How COVID-19 has changed the way we shop – and what to expect in 2022 and beyond

COVID-19 has radically changed the behavior of businesses and consumers. We have seen panic buying, the rise of the “home economy” and a strong move towards contactless shopping.

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, it seems the time has come to reflect on the most significant consumer behavior changes we’ve seen and make some predictions about the lasting and pervasive effects of COVID-19 on the way we buy.

What are some of the lasting impacts of COVID on the way we shop?(Pexels: Anna Shvets)

Purchases in the event of a pandemic

One of the first impacts of COVID-19 was the repeated striping of supermarket shelves for toilet paper and other products before closures.

One of the debates sparked by this behavior was about how much it could be considered an irrational panic buy – or whether it was rational to stockpile in response to the irrational behavior of others.

It was a real game theory lesson. Decisions that make perfect sense for individuals can turn out to be bad for the community.

A bare alley in Alice Springs Woolworths with only a few packs of toilet paper.
Was the panic buying irrational? Or was it a rational response to the irrational behavior of others?(ABC News: Saskia Mabin)

Spend less, spend more

Spending more money in the supermarket was at least possible.

Consumption habits have changed dramatically due to border closures, purchase restrictions, door-to-door orders and general uncertainty.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows sharp declines in spending on transport, accommodation, leisure and entertainment services and food and drink.

Consumption of individual services, 2020

Percentage change in household consumption of services by selected categories by quarter 2020. ABS, Overview of household consumption, December 2020 quarter

Spending on food has increased slightly and spending on alcohol even more. According to one study, the main reasons given for the increase in alcohol consumption were stress (45.7%), increased availability of alcohol