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Europe sees online shopping surge

Jenipher Camino Gonzalez
April 27, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed patterns and differences in consumer activity among Europe's largest nations. COVID-19 lockdowns have pushed Europeans to embrace online grocery shopping. 

Coronavirus - Deutschland Abstandsregeln
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

What Europeans buy during coronavirus lockdown and restrictions varies from country to country, a market research study of consumer behavior during the month of March showed.  

Consumer choice across western Europe's five largest nations (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, UK) was largely driven by lockdown stage, Jens Ohlig, CEO of the Nielsen market research institute for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, told DW on Monday.  

The Nielsen pandemic shopping research surveyed several countries on their habits and evaluated the percentage increase in sales of various products compared to the same period last year. 

Four phases of shopping 

In Germany, residents tied down by COVID-19 restrictions bought more tissues and detergents, while popcorn was popular among Italians and Spaniards. The British sought to buy more whipped cream and the French went after fish and tomato paste. 

These items highlighted the different tastes among Europeans, but generally, as the restrictions began in March, consumers flocked first to cover their basic needs, the Nielsen research showed.  

Ultimately, many countries had similar basic items universally ending up in shopping trolleys. 

Ohlig explained that consumers undergo four phases during lockdown. In the first phase, they focus on purchasing health-related items, while in the second phase purchases of disinfectants and respiratory masks rise. 

''In phase three, stockpiling of non-perishable foods increases dramatically. When consumers prepare for possible curfews in phase four, online purchases increase,'' Ohlig said. 

Read moreCoronavirus pandemic reveals Germans' poor cooking skills

Online grocery shopping rises 

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, many European countries were not very receptive to online shopping, Nielsen researchers noted. Less than one in five Western European consumers used an online service to buy groceries.  

Evidence in the study showed that social distancing has changed this. Online grocery shopping has seen a massive increase in Italy and France during the coronavirus crisis, where respondents said they were reconsidering the need for and frequency of supermarket visits. 

Consumers in Germany, which is dominated by discounters offering little or no online shopping options, have largely maintained their usual in-store shopping. 

But Ohlig added that even in Germany, researchers had found an increase in grocery shop e-commerce activity. 

Read moreGermany rejects Sunday package deliveries as online shopping booms amid lockdown

Germans expect long-term crisis 

Although a majority of Europeans believe that the effects of COVID-19 will continue between four and 12 months, some countries were more optimistic than others about the speed of recovery. 

Residents in France and Spain were more likely to think that a return to normal could happen in less than three months, with 32% and 29% of respondents feeling this way, respectively.  

But only 18% of Germans felt this way and even some 31% felt that the crisis could last more than a year, a higher share than any other country. Some 51% of the population said it would last between four and 12 months.   

Respondents in the UK fell somewhere in the middle, with 56% saying the crisis will last more than four months, 21% seeing it last longer than a year, and 23% feeling optimistic about a short-term crisis. 

Residents in hard-hit Italy were the least likely to say the crisis would last less than three months, at 13% — while 73% estimated it would last from four months to a year. 

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