Shops set for slow start on 15 June as seven out of 10 say they wouldn’t feel comfortable, EY report reveals

Julie Carlyle, EY’s UK&I head of retail

As the coronavirus lockdown starts to lift across the UK and with more retailers set to reopen in England on 15 June, the second EY Future Consumer Index reveals that consumers remain deeply cautious about returning to the shops.

According to the survey of 1,017 UK consumers, four in five (80%) said they would be uncomfortable trying on clothes in a store. Even though visiting a grocery store has remained a necessity for many people during lockdown, only a quarter (25%) said they currently feel comfortable going.

The report also showed that 45% of UK consumers believe the way they shop over the next one to two years will change, with 64% saying they expect to go shopping less frequently, but will spend more when they do. Similarly, 57% say they will be more aware of hygiene and sanitation when shopping in person.

Before COVID-19, factors such as whether a product was organic or sustainable, was defined as a luxury item, or could be personalised were important for many consumers. According to the survey, consumers are now prioritising product availability (59%), price (43%) and health (41%).

Overall, EY’s report highlights that consumers are gearing themselves up to live more risk-averse lives. More than half (67%) expect it to take months or years before they will return to a restaurant, with similar sentiments for visiting cinemas (80%) and bars/pubs (73%).

Silvia Rindone, Partner in Consumer Product & Retail at EY, comments: “UK consumer companies will need to be aware of consumers’ heightened concerns and make every effort to mitigate anxiety if they are to prosper in this new market. Adaptability has always been crucial for any consumer-facing business, but it will be more important than ever for companies if they are to emerge stronger from this pandemic and serve understandably anxious consumers.

“Companies need to think about reinventing their customer experience so that consumers feel reassured that the risk has been minimised. They must go the extra mile to help them feel safe and entice them back into a communal space. The browsing experience, for example, will change. With social distancing, a person’s presence in-store could prevent someone else from entering, lessening browsing time, and making the shopping experience far more transactional. Simplifying the choice for consumers would also be a sensible move, so that every item can be easily seen and purchased.”

Green shoots of hope from China

Despite the general feeling of caution among consumers in the UK, by looking at consumer behaviour and sentiment in the rest of the world and then comparing it to China, the report reveals insights into how consumer post-lockdown risk attitudes might change, and what it would take for companies to remain relevant.

While lockdown is largely over for them – unless we see further waves of pandemic – China does not feel like it is back to ‘normal’. Consumers remain deeply concerned about the impact of the crisis on issues like the health of their family and their freedom to enjoy life. 48% agree that the way they live will significantly change in the long term as a result of the outbreak; 49% agree that their values and the way they look at life have changed.

However, EY’s index shows that consumers in China are twice as likely (56%) to expect an economic recovery within the next 12 months, compared to the rest of the world (25%).

Companies need to quickly redefine their digital strategies

Julie Carlyle, EY UK&I Head of Retail (pictured), says: “As consumer companies look to more permanently de-risk the consumer experience and step into recovery, investment in digital capabilities will be critical. We expect to see greater use of the smartphone as an interface generally. Why touch a public ATM screen, for example, when a code number typed into your phone could confirm your identity? Voice commands and face ID will be used more widely. Cashier-free stores will become more appealing. This is just the start.

“New shopping experiences will become possible as personal technologies become more integral to everyday life. Consumers may also become more willing to share their biometric data to get clothes that fit perfectly without having to try them on. Haptic technology could allow people to “feel” products without physical contact. Certainly, this will require digital change at an extraordinary pace, but there is a clear opportunity for companies to take hold of and thrive.”

Julie Carlyle concludes: “Adaptability has always been crucial for any consumer-facing business, but it will be more important than ever for companies if they are to emerge stronger from this pandemic.”

See the latest insights and information on EY’s UK Future Consumer Index


About the EY Future Consumer Index
The second EY Future Consumer Index is a survey of 12,843 people conducted in May 2020 tracking consumer sentiment and behaviour across the UK, US, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. 1,017 respondents live in the UK. The survey explores consumer sentiment and behaviours across time horizons and global markets, identifying the new consumer segments that are emerging. It provides regular longitudinal indicators and a unique perspective on which changes are temporary reactions to the COVID-19 crisis, which point to more fundamental shifts, and what the consumer post COVID-19 might be like. More countries will be included as the analysis continues.


EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. With over 400 employees in our Cambridge and Luton offices, our teams provide a range of services to a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, life sciences, consumer products and retail, technology, real estate and construction, health, and the public sector. The broad array of companies across the East allows us to bring real, relevant and key insights to our clients.