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consumer behavior changes during and after covid-19 pandemic

Consumer Behavior During and After Pandemic: 4 Trends to Watch

It will take us years, if not decades, to fully comprehend the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on us.

From politics to economy to interpersonal relationships, there’s a lot coronavirus needs to answer for. Not in the least bit for the way consumer behavior has changed from late 2019 to 2021.

Rough estimates suggest that COVID-19 has impacted the shopping behavior of 9 in 10 consumers.

With rapid, often unpredictable changes in the lockdown strategy — reopening and closing down again, new regulations, confusing safety guidelines — it’s a miracle that consumer behavior is recognizable at all.

But let’s pin down the exact changes in customer actions and perceptions that have occured during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumer behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic

First, the obvious: the pandemic has made us more wary of shopping in person.

Throughout 2020, people were less likely to visit non-essential shops. Essential products, too, were being increasingly purchased online.

Overall, 71% of consumers shopped online in 2020. Some studies put this number even higher.

2020 was the year “working from home”, or WFH, became a mainstay of our lexicon. People weren’t too eager to be in proximity with others — and in the context of shops, that of course means queues.

In a consumer behavior study, Qudini revealed that 42% of consumers were more likely to avoid stores because of queues.

Safety wasn’t the sole concern, of course. Customers, and people at large, were also worried about their financial security.

On average, 38% of Europeans were concerned about paying their bills the following month. Needless to say, this has impacted our willingness to buy: 42% of consumers considered postponing a major purchase.

The shift towards more frugal spending was the prevailing trend in 2020. To wit:

As the purchasing power changed, so did the goals. Faced with the probability of getting stuck at home for months on end, a lot of people decided not to slack off and focus on self-improvement.

Yoga equipment, for example, saw growth of 154%.

Consumer behavior after the COVID-19 pandemic

The most obvious change since the lockdown has been the more widespread digital adoption.

Even post-lockdown and after the vaccination rollout, the number of consumers willing to shop in essential stores hasn’t gone up significantly. The convenience of online shopping has spoiled us all.

At the same time, customers are more likely to visit non-essential stores.

This is consistent with survey responses from 2020, where 22% expected to maintain a higher frequency of online shopping post-COVID, and 28% expected to increase their frequency of in-store shopping.

Safety is another thing on everyone’s mind.

A sizable portion of consumers are pushing for mandatory COVID-19 passports for transport companies and airlines as well as restaurants, bars and even beauty salons.

Another interesting change is that consumers are now more open to the idea of purchasing environmentally friendly products. It took us a global pandemic to start caring more about our impact on the environment.

56% of consumers said environmental concerns influenced their purchasing decisions, and 67% said that they bought products that were better for the environment, even if such products were more expensive.

This shift extends to other forms of conscientious consumption. Some 81% of post-COVID shoppers made their purchases closer to home and supported local businesses.

Things to consider in the post-pandemic world

The biggest takeaway is this: retailers should be working on offering safer in-store experiences that compliments their online experience.

Easier said than done. So here’s a quick list of the trends we think are the most important in the new post-COVID era.

#1 Focus on safety

COVID-19 has helped us increase our awareness of health. Even during the worst of the pandemic, when we were vying for things to go back to how they used to be, we knew they wouldn’t.

Many have voiced the same opinion: “Even when this pandemic ends, I will still be keeping my distance from other people.”

This attitude is what caused the common flu to practically disappear for more than a year. Mask wearing, social distancing and stricter personal hygiene regimens are what helped us become healthier.

While wearing masks isn’t required anymore, it is still a good idea to provide hand sanitizers near the entry points of your shop. Right out of the gate, this communicates to your customers the idea of your business being clean and safe.

The focus on safety isn’t limited to hygiene, though. Pandemic has made contactless payments the new normal, growing twice as fast as traditional checkout methods at grocery stores in Q1 2021.

A Mastercard study has shown that the biggest factors going for no-touch payments are — I hope you’re sitting down for this — their safety and cleanliness.

(Okay, yeah, that was entirely expected.)

#2 Safe, remote queuing

A major point of concern for consumers is queuing, which they tend to avoid even after the pandemic.

The reason why this is important is that it has a direct impact on sales. Customers are more likely to walk out of stores without purchasing anything due to queues.

This concern is more prevalent among Millennials and Gen Z customers — two of the fastest-growing segments in both spending and social media power.

To make sure that you’re on the same page as your customers, you need to minimize waiting friction by employing remote queuing that facilitates social distancing.

Let customers check in using their phones or by scanning a QR code and skipping the physical line altogether. You can update them on their progress via SMS texting, which also doubles as a method of building trust with them.

The bottom line is, always turn pain points into opportunities.

#3 Occupancy tracking

Related to the previous point, people-counting systems have been gaining traction, as well.

In 2020, it was critical for stores to know exactly how many people they host at any given time, and how many customers they got throughout a day. Even now, at the tail end of the pandemic, we can still see businesses limit the number of visitors allowed inside.

And we, the customers, are mostly okay with that. In fact, some of us even applaud it — if not for the sake of safety, then for the fact that we wouldn’t share space with other people.

Plus, funnily enough, we love exclusivity, no matter what it is caused by.

Tracking and limiting occupancy has been a trend at workplaces, too. As workers got back to offices, executives wanted to ease their employees’ anxiety related to being in close proximity with other people.

Many businesses have even adopted social distancing badges or lanyards that make it easier to see, at a glance, who’s okay with hugging or not.

#4 Faster delivery methods

The pandemic has proven that offering your customers faster — and more importantly, safer — delivery options gives you a competitive advantage.

Between March and June of 2020, one third of click-and-collect shoppers were using the service for the first time. Since July, this number has been brought down to one in four or five.

Which means that click-and-collect… well, clicked with the general population. First-timers converted into long-time users.

Another delivery option that has been making strides is curbside delivery: you make an order, park outside, and then have your order loaded up into your car.

A bit impersonal, but it has worked wonders for millions of first-time users all throughout 2020.

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