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Access Panel 2022: Physical or digital commerce in the post-covid era?

14 minutes
The Access Panel Echangeur is made up of 14,000 individuals representing the French, Belgians, Spaniards and Portuguese, questioned every two years on all of their buying habits and budgetary choices: 5,000 in France and 3,000 in the other country. A unique tool that offers a 360° vision and helps to understand how they consume and spend, why, and with which brands.


Based on its research platform, the Access Panel France 2022 and its 5,000 French people questioned, the Echangeur reveals how the health crisis has modified, in a lasting way or not, the uses and attitudes of French consumers, in particular in their trade-offs between physical and digital.

6 consumer trends scrutinized, with a major lesson: digitalization of commerce? Yes, but the point of sale remains and will remain key!

Trend 1: Delivery, a key moment in the customer journey

With the intensification of online shopping since the pandemic, delivery has become a key moment in the customer journey. If a year ago Quick Commerce made the headlines with an explosion of players like Gorillas, Flink, Cajoo, or even Gopuff, their promise of “delivery in 10 minutes” is today evolving towards a more neutral, “a few minutes”, seeking to meet the consumer’s need for reliability rather than speed.

Only 13% of French people use a home delivery service for their food shopping, an increase since the “pre-Covid” period (+ 3 points compared to January 2020). There is a strong disparity depending on the place of residence, in connection with the offers offered. 28% of Parisians or inhabitants of the Paris conurbation have used it in the last 12 months. It is among them that the increase is the most notable: + 8 points compared to January 2020. Conversely, this practice is not very widespread in rural areas or in small towns with less than 10,000 inhabitants (respectively 8 % and 10% of them). The promise of delivery of groceries in one hour, or even a few minutes for Quick Traders, remains an inaccessible promise to rural dwellers.

The big winner of the “post-Covid” period is undeniably Drive. 27% of French people have used it in the last 12 months (+ 7 points vs 2020). If rural people are rarely addressed by home delivery services, they are logically the champions of Drive: 31% of them use it, up +8 points compared to January 2020. Conversely, only 14% of Parisians or residents of the conurbation use this service, whereas this practice is generally widespread in other types of city, including in large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants (25%).

Convenience and time saving, essential issues of Drive and home food delivery:

trend 1 drive

Beyond the food sector, delivery has become a crucial issue that extends to all of commerce. 21% of French people have used Click & Collect for their non-food purchases in the last 12 months. Here again, this practice has experienced a strong increase compared to the pre-Covid period (+ 9 points compared to January 2020). The urban/rural opposition is much less marked than in the food sector. Proof that the offer has been able to develop, outside the major urban centers.

Responding to the same need to save time, Click & Collect attracts targets similar to those of Drive: 30% of families with children under 15 are followers. Linked to their purchasing power, the most constrained families tend to use this service less (27% of the most constrained versus 36% of the wealthiest).

Home delivery, non-food Drive and Click & Collect meet the same need to reduce “chore shopping” in favor of “pleasure shopping” as shared during the 2021 edition of the Innovate Service Centric conference. Still, the development of Click & Collect in the non-food sector represents an opportunity for brands and retailers to create traffic in their stores.

Trend 2: Digital, gravedigger or new breath for the store?

The health crisis and the successive confinements have certainly led to an acceleration of the digitalization of the French. However, this is a two-speed digitization, leaving populations largely excluded. What are the long-term impacts on the world of commerce? Can digital become the gravedigger of the store?

Shopping on the Internet has now become commonplace. Although almost all French people (94%, +2 points vs January 2020) have purchased at least once on the Internet over the past 12 months, the health crisis has led to a significant increase in the frequency of purchases. 72% of online buyers buy at least once a month, an increase of +6 points compared to the January 2020 wave. An increase in the frequency of purchases does not rhyme with an increase in the number of sites where purchases are made . Only 19% of French people say they have purchased on more than 5 different websites in the last 12 months. The trend was similar before Covid. Naturally, we can draw a parallel with the development of platforms and marketplaces but also with the evolution of websites that increasingly integrate the codes of physical stores.

The use of smartphones and tablets has exploded since 2020. Among those that have progressed the most, we should mention M-commerce: 42% of French people now buy on the Internet via their smartphone or tablet, up + 10 points compared to January 2020 The QR-code, honored during the pandemic, is used by 36% of French people to obtain information on a product in store.

Overall, if the uses around the smartphone have multiplied, they are still far from being the majority in the whole of the French population. This illustrates a two-speed digitization from which certain populations are still largely excluded, seniors in the lead.

