In recent months, the convenience industry has quickly responded to new and changing customer needs by adapting product ranges at short notice. One holdover from the lockdown has been the significant impact it has made on consumer mobility behaviour in Switzerland.
The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) recorded a temporary drop in passenger frequency of up to 90%. This decline was, of course, also felt by retailers located at the stations. In response, several retailers promptly took measures to adjust to the new business climate, mostly by modifying their service offerings as customer needs changed and introducing new and high-demand merchandise, such as hand disinfectant and protective masks. Rapid response by retailers made it possible to minimize their sales loss to some degree. At the same time, optimisations were made on the cost side, where sensible and possible. On the one hand, this was done with regard to personnel deployment planning and, on the other hand, with regard to rent.
These efforts paid off. SBB announced on 19 May 2020 that it would accommodate its tenants: Businesses that were affected by official closures due to the coronavirus crisis will not pay rent for the duration of the lockdown. These are primarily shops and restaurants in the stations. Stores that were allowed to remain open will receive rent reductions, determined by their decline in sales. (Tenants of office and residential spaces are excluded from rent reductions.) As a result of these goodwill measures, SBB expects a mid-double-digit million euro decline in rental income in the current year.
There were major differences in the short-term development of shops at petrol stations. Shops on motorways or interurban roads were most affected by the absence of commuters working in their home offices and the lack of travellers/tourists. Other shops within walking distance of apartments, however, posted significant gains in some cases, since consumers can complete their errands quickly and do not have to stand in a queue outside the store—unlike some large supermarkets that have put in place security measures to limit the number of customers allowed within the store.
Naturally, petrol station shops have also responded to new customer needs and have revised their product ranges as a result of the pandemic. Many have launched new services, such as pick-up stations or even home delivery services. This sector has demonstrated remarkable agility and innovation during a time when a quick response was critical. And customers have recognised and appreciated it.
A survey of Swiss consumers reveals that 54% of all respondents will visit convenience retailers at the same extent that they did before the lockdown. The biggest changes in shopping behaviour will be in online shopping. Here, a high of 60% will modify their behaviour, and it can be assumed that many will buy more online and not less. Fortunately, convenience retailing will not be as affected by this change, as consumers on-the-go will continue to have immediate needs that require on-the-spot satisfaction.