Despite growth in online grocery shopping, Canadian renters' demand local grocery stores more than ever
Data Scientist @ Local Logic
4 min read
Feb 15, 2021
Photo credit: Gabriella Clare Marino - Unsplash
Since March of last year, we’ve grown accustomed to phrases like essential services, social distancing and lockdown. While we keep hearing them from government officials and news outlets, it seems these have become integrated into decision making, even when it comes to big decisions — like where should we rent our next apartment?
Local Logic quantifies access to amenities and services across North America, and since our products are used on approximately 80% of the real estate portals across Canada, we have a good understanding of the lifestyle parameters that drive renters searching for their next home.
To explore how renters’ priorities have shifted since the pandemic began, we looked at how they interacted with our Location Scores in the first quarter of 2020 (Q1), and in the last quarter of 2020 (Q4). In each quarter, we looked at the interaction breakdown (which category had what portion of the interactions) and compared the differences between the two points in time. The figure below shows these differences ordered such that more frequently clicked on categories are higher up the list.
The most striking differences are around public transportation accessibility and grocery store proximity, both of which are two of the top-3 most desired characteristics in Q1 of 2020. In Q1, nearly 14% of all interactions were around public transportation, second only to elementary schools. In Q4, that dropped to around 10% (a 24% decrease), while grocery store proximity took that second spot, going up from 10% in Q1 to nearly 13% in Q4.
Some other key changes we can spot from before COVID-19 started affecting Canada are an increased interest in quiet surroundings and park access (a 9% increase on average), as well as growing interest in cafes, restaurants and shopping areas (an 8.5% increase on average). On the other hand, interest in daycares around rental units went down nearly 20%, and nightlife close to 10% down.
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Grocery shopping: in-store vs online
While some of the changes might seem unsurprising, they can have a major impact on the future of the cities we live in. The rising interest in proximity to grocery stores suggests that in spite of the fast growth of online shopping (30% of Canadians are estimated to buy their groceries online now, compared to 12-15% before the pandemic, per CBC report), having a store in the area around the house is more important to renters than before. Whether for curb-side pickup or for in-store visits, renters want to know there is the option to go to a store nearby. Experts also believe that once restrictions ease, the use of online grocers will go down and balance at levels between pre-pandemic days and today.
Public transit strong in spite of infection fears
The decreased interest in access to public transportation is quite intuitive. The combination of avoiding crowded spaces, especially closed ones, together with the shift to working remotely, means that public transportation is used less than before (77% lower than expected in Canada, when writing these lines, according to Transit App), and when renters are making the move it’s not as much of a draw as it used to be. However, as the restrictive measures will ease up, and vaccinations will be distributed, it’s hard to believe public transportation will not regain interest. Still in the top-3 most valued location characteristic while a pandemic is happening is in fact a sign of strength, indicating that renters are still aware of its importance despite the need to reduce contact with others.
The term “third place” was coined back in 1989 by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, and refers to public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact that are not their homes or workplaces.
Looking at the shifts in renter preference from before the pandemic to now, we see that the desirability of these places has gone up across different categories: cafes, restaurants, parks and shopping areas have all seen an increase of just under 10% each. This is an important signal for decision-makers, municipalities and real estate developers to consider when planning a neighbourhood or a rental apartment building: renters want to have easy access to those third places.
Seeing the increased interest in parks might be straightforward in times when we feel much safer in open spaces, but it was also one of the regularly searched location characteristics (in 6th place) before the pandemic began — a sign of its growing importance to renters even in pandemic-free days.
The growth in demand for cafes, restaurants and shopping areas is less straightforward, given that we are very limited in how much time we can spend indoors or close proximity to others. This growth in spite of restrictions and lockdowns suggests that these are resilient businesses that should be encouraged around rental projects, and could incentivize renters to pick one apartment over another.
The bottom line
It’s important to remember we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and the timeline for reopening and going back to normal is still uncertain. But some of the insights we gain from looking at what matters most to renters, especially during times like these, can give us an idea of what future rental projects should look like. More parks and quieter spaces, alongside small cafes and local restaurants, are more likely to attract future renters and should be incorporated into the fabric of a neighbourhood, while maintaining access to public transport nearby is still highly important, in spite of recent decreases in demand. And while online shopping for groceries will not go away, local grocers are desired more than ever and should not be overlooked.