Thursday, June 13, 2024

How COVID-19 Changed Consumer Shopping Habits

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to change the way they shop. Some of those changes were short-lived, like the urge to hoard toilet paper. But many others are fundamental changes that appear to be here to stay.

Long after the economic shutdown was lifted and the supply chain disruption dissipated, some post-pandemic shopping trends have emerged:

  • E-commerce and contactless payment systems have gained greater acceptance.
  • Travel to see family and friends has been prioritized over international trips.
  • Grocery stores are benefitting as consumers cook at home more.
  • Consumers are more selective about retail spending.

It’s not just what we buy, but also how. About 48% of consumers say their shopping habits have been permanently changed by the pandemic, according to a January 2021 survey conducted by AlixPartners.

At a deeper level, the psychological impact of getting caught in a pandemic appears to have changed attitudes about healthy eating, personal hygiene, self-protection, and spending priorities.

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic forced wider adoption of contactless payments, online shopping, and home delivery.
  • With a greater emphasis on health, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer continue to be in greater demand.
  • Many became wary of air travel and international destinations.

Spending Patterns Are Changing

A March 2021 survey conducted by Experian found that consumers spending habits had changed somewhat, with 11% saying they spent more on clothing now than before the pandemic, while spending on groceries and in-home entertainment were both down 7% from March 2020.

With a renewed focus on health, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning supplies continued to be in high demand. The global hand sanitizer market topped $7 billion in 2023 and was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.1% from 2024 through 2027.

Travel Trends

Once vaccinations were readily available, there was an increasing desire to get out and about. But most travelers were keen to visit friends and family first, with only about one-third considering a leisure vacation.

Vaccines were a driving force behind travel choices. About 76% of Americans said they would be willing to travel to a destination or with a travel provider that requires proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Dining In

Beyond travel, the way we eat also shifted during the pandemic. Even as restaurants reopened, cooking at home became more commonplace. A 2021 survey showed 14% of respondents saying they planned to increase their grocery-store buying.

That’s good news for grocery stores, many of which faced supply-chain shortages and were forced to pivot to online orders, home delivery, and contactless payments. 

It’s unclear whether delivery options will continue to evolve as consumers resume in-store visits. However, one thing is certain: The rise in online shopping and contactless payments provided a huge opportunity for grocers, and those numbers are expected to continue growing. 

Online grocery sales were predicted to top $250 billion by 2025. That’s up 8% from pre-pandemic levels and accounts for 21% of total grocery sales.

That doesn’t mean shoppers abandoned their local market. One 2021 survey found that 95% of shoppers did some form of hybrid grocery shopping three months after the first wave of the pandemic.

Also worth noting on the loyalty front is that 34% of those who shopped online used more than one service, signaling a trend that the best deals beat out brand loyalty.

Contactless Payment Options

One of the biggest changes to emerge from the pandemic was the rising interest in contactless payment options. Nearly two-thirds of consumers who previously said they wouldn’t have been keen to try new forms of payment under normal circumstances did just that during the pandemic, while some 93% of consumers now say they are willing to try new payment systems that include everything from quick response (QR) codes to biometrics to digital payments.

Indeed, according to Mastercard, there were nearly one billion more contactless payments made during the first quarter of 2021 than during the same period of 2020.

Even more convincing is that 74% of those who used contactless payments during the pandemic plan to continue doing so.

“The pandemic made us think differently, partly out of necessity,” said Craig Vosburg, chief product officer at Mastercard, in a statement. “To deliver the choice and flexibility that consumers need—and increasingly expect—retailers worldwide need to offer a range of payment solutions that are easy to access and always on.”

Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Over?

The national state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic was formally declared to be over by President Joe Biden on May 11, 2023. The World Health Organization deemed it no longer a global health emergency on May 5, 2023.

That does not mean COVID-19 has disappeared, notes the OSF Healthcare website. The virus continues to mutate into new variations, and people continue to be infected by those variants, some seriously.

Should I Stop Worrying About Getting COVID?

In March 2024, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on COVID-19, essentially reducing its threat level to that of common respiratory illnesses like the flu. Essentially, that means that people whose health or age makes them vulnerable should get a vaccine, consider wearing a mask when in close proximity to others, and keep test kits at home in case of need.

Is Everybody Depending on Food Delivery Apps Now?

Pretty much, though the demographics show that younger consumers are the most likely to depend on delivery apps like GrubHub and UberEats. Recent research shows that 63% of consumers ages 18 to 29 and 51% of those ages 30-44 use delivery apps for food. The figures drop to 29% for those ages 45 to 60 and just 14% for those above 60.

The Bottom Line

The COVID-19 pandemic changed much about how Americans live their lives, and some of those changes look likely to remain in place once it’s over. The pandemic forced many consumers to adjust their habits. And even after the pandemic subsided, they found those new habits worth keeping.

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