside from the containers and the packages, the consumers should also rub the food and wash them thoroughly under running water to remove pesticides.

The sad news is that with the way the COVID-19 is spreading, there seems to be no end of it – but the good news is that the consumers are slowly moving away from the traditional retail and are opting for the ‘safe-at-home’ trend, and as such, the retailers are also starting to embrace the e-commerce culture, and thus, representing an integral opportunity for both manufacturers and business owners to rethink their strategy and raise the bar even higher than before, but taking note of proper health and hygiene standards.



With all the changes happening among us, in our daily life and how our consumer purchase behavior has slowly been adapting to online, the next question is if this online behavior for groceries shopping will sustain even after the Pandemic ends as our new normal or business will go back conventional as the old days. Share us your thoughts.




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