Two or three decades ago, a recession hit Europe, the North American countries, and then descended into the Middle East and Asia. Then, not so long ago, the COVID-19 pandemic brought significant changes to the way people shop, and those changes are expected to continue even as the pandemic fades away. One of the most important shifts is the increased use of e-commerce and online shopping. As a result of the closure or restriction of physical stores, many shoppers have turned to online retailers for their purchases. This has conditioned customers to expect greater convenience, faster delivery times and a wider range of online products. 

A further change is the focus on contactless payment methods and self-monitoring options. Customers are now more comfortable with mobile payments or scanning items themselves, causing them to expect faster and more efficient payment experiences. The pandemic has also altered the types of products customers buy. For instance, the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and home office equipment has increased significantly as many people work from home. This allowed customers to acclimatize to give priority to health and safety products and to invest more in technology and equipment at home. 

Ghalia BOUSTANI. Senior retail consultant at Univers Retail | Published author | Visiting lecturer.

There have been changes in priorities around consumer spending. and more people are giving priority to essential items like groceries and household supplies rather than discretionary purchases like travel or entertainment. Moreover, customers put a greater emphasis on locally sourced products and sustainable goods, as they have become more concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases and the resilience of local supply chains.


Yes, the current retail environment is changing and conditioning clients in new behaviors. This has prompted customers to expect greater convenience, speed, and safety, and it is likely that these changes will continue even after the pandemic ends.

Where customers accustomed do consumption patterns in the past decades?

Prior to the widespread use of the Internet, customers primarily bought goods and services in physical stores. Clients would go to different stores to compare prices and products prior to making a purchase. They had limited access to product information. They relied on advertising, word of mouth and their own product experience in making purchasing decisions. Consumers were often more loyal to certain brands than they are now. This was due in part to the limited access to information and the higher cost of switching brands. Customizations were limited prior to the year 2000. Customers generally purchased mass-produced products designed for a wide range of consumers, instead of products tailored to their needs and preferences. Finally, prior to the rise of credit and debit cards, customers primarily used cash and cheques to pay for goods and services. This has made online and distance shopping more challenging.

At the turn of the century, customers became more demanding and demanding in their consumption habits, expecting a broader range of choices and higher quality products and services. With the rise of e-commerce and enhanced retail technologies, the retail environment underwent a series of disruptions that led to changes in consumption patterns.

1. Online shopping: The rise of the Internet has resulted in a dramatic increase in online shopping. Customers can now buy products from around the world in just a few clicks, causing disruption to traditional stores.

2. Health and well-being: Consumers are increasingly interested in healthy living and are ready to pay more for products that promote health and well-being. This has led to an increase in demand for organic, natural, and whole foods, as well as products such as dietary supplements and fitness equipment.

3. Sustainability: Environmental concerns have generated greater interest in sustainable products and practices. Customers seek environmentally friendly products, from garments made from recycled materials to household cleaners free of harmful chemicals.

4. Personalisation: Customers want products that suit their needs and preferences. This has resulted in increased options for personalization and personalization, personalized clothing and accessories to personalize meal plans and fitness routines.

5. Convenience: Customers are seeking products and services that make life easier and more convenient. This has resulted in increased services like meal delivery, carpooling and home cleaning services.

Can customers unlearn and relearn?

Unlearning refers to the process of changing or letting go of previously held beliefs or behaviours, while re-learning implies the acquisition of new knowledge or skills to replace old ones. These processes are key to adapting to changes in the retail environment or other aspects of someone’s life. Customers can unlearn and relearn through various methods, including education, training, and exposure to new experiences. 

For example, if a customer has become accustomed to shopping for products in-store, they may need to unlearn this behaviour and relearn how to shop online if they want to adapt to changes in the retail environment. Similarly, if a customer has become accustomed to using cash for their purchases, they may have to unlearn this behaviour and learn to use contactless payment methods again. This may require education or training in new technologies or payment systems.

In some cases, unlearn and relearn can be challenging, especially if a client has deep-rooted habits or beliefs. However, with patience, perseverance and adequate support, customers can adapt to changes in the retail environment and develop new habits and behaviours that are more responsive to their needs and preferences.

Customers significantly impact the retail industry by making purchasing decisions based on their preferences, needs and values. The retail industry addresses these choices with products, services and experiences that meet customer demand.

How can retailers teach customers to adopt new habits?

Retailers can use a variety of strategies to teach customers to adopt new habits through education, providing incentives and evidence, or setting an example. Retailers can provide educational materials, such as brochures, videos, or tutorials, that explain how to take on new habits or behaviours. For instance, if a retailer wants their customers to use contactless payment methods, they can provide information about how to use mobile payments or instant credit cards.

They can offer incentives, such as discounts, rewards points, or free samples, to encourage customers to adopt new habits. For example, a retailer may offer a discount for customers who use contactless payment methods or provide a free sample of a sustainable product to encourage customers to make environmentally friendly choices.

If a retailer wants customers to bring their own reusable bags, they can provide employees with reusable bags and encourage them to use them. This this way, retailers would have led by example and adopted new habits themselves. Social proof refers to the tendency of people to adopt the behaviours of others, to encourage customers to adopt new habits. Under the light of social proof, a retailer can display signs or testimonials from satisfied customers who have successfully adopted new habits or behaviours. Most importantly, retailers can make it easy for customers to adopt new habits by removing barriers or obstacles. For example, if a retailer wants customers to use the automatic cash register, they can make sure the machines are easy to use and clearly labelled.

Retailers may use a combination of these strategies to educate consumers to adopt new habits. By making it easy, providing incentives, and leading by example, retailers can help customers to adapt to changes in the retail environment and develop new habits and behaviours that better suit their needs and preferences.

Do clients have a say in what they consume and how they consume it?

In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards customer-focused retail, highlighting the importance of understanding and responding to customer needs. Retailers are increasingly using customer feedback, data analytics and market research to gain a deeper understanding of customer preferences and behaviors. This allows retailers to tailor their offerings to customer needs and preferences and create custom shopping experiences.

In addition, the growth of social media and e-commerce has provided customers with a greater voice and influence in the retail industry. Social media platforms enable customers to share their views, experiences, and recommendations with a broad audience, while e-commerce platforms enable customers to easily compare products, prices, and retailers.

However, while consumers have a say in what and how they consume, their choices are not always independent of external factors like marketing, pricing, and availability. Retailers use different strategies to influence customer behaviour, such as product placement, advertising, and pricing strategies. As a result, even if customers have a say, they may not always have full control over their buying decisions.

Ghalia Boustani will be speaking at 3PM on the 19th April at the Visual Merchandising and Display Show.  Register for FREE entry at