Greenwich researchers find major changes in food shopping behaviour in China as a result of COVID-19 pandemic

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A study led by academics from the University of Greenwich finds major changes in food and grocery shopping behaviours in China as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with online purchases rising dramatically, while many customers remained loyal to small local independent shops.  

The study, led by Dr. Junxiong Li, based at the Marketing, Events and Tourism Department at the University of Greenwich, examined how Chinese consumers reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak in terms of their food shopping preferences at the early stages of China’s nation-wide lockdown. The findings of this study indicate that farmers’ markets lost more than half of their regular customers, while local small independent food retailers enjoyed the highest levels of customer loyalty (75 per cent) during the pandemic. Supermarkets lost over a third of their regular customers. However, the biggest winner was online food shopping as this retail channel was considered the most effective way of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Most experts agree that we may yet suffer new waves of COVID-19 infections and possibly new strains of the virus, particularly in the Autumn, which gives the findings of this study an additional dimension and one we hope policy makers and key decision makers will heed so that we are better prepared for recurring events of a similar nature,” said Dr. Andres Coca-Stefaniak. 

Professor Alan Hallsworth of the University of Portsmouth and a co-author of this study added “the key question here is how elderly people bought their food – online or by going physically to a shop, with all the risks involved. We have witnessed similar food shopping behaviours across much of the western world since. In the UK, for instance, many elderly consumers are likely to have found themselves with little choice but walking to their nearest shop or supermarket as they got crowded out of online delivery slots. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by governments as the pandemic continues to spread.” 
 
The study, co-authored by Associate Professor Andres Coca-Stefaniak of the University of Greenwich and due to be published soon in Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie also found that larger cities in China only reported about one third of their food retail outlets as closed due to the pandemic, whereas this proportion rose to half of all shops and supermarkets in smaller towns. The authors of the research argue that the resilience of countries to future crises – and specifically that of their food retail sector -requires a wider-ranging approach to policy making that includes small businesses as well as larger retailers working jointly to provide in these emergencies with a special emphasis on more disadvantaged groups, including the elderly.


For access to the full study (pre-publication draft) go to gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/28002/