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Shopper habits ‘returning to normal’ as lockdown begins to lift

Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor
·3-min read

Shoppers are making more trips to supermarkets and buying less online as lockdown lifts and the vaccine rollout boosts confidence, according to new figures.

The latest figures from Kantar show that online supermarket sales growth has halved since the height of the pandemic, to 46%, while the number of trips to grocery stores rose by 4% month on month in the four weeks to April 18.

Kantar said older shoppers accounted for nearly half of the rise in so-called footfall to stores, with much of the over-65 community now vaccinated.

Overall supermarket sales rose by 5.7% to £31.6 billion in the 12 weeks to April 18, in a further slowdown in the rate of growth seen a year earlier when shoppers panic-bought at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

But one-month figures showed a return to growth, with take-home grocery sales rising by 6.5% in the four weeks to April 18.

Kantar said that, after the initial pre-lockdown rush in 2020, last April was comparatively quiet.

The figures also come as wider retail reopened on April 12, with lockdown restrictions lifting for non-essential retail across England.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “There is a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to the supermarket.”

He added: “While the market may fluctuate between growth and decline in the months ahead, depending on the year-on-year comparison being made, the fact that trip numbers are up and basket sizes down suggests that habits are slowly returning to normal.”

There was also some cheer for shoppers’ budgets, as the data revealed grocery prices falling by 0.3% – the first drop since December 2016.

“This is largely down to promotions, as retailers prioritised filling shelves over running deals last year,” said Mr McKevitt.

The figures showed that the number of people shopping online fell for the second straight month.

The share of groceries ordered over the internet fell to 13.9% in the most recent four weeks, down from a peak of 15.4% in February.

Convenience stores – both independents and those owned by major retailers – also saw sales fall, down 19% in the past month as shoppers became less reliant on local stores than they were during lockdown restrictions.

Co-op saw sales fall 3.1% year-on-year in the 12 weeks to April 18, with its market share falling to 6.2% from 6.7% a year ago.

Among the Big Four chains, Asda enjoyed the fastest sales growth, up 8% in the period, while its market share lifted to 14.8% from 14.4% a year earlier.

Morrisons followed with 7.2% sales growth and saw its market share edge up to 10% from 9.9%.

Tesco’s market share rose to 27% from 26.8% a year ago as its sales increased 6.4%, with Sainsbury’s seeing the sales slowest growth of the biggest chains – up 6% – though it held its market share steady at 15.3%.