The COVID-19 crisis, lockdowns, and social distancing measures have caused changes in consumer and shopper habits, explained Jagdish Sheth of Science Direct, a leading source for scientific, technical, and medical research.
Hence, people are trying to learn new habits and improvise. Old habits can come back, but it is more likely that these habits will change thanks to new regulations and procedures about shopping and availaing goods and services. Consumers will also practice new habits due to technological advances, as well as changes in demographics and ways how they have learned to cope with the convergence of work, education, and leisure.
How Has Consumer Behavior and Sentiment Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Nidhi Arora and colleagues of McKinsey, an advisor and counselor to influential businesses and institutions, found that 61% of Indians and 50% of Koreans were becoming more mindful of where they spend their money. Other countries who shared the same sentiment were Spain (45%), the UK (44%), the US (40%), Italy (40%), and Germany (34%).
Indians (45%) and Koreans (46%) were also more likely to shift to purchasing less costly products to save money. China (34%), the UK (32%), the US (31%), and Italy (30%) also reported choosing less expensive goods. Further, 40% of Indians and 45% of Chinese reported that they research the brand and product choices before purchasing something. 35% of Koreans also did some research before purchasing a product, but a smaller proportion of respondents from Italy (25%), Spain (23%), and the US (21%) practiced this habit.
91% of Indian consumers had tried a new shopping behavior, followed by China (82%), the US (75%), the UK (71%), Spain (68%), Italy (65%), and Korea (64%). A smaller percentage of Germans (45%) had tried a new shopping behavior, so as 59% of French consumers. Only 33% of Japanese consumers reported trying a new shopping behavior, as lockdowns were not imposed in the country. Unlike Japanese consumers, those China and the US tried new shopping habits to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic.
Consumers around the globe started caring about healthy and hygienic packaging, with India (51%), Korea (46%), and China (40%) prioritizing said company behavior. Consumers in the US (26%), the UK (18%), and Japan (18%) said they care about how companies take care of their employees’ safety. Regarding sustainable/eco-friendly products, only 18% of French and 27% of Italian consumers prioritized it.
Only 37% of Indians, 32% of Koreans, 21% of Spaniards, and 21% of Italians prioritized retailers’ promotion of sustainable products. Likewise, a smaller proportion of respondents from India (27%), China (27%), and Italy (17%) chose the category “Company’s purpose/values.”
How Did the Pandemic Affect Consumer Behavior?
People’s choices for shopping is restricted due to lockdowns and social distancing, leading to constrain in movement and shortage in location, said Sheth. However, the pandemic also allowed people to exercise more flexibility as they do not have to follow a schedule for shopping, working, or attending class. Consumers hoard essential products for daily consumption such as bread and meat, causing shops to run out of stocks. Temporary shortages also occur when people hoard products.
Hoarding is a common behavior when managing the uncertainty of the available supply of products for basic needs. It is also a common reaction when a state like Venezuela experiences hyperinflation. However, gray markets have emerged wherein middlemen hoard and raise the prices of some products such as PPEs and N95 masks for health professionals.
Further, the extra demand created by this behavior has led to the marketing counterfeit goods. In times of crisis and uncertainty, consumers are likely to postpone their purchase and consumption of discretionary goods and services. It is usually linked with “large ticket durable goods” like appliances, cars, homes, concerts, and restaurants shifting consumer demand from now into the future.
Instead of consumers coming to the store, the store has to come home. For example, streaming services like Amazon Prime, Disney, and Netflix has broken consumers’ old habits of going to brick and mortar stores. With the “store comes home” phenomena, it has improved convenience and personalization of consumer behavior.
Will Consumers’ Old Habits Die?
Sheth expected for most old habits to return, but some habits will inevitably die as consumers have found ways to find more convenient, affordable, and accessible alternatives. Sheth conjectured that existing habits of grocery shopping and delivery will change to adapt to the new safety guidelines and measures (ex: wearing of masks and practicing social distancing), at least in most cases. This is seen in Asia where consumers wear masks before shopping or using public transportation.
Utpal Dholakia, Ph.D. of Psychology Today, a magazine in the US, also shared a similar view. Dr. Dholakia predicted that most people will go back to their old habits as quickly as they can manage. For example, consumers are less likely to purchase or hoard hand sanitizers post-pandemic. Although it is difficult to break old habits, old habits will come back as soon as the economic and social conditions start to return to normal.
Do Businesses Need to Adjust?
Yes, businesses will also need to adjust to the changes ushered by the pandemic. As consumers learn to improvise, businesses will have to do the same and become more resilient. Sadly, companies are still constrained by formal processes that do not help them acclimate to change quickly. For instance, this is evident when the US government showed its inability to process PPP (payroll protection program) loans and those who applied for unemployment benefits.
On the other hand, larger enterprises have shifted to cloud computing, making it easier for them to improvise. For example, Target converged their physical stores with their online shopping capable of omnichannel delivery. With the ongoing crisis, companies can learn how to make their systems, processes, and infrastructure more resilient to handle such trying times.
Consumer behaviors that support local business ventures and enterprises will become more ubiquitous. Large companies that manufacture high-tech products or cutting-edge drugs and offer standardized services will be tolerated right now, but they won’t be able to win consumer’s trust or loyalty that easily, said Dr. Dholakia. In many categories, overseas goods and brands will be treated with suspicion and will be perceived as options by consumers.
Both consumers and businesses will adjust to the changes brought by the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers are likely to take advantage of online services to purchases goods and services, hygienic packaging will also be prioritized to ensure their safety.