According to our recent national survey of Canadians, grocery stores have been one of the few islands of stability in the stormy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. 90% of those surveyed said they are still shopping at the same grocery stores they did before the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, with almost eight in ten (78%) buying groceries from large grocery chains.

Interestingly, 75% of respondents said they are continuing to do most of their grocery shopping in-store while physical distancing rules have been in effect and almost nine in ten (87%) said they will do their grocery shopping in-store once restrictions are lifted. These findings speak to the resiliency of routines and should encourage other large brick-and-mortar retail chains.

Online may not deliver long-term

While many grocery store chains offered an online order and delivery option during the pandemic, there was limited take up and our research suggests even those who chose that option see it as a temporary move. Only 2% of respondents said they did online/delivery orders pre-pandemic and only 3% said they’d likely use it for most of their grocery shopping post-pandemic.

Standalone will stand apart

Many large grocery retailers have standalone stores, entirely separate buildings or stores that are attached to shopping malls but that don’t have entrances or exits through the mall. This may have made those grocery stores seem safer. If so, other isolated retail stores including ‘big box stores’ might be insulated from the fears that many have about going back to shopping malls.

Our research found that almost four in ten people (38%) said that they would go to malls “less frequently” after the physical distancing restrictions are lifted than they did pre-pandemic.  That was particularly true for women (41%) as well as those aged 18-24 (44%), 25-34 (46%), and 35-44 (42%). This suggests retail stores that aren’t in malls will likely have an advantage.

Big box + one stop shopping

Further support for the notion that standalone stores may fare better in the post-pandemic period is that almost half (45%) of people told us they’re now buying groceries from big box stores instead of or in addition to large grocery chains. Albertans (63%), British Columbians (52%), and those aged 25-34 (51%) were most likely to tell us they are now buying from big box stores.

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Given the level of comfort that most Canadians have shopping in grocery stores, especially as compared to shopping malls, other large retail chains with standalone ‘big box’ stores should try to mirror and mimic the grocery store experience in the post-pandemic recovery. Investments to replicate that in-store experience may be better than expensive online/delivery options.