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Fewer of us are doing nearly as much grocery shopping as we once did – but that may change at a moment’s notice. And that could mean crowded stores, panicked shoppers and empty shelves all over again.

The sales and marketing company Acosta has released the last two reports in a series about our grocery shopping habits during the coronavirus pandemic. One of its reports finds that we’re still being cautious about grocery shopping, by buying more in fewer trips. And a followup report finds we’re poised to buy a lot more and make far fewer trips, by building up a pandemic stockpile all over again if things start to get worse.

In a survey of shoppers, Acosta found that the frequency of grocery store visits has declined greatly over the past several months. Back in 2017, long before the coronavirus upended our lives and our routines, Acosta found that a vast majority of shoppers visited more than one grocery store each week, with some visiting multiple stores on the same day.

But not anymore. Acosta’s latest survey found that grocery shopping once a week or more has declined by 20%, with less than half still shopping that frequently. 27% say they now go to the grocery store just two or three times a month, while 26% manage to go just once a month or even less.

That’s not because we’re eating less, but because we’re buying more in fewer trips. More than a third of shoppers say they’re spending more on each grocery trip than they used to, with half spending more on groceries overall than they did before the pandemic.

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“We expect the trends of stocking up and spending more on groceries to remain popular,” Acosta CEO Darian Pickett said in a statement.

Especially if there are more shutdowns – then the spending and stocking up could really ramp up.

More than two-thirds of shoppers are worried that another shutdown is extremely or somewhat likely to occur. So they’re planning to do just what they did during the last shutdown, and stock up.

More than half of shoppers intend to go to the store and buy as much as they can to build up their stockpile again – that includes 15% who didn’t stock up last time, but plan to do so this time. So don’t get complacent now that you’re seeing more toilet paper and cleaning supplies on the shelves, because they could disappear all over again.

“Retailers should be prepared for a new surge in stocking up,” Pickett said. In the meantime, to better engage shoppers who aren’t visiting as often, Acosta advised retailers to try having contests and offering loyalty points as rewards, or ramping up digital promotions to make sure would-be shoppers see them while they’re hunkered down at home.

For every sign that the pre-pandemic routine of plentiful coupons and sales is starting to get back to normal, there are predictions that we’re right on the precipice of another round of panic buying. Few could have predicted back in March that we’d still be worried about how much toilet paper we have on hand in August. So better take stock of your stockpile now – before it’s too late.

Image source: Kroger

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