Explosion of M-Commerce illustrating a 2-speed digitization:

Trend 2 - M-Commerce explosion

Among the uses that have developed, while remaining largely in the minority, we must mention the use of smartphones to pay in stores: 11% of French people have adopted this practice (+ 4 points vs 2020). Note a disparity in use depending on the place of residence. It is above all a practice that is developing in Paris and its conurbation as well as in large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, with respectively 16% (+4 points vs 2020) and 14% (+5 points vs 2020) of users.

The smartphone as a means of payment remains marginal and is developing especially among young people

The smartphone as a means of payment remains marginal and is developing especially among young people

Faced with the inexorable progression of online shopping, faced with the evolution of shopping experiences offered on websites, retailers must answer a crucial question: what will be the role of the store tomorrow? A long-standing underlying trend, accentuated since the health crisis, the majority of physical stores are experiencing a drop in their footfall and are now struggling to regain their pre-crisis level.

However, stores continue to have a role to play. 44% of French people practice ROPO (Research Online Purchase Offline), in other words search for information on the Internet before buying in stores (+ 2 points vs 2020). This remains more widespread than the opposite practice, showrooming: 30% of French people look for information in stores, before buying on the Internet (+ 2 points vs 2020). It should be added that while seniors show a strong attachment to stores, Internet / store uses are more mixed among the youngest and families, always looking to save time. This omnichannel requires stores to continue their transformation, to differentiate themselves and continue to exist.

Trend 3: After voice, social networks, the future of commerce?

If there is one practice that has particularly intensified since the pandemic, it is the use of social networks, which have become essential media, especially among those under 30. This acceleration of uses should encourage brands to consider them as a major point of contact in their development and loyalty strategy.

While Facebook remains the social network with the largest number of users (68% of French people say they use it), it is losing ground among 18-29 year olds (56% of users, down 11 points from to January 2020). Conversely, Instagram is doing well. It has 37% of French users (+ 10 points, compared to January 2020) and becomes the 1st social network among 18-29 year olds with 70% of users (+ 5 points), followed by Snapchat. Beyond these “historical” networks, it is worth noting the significant weight that TikTok already represents, a network that gives pride of place to videos, relayed instantly on a large scale. Although its number of users is still low, Twitch, which initially aimed at gamer communities, also stands out among young people.

Instagram and Snapchat, the social networks most used by young people:

Instagram and Snapchat, the social networks most used by young people

Fully integrating social networks into its strategy is therefore no longer an option but a necessity for brands. However, purchasing via social networks currently attracts few users: only 10% of French people have purchased via this channel over the past 12 months. The younger generations stand out here again: 20% of 18-29 year olds have passed the milestone, i.e. three times more than the over 60s (6%).

Trend 4: Buy Now Pay Later, a service reserved for the most financially constrained French people?

With the rise of players such as Klarna, Alma or Floa Bank, Buy Now Pay Later was one of the new key words of the past year. However, the use of payment facilities is not new. How do the French use it, particularly online? Are these services only popular with the most constrained French people?

Overall, the practice is already particularly rooted in the consumption habits of the French.

Uses of online payment facilities: an already well-established practice:

Uses of online payment facilities: an already well-established practice

Young people are particularly attracted to this type of offer: 51% of 18-29 year olds have used online payment facilities in the last 12 months. Families with children under the age of 15 are also part of the followers of split payment such as payment deferral (Buy Now Pay Later), on the Internet: 47% use these payment facilities. This figure is similar regardless of the level of affluence of the families. However, in the face of increased budgetary pressures, these services should experience renewed interest in the future.

Beyond these socio-demographic characteristics, the more online buyers are regular customers, the more they use online payment facilities: 42% of customers who buy at least once a month on the Internet use this service; they are only 19% among more occasional customers (less than one purchase per month).

Trend 5: Retailers and the Circular Economy, the bellows falling?

Another topic that has hit the headlines in recent months is the Circular Economy. This underlies a change of model aimed at producing goods and services in a sustainable way, while limiting the consumption and waste of resources.

However, are consumers ready to favor use over ownership, to give products a second life, to integrate second-hand as an essential component of their consumption? Yes, in part, but above all for financial reasons and less to respond to environmental motivations.

For their part, the signs are trying to seize the subject. Since 2021, many have embarked on the credo, out of conviction or opportunism. We have thus seen initiatives flourish to offer second-hand products, in stores or on their website. But is there real development potential for traditional players?

