Monday, February 15, 2021

Will Covid-19 Change Shopping Habits?


Covid-19 is still with us as Spring advances and may be here for the summer and into the fall of 2021.  One step that is taken to mitigate the spread of the virus, the lockdown of retail businesses, is changing the way we shop in the present and may well change our shopping habits into the future. Under lockdown, the consumer can no longer wander from store to store, from display to display, freely examining wares on racks and tables, able to test for feel, for weight, for quality.

While lockdowns are in effect, stores may be closed, but the urge to shop remains.  To assuage the desire to shop for things we need or things we think we need, shoppers turn to catalogues, printed catalogues mailed out by retailers or catalogues on internet shopping sites.  These alternatives to shopping in person display merchandise with coloured photographs and colourful descriptions.  Once we’ve made our decision and paid for our purchases, the merchandise we’ve chosen is shipped to our homes or prepared and made available for curbside pickup.   This year I did most of my Christmas shopping online.  Waiting for parcels to arrive was almost like Christmas itself. 

Those catalogues both print and digital can offer the shopper as much and even more choice than a regular retail outlet in a shopping mall.  Goods displayed by internet super sellers such as Amazon or eBay show items from many individual retailers, big and small, from all over the world.  Amazon doesn’t stock those thousands of items it displays for sale; it is merely the go-between, an agent connecting smaller businesses to customers.

The razor I bought for hubby this Christmas was offered on Etsy, another online catalogue like Amazon, based in Ireland.  Although my sale went through Etsy, the order was filled and shipped by a small retailer in Australia!  The wooden blocks we chose for our great grandson came from a family business operating out of their home in Indiana who market the products they make under the umbrella of another super seller.

Catalog purchases are shipped by post or by an army of carriers.  Residential streets are busy with vans and trucks delivering wares to families who have done their shopping online, or by telephone or by mail.  Items we have ordered arrive on our doorsteps a few days or weeks later.  Shopping was never so easy nor so comfortable.

Even restaurant service has been altered because of Covid. During lockdowns, dine-in eating is discouraged or, in some cases, downright banned.   Some food outlets such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and fish-and-chip stores fit easily into a walk-in, take-out mode.  Many other restaurants, copying the practice of pizza shops, are offering meals by pick up or home delivery through one or another of the many delivery services such as Skip The Dishes.   

Will the phenomenon of at-home shopping during Covid close-downs become the way we shop, Covid or not?  Perhaps future restaurants will look more like pizza outlets with large preparation areas, but little or no seating.  Take-out and delivery will replace sit-in eating.   Dining in a restaurant will occur on special occasions only in one of the few special restaurants that still offer gracious, seated dining including tablecloths and napkins.   Cloth napkins and serving dishes will be forever gone; paper napkins and boxes both cardboard and aluminum with be de rigueur whenever we take out to eat at home.

Online shopping, popular because of retail closures, may outlast the Covid 19 virus. In our future, large retail outlets like Ikea and the Bay might reduce their costly in-store shopping space and sell mainly by catalogue.

Catalogue shopping is not new – Remember the great Eaton’s catalogue in days gone by? Many an afternoon could be spent browsing through the catalogue and dreaming of this and that. Catalogues, those dream books that came from Eaton’s, Simpsons, and Sears, serviced all those who lived on farms or in rural communities and invaded the urban market, too.

The glossy pages of those catalogues of yore were full of lovely pictures and creative descriptions designed to give the shopper good information about every article sold in the main stores and more. Little girls could giggle over the pages selling corsets and stays and little boys over ladies in girdles.  Ordering anything from cream separators to soup spoons could be done by mail or by phone to a main centre.  Alternatively, orders could be placed in one of the many small store-front catalogue sites in every small town and picked up from the same little space. The great catalogues of the early 20th  century gave rural folk a place to shop that was varied and complete.  Even city folk used catalogues on occasion and had their dreams arrive by one of a fleet of delivery trucks owned by emporiums such as Eaton's.  “Mom! Eaton’s truck is here,” could be heard up and down city streets.

Gardeners whether urban or rural have been shopping from seed catalogues for well over 100 years.  Renny Seeds out of Toronto mailed catalogues upon request to homes across the land as early as 1800.  In 2021, gardeners continue to shop for seeds and plants, and for supplies such as fertilizers and other soil amendments offered in the seed catalogues of Thompson and Morgan, McFadden’s, Dominion Seed House, Ontario Seed Company, Burpee and many more.

Sometime before Christmas, seed catalogues are mailed to customers or made available on the seed company's website, and the dreams and plans of next year’s garden begin.  By February, the catalogues have been perused several times, and gardeners have drawn up garden plans and know exactly what they want.  Orders for items in the catalogue can still be placed by mailing in an order form enclosed with the catalogue or by telephone reading each item with its catalogue number and name.  Now, orders can also be placed online on interactive web pages.  No matter what mode your order took, it arrives directly from the seed company to your doorstep.

Catalogue shopping for wares other than gardening is undergoing a rebirth in urban, as well as rural homes.  Large malls may never be the same.  Some retail stores will be able to ride out the Covid storm and revert to in-person shopping as before Covid—but many will choose to stay on as online businesses. We may not see a resurgence of printed catalogues but online catalogues are burgeoning.  We may be entering a new era for shopping – choosing to shop from online catalogues instead of shopping in person.

Covid-19 restrictions may permanently alter our purchasing habits.