The coronavirus pandemic has exposed patterns and differences in consumer activity among Europe’s largest nations. COVID-19 lockdowns have pushed Europeans to embrace online grocery shopping. 

What Europeans buy during coronavirus lockdown and restrictions varies from country to country, a market research study of consumer behavior during the month of March showed.  

Consumer choice across western Europe’s five largest nations (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, UK) was largely driven by lockdown stage, Jens Ohlig, CEO of the Nielsen market research institute for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, told DW on Monday.  

The Nielsen pandemic shopping research surveyed several countries on their habits and evaluated the percentage increase in sales of various products compared to the same period last year. 

Four phases of shopping 

In Germany, residents tied down by COVID-19 restrictions bought more tissues and detergents, while popcorn was popular among Italians and Spaniards. The British sought to buy more whipped cream and the French went after fish and tomato paste. 

These items highlighted the different tastes among Europeans, but generally, as the restrictions began in March, consumers flocked first to cover their basic needs, the Nielsen research showed.  

Ultimately, many countries had similar basic items universally ending up in shopping trolleys. 

Ohlig explained that consumers undergo four phases during lockdown. In the first phase, they focus on purchasing health-related items, while in the second phase purchases of disinfectants and respiratory masks rise. 

In phase three, stockpiling of non-perishable foods increases dramatically. When consumers prepare for possible curfews in phase four, online purchases increase,” Ohlig said. 

Read moreCoronavirus pandemic reveals Germans’ poor cooking skills

Online grocery shopping rises 

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, many European countries were not very receptive to online shopping, Nielsen researchers noted. Less than one in five Western European consumers used an online service to buy groceries.  

Evidence in the study showed that social distancing has changed this. Online grocery shopping has seen a massive increase in Italy and France during the coronavirus crisis, where respondents said they were reconsidering the need for and frequency of supermarket visits. 

Consumers in Germany, which is dominated by discounters offering little or no online shopping options, have largely maintained their usual in-store shopping. 

But Ohlig added that even in Germany, researchers had found an increase in grocery shop e-commerce activity. 

Read moreGermany rejects Sunday package deliveries as online shopping booms amid lockdown

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    On your marks, get set …

    After a month of life under lockdown, Germans are regaining a few freedoms. But they are doing so in patchwork fashion. The 16 individual states are responsible for lifting their lockdowns. The biggest change is that all shops under 800 square meters (8,610 square feet) are allowed to open their doors from April 20. But shoppers in some states — such as Berlin — will have to wait a little longer.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Getting out and about

    Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), was one of the states to allow stores to open right away. Shoppers in Bonn appeared to take full advantage. NRW has also gone a baby-step further than other states, allowing large stores specializing in maternity products to open up.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    On your bike

    Cyclists looking for a new purchase were already lining up outside a bike shop in Dinslaken, NRW, after it reopened on Monday. Bike stores, bookstores and car dealerships throughout Germany are allowed to welcome customers again, no matter the shops’ size.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Back in business

    Store owners were just as delighted to welcome back customers, with some launching spring sales to try and tempt a few more inside. A lifestyle store in Ludwigsburg, Saxony-Anhalt, put up a banner reading, “We are back! Nice to see you again.”

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Back to school

    Pupils are slowly being allowed back in through school gates. The states of Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony are permitting older students to return on Monday for classes to prepare them for their school-leaving exams, as well as the tests themselves. Most areas of Germany are targeting May 4 as the day to open schools more widely, but Bavaria, one of the hardest hit states, will wait until May 11.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Zoos and museums to open doors

    Animals have had a month off as zoos and safari parks were closed by Germany’s lockdown. But some states are ready to allow visitors to return. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Rhineland-Palatinate are all permitting zoos to open to some extent. In these and other states people will be able to visit museums again.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Masks will become more prevalent

    Some people have been wearing masks out of choice, but in certain regions they will become a more common sight. There is no nationwide requirement to wear them, but some states are introducing one. From April people using busses and trains and going into shops in Saxony will need something to cover their noses and mouths. Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania will follow with similar measures.

  • Coronavirus: Life returns to Germany as lifting of lockdown begins

    Keep your distance

    What won’t change are social distancing guidelines. No matter where they are, Germans are still being encouraged to keep 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) away from people they don’t live with. Stores that are reopening are marking this distance in various ways to help customers keep clear of one another.

    Author: Alex Matthews


Germans expect long-term crisis 

Although a majority of Europeans believe that the effects of COVID-19 will continue between four and 12 months, some countries were more optimistic than others about the speed of recovery. 

Residents in France and Spain were more likely to think that a return to normal could happen in less than three months, with 32% and 29% of respondents feeling this way, respectively.  

But only 18% of Germans felt this way and even some 31% felt that the crisis could last more than a year, a higher share than any other country. Some 51% of the population said it would last between four and 12 months.   

Respondents in the UK fell somewhere in the middle, with 56% saying the crisis will last more than four months, 21% seeing it last longer than a year, and 23% feeling optimistic about a short-term crisis. 

Residents in hard-hit Italy were the least likely to say the crisis would last less than three months, at 13% — while 73% estimated it would last from four months to a year. 

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