The introduction of lockdown in Britain at the end of March brought with it stark headlines and a swell of anxiety on social media.  It also exposed a hard truth: many businesses will need to turn on their axes to adapt to a new world.  But in these demanding times that see everything under scrutiny, it’s vital to keep a clear head and shape strategies that use data and evidence rather than knee jerk responses.

Take grocery as an example, images of empty shelves filled our screens in March and people swapped tales of panic buying of flour, anti-bac and loo roll.  However, data from Kantar painted a different – and truer – picture which dispelled the notion of stockpiling.  It showed that the majority of people picking up just one or two extra items per trip and shopping more often, rather than selfish hoarding, had been enough to expose the delicate balance of just-in-time supply chains.

Anecdotally, it may seem surprising that only 3% of the people who bought pasta in March took it home in extraordinary quantities.  But it serves as an example of the risk of jumping to conclusions based on perception and presumption rather than hard facts.

Anxieties around coronavirus have brought questions about what really matters to consumers into sharp relief – and the answers can seem full of contradictions.  

For example, there have been claims that green issues are falling down the agenda as concerns around plastic waste take second place to fears around Covid-19.  And yet, staying in the grocery aisles, how does this perspective tally with the recent news that Morrisons plans to introduce recyclable paper bags for life and remove plastic packaging from fresh produce to reduce unnecessary waste?  It would be interesting to know whether consumer research drove the decision.

Online shopping is another trend where retailers will be keen to get a grip on what is really happening – knowing if the recent boom is here to stay will be vital to shaping their future investment strategies.

It’s important to understand and test what consumers think, feel and care about, and this goes beyond retail.  Industries across the board are taking stock and asking questions – what will people prioritise in their search for a new home, how will spaces in city centres adapt to changing norms in office working and what does the pandemic mean for transport projects reliant on regular commuters?

With the UK officially entering a recession in August, the race is on to meet and understand shifting consumer and public demand.  At a time when emotions are naturally running high and when the temptation is to make decisions quickly, research and analysis can cut through the clamour to provide a solid evidence base for good decision making.

Lottie Marsden is an account executive at Camargue 

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