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Industry Contributor 10 Jun 2020 - 3 min read

What British Tesco can teach us about Australian consumers in a post-Covid world

By Tara Coverdale, Data and Insights Director - oOh!Media

Covid-19 has had a monumental impact on our everyday lives. We’ve changed the way we work, shop, exercise and move about our local communities. Globally, UK grocery sales were up almost 10% year on year to mid-April, primarily down to changing habits because of government-imposed measures to stem the spread of Covid-19. Tesco’s CEO also points to the growth of online retail as the biggest development. The key for brands is to understand and respond strategically to new behaviours and take a deep dive into the drivers of change in order to reinvigorate their approach in the new era. The behavioural changes we saw with the introduction of government restrictions in Australia, transformed our way of thinking in such a short period, but are these changes here to stay? And how are Australians feeling about the new post-Covid-19 world?

Key points:

  • Behavioural patterns have changed based on the circumstance. There’s no one size fits all approach to understanding the shift in how we move, shop and even bounce back. Each country will adapt and respond differently. 
  • Grocery sales in the UK shot up in the wake of Covid, with households shopping in less trips but spending more. 1 Whereby Australians were reportedly visiting grocery stores more frequently.
  • For brands, understanding how consumer behaviours have shifted thus far, and responding strategically to new behaviours and key drivers of behaviour will be key.
  • The forces of behaviour change are a set of fuels and frictions – positive and negative levers of change, i.e. the reasons you continue an existing behaviour or adopt a new one. 2
  • In times of crisis and significant moments of disruption, fuels and frictions change, providing greater opportunity for different choices and behaviours. However, whether these remain in the longer term depends on the continued presence of the contextual cues —such as continued Government restrictions – and an increase in fuels and a reduction in frictions. 2

The UK research shows how Brits have changed their spending habits. In Australia, we’re seeing a shift in the way we work, shop, exercise and move about our local communities. Retail sales across Australia spiked initially across essential categories such as grocery and more recently once the curve had flattened across categories where consumers were delaying purchase. Quantium data shows that while spend in supermarkets, food retailing and pharmacy dominated during the peak of the crisis, total Retail Wallet which includes both discretionary and non-discretionary items is now up +13% in week ending May 25th versus February 3rd as a rush on pent up demand reaches its peak and people make purchases that they previously put off. 5

As we look at the research that’s coming out of the UK, it’s interesting to see some of the similarities in data, driven by changes in behaviour. Look at how the UK market is tracking in spend, grocery sales reportedly increased with the grocery market growing 5.5% which was matched by a drop in frequency of trips, and an uplift in spend per trip. Tesco boss David Lewis commented that the weekly number of transactions at Tesco nearly halved in April, but the average basket size doubled.1

Conversely, patterns in Australia saw a different shift albeit based on government guidance, with Australians visiting grocery stores more frequently throughout the week with initial reports recording 10% of Sydneysiders making daily visits to the supermarket3 and spending on food across Australia was also up 50%4. Supermarket sales peaked mid-March, up nearly 50% year on year and continue to perform strongly, most recently still up +23% YOY in late May.5

Throughout the time Australians spent social distancing, our behaviours started to shift. We started exercising where we didn’t previously or we swapped the gym for You Tube workouts at home. We started shopping and spending more time in our local communities than we had before. But are these behaviours set to stay? As Kantar suggests, audience behaviours are swayed by certain cues such as lockdown restrictions. In addition, research suggests that it takes 66 days on average to form a habit.6

Look at the cue of lockdown rumours in Australia for example. Talk of Australia going into lockdown started earlier this year, which then resulted in Australia’s largest grocery retailer, Woolworths selling 7 days of toilet paper in one day. In fact, for those who bought groceries in the month of March – contributed to the biggest monthly rise in retail sales on the Australian Bureau of Statistics records. 3

With the unpredictable nature of pandemic-related changes, it’s hard to say what behavioural changes will stick, and what will revert but we can use the data to make logical assumptions, to understand what consumers are craving and what their attitudes are coming out of lockdown restrictions.  

Some behavioural changes will stick. We’ve had an awakening of what’s really important to us, and this has enabled us to question how we really want to spend our time. For example, the increased flexibility that working from home has given us, I suspect that people will keep an element of working from home built into their post-Covid lives. There’s also been hidden gems that we will keep up such as a growing enjoyment for cooking at home and the desire to keep fit and healthy without the need for a gym membership to do so. We’ve certainly had our eyes opened to positive changes we can implement into our post-Covid lives.

Some will revert back. There are some elements of pre-Covid life that we’re all hoping to get back to, that bring back a sense of normality. There’s a vast majority of people who are eager get back into the in-store shopping experience after online retail experienced a high of +80% growth5. Of course, there’s also people missing things like getting out and about enjoying the outdoors, catching up with friends and family. Observing the masses of people on the roads taking advantage of the recent long weekend in many states, it’s clear Australians are already planning their next road trip – which is a great demonstration of how we will adjust from the way we’ve done things before, holidaying across Australia rather than jumping straight into International travel.

With Covid-19 came a significant reduction in audiences travelling to CBDs as white collar workers moved to work from home. In terms of everyday travel, audiences on roadways are making a quick return as audiences shift back to pre-Covid behaviour. Even before the long weekend just gone, roadside audiences have experienced 7 weeks of growth, up +47% since mid April to 70% of pre Covid-19 levels and we can expect audience volumes to be back at pre-Covid 19 levels as restrictions continue to ease  – particularly in regional and suburban areas where we are seeing strong recovery and audience levels8

oOh!’s latest research survey reveals what consumers perceive as the ‘new normal’ and their intentions once conditions ease. What looks likely to change emerges from people thinking about what’s most important in life. Here’s what the insights tell us: 7

  • 91% intend to cook at home either the same amount or more often.
  • 77% of Australians intend to buy all their groceries at the supermarket while only 8% intend to buy online and 63% intend to buy all clothing purchases in store.
  • Over 1 in 3 will continue to buy and store more non-perishable food items, 43% of people will continue to buy and store more hygiene items1, and 2 in 5 will continue to buy and store more cleaning items
  • Half of all Australians will look to brands who demonstrate an understanding of and responsiveness to the community
  • Trust in government and business is at a high as is value and faith in our local communities

Above and beyond all this, there is an ongoing tension between remaining safe and the desire to connect with around 4 in 10 people fear a sharpening of the pandemic curve with the arrival of winter. 7=

These shifting sands and the mixture of old and new behaviours mean that understanding audiences is now more crucial than ever. These behavioural changes will vary across the board as each of the markets across the world bounce back at various paces. Advertisers need to have clear and robust information on how their audiences will start to behave after Covid-19 subsides, which in turn will enable concise media planning for the recovery period.


  1. Article: Marketing Week. A new way of shopping: How habits are changing as Brits adapt to lockdown. 28th April 2020
  2. Article: Kantar. Beyond COVID-19: what consumer behaviours are likely to be maintained?. 24th April 2020.
  3. YouGov, 16th April
  4. Commonwealth Bank, Global Economic and Market Research, week ending March 20 2020
  5. Quantium data, category sales vs. pre Covid-19 (week ending Feb 3rd 2020)
  6. Phillippa Lally: How are habits formed, European Journal of Psychology
  7.  oOh! Pulse Report “Getting you ahead of the curve”, April – May 2020
  8.  oOh! Smart Reach, DSpark , Aggregated weekly total volumes, 3,200+ oOh! Road locations, as at June 1st 2020 vs. pre Covid-19 (week ending Feb 3)

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Tara Coverdale, Data and Insights Director


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