24% of French people would be ready to rent rather than buy equipment (apart from a car). This figure, up +5 points compared to January 2020, testifies to an underlying trend that is emerging at its own pace. Among the most popular equipment, let’s mention High Tech equipment: 15% of French people could rent them, smartphone in mind (10%). Clothing rental could attract 8% of French people.

Strong generational disparities: nearly one in two young people ready to rent rather than buy equipment (excluding cars):

Strong generational disparities: nearly one in two young people ready to rent rather than buy equipment (excluding cars)

Families with children under 15 seem partly ready to take the plunge: 34% of them plan to rent rather than buy equipment. Here again, the financial criterion remains decisive. The most constrained families would be less inclined to commit to rental contracts that they probably consider too expensive (26% of them).

It remains for the brands to meet a double challenge: to be able to offer attractive offers for the consumer, while developing a profitable model. A difficult bet to take up?

If we are still far from a society of use, there is a practice already well anchored in the consumption of the French: the recourse to the second hand and more generally to the occasion.

60% of them have, in the last 12 months, sold or bought second-hand products, or even opted for refurbished products. Almost as many French people sell second-hand goods (36%) as buy them (40%).

the second-hand market remains largely structured around CtoC exchanges:

the second-hand market remains largely structured around CtoC exchanges

It is a market that remains largely structured around C2C exchanges. A third of French people have bought second-hand products between individuals, mainly via C2C platforms, such as Vinted, Leboncoin or Facebook Marketplace. While many brands have embarked on this credo, the French are half as many to declare buying second-hand in a brand, in store or via their website. Offers not yet sufficiently developed, not sufficiently accessible or visible or problem of legitimacy of traditional players, in the eyes of consumers? However, there is potential for development in this market, particularly for high-tech products, for which the guarantee of quality remains a fundamental criterion. Today, 18% of French people buy reconditioned products, refurbished as new, and thus meet a need for reinsurance.

Here again, there are strong generational differences: while 71% of those under 45 use this market, only 47% of those over 60 have already taken the plunge. Second-hand shopping is particularly popular with families with children under 15: half of them have integrated it into their practices. Young people, meanwhile, stand out for their greater use of refurbished products: 29% of them buy them. It is a way for them to access smartphones or other latest high-tech products, at more affordable prices.

Consumers are ready. The second hand represents real development potential for brands and retailers. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to create a place for themselves, in the face of the hegemony of C2C platforms and develop profitable models, bringing them real additional turnover. Undoubtedly, for this they will have to focus their positioning around reinsurance by providing guarantees that a direct relationship between consumers does not offer.

Trend 6: The crisis, a halt to French projects?

Faced with an uncertain future and a very real increase in budgetary tensions, arbitration will be necessary for many French people. This will undoubtedly result in increased use of low-cost and hard discount brands, which will thus continue to grow. The second-hand market could also offer another alternative and thus experience a new development.

Since the health crisis and the successive confinements, the French have continued to consider medium-term projects

Since the health crisis and the successive confinements, the French have continued to consider medium-term projects

It is difficult today to determine what will happen to the purchase plans, given the current crisis that the French are now facing. For some of them, the most fragile in particular, this may mean postponing purchases deemed to be non-priority, favoring lower quality products or developing strategies involving the search for good deals or the intensification of recourse to second hand.

If purchase projects are for some easily reportable, what about renovation projects? Can the good momentum initiated since the Covid be maintained, given the sharp rise in raw materials? No doubt, in part. Indeed, it is the most affluent targets who are the most inclined to undertake home renovation work: 41% of affluent families with children under 15 and 40% of affluent fifty-somethings. On the other hand, some of these projects may not be carried out as initially envisaged, implying for example a reduction in the scope of the work undertaken.

The French estimate at 61% the weight of constrained expenditure in their budget, whether it be compulsory expenditure (rent, credits, taxes, charges, insurance, alimony) or pre-committed expenditure (telephone subscriptions, Internet, pay-TV channels, transport costs, etc.), savings representing 10% of their budget and the remainder 29%.

The lower the income of the French, the greater the burden on their budget of the constrained charges:

The lower the income of the French, the greater the burden on their budget of the constrained charges

Of course, this affects the ability to save like the rest to live on the lowest incomes. While the wealthiest are equipped to deal with the current crisis, even if it means dipping into their savings, the situation is proving critical for the most vulnerable, for whom the crisis could indeed put a stop to a good number of their projects.

Discover the press release!

Caroline is in charge of the Access Panel studies of Echangeur.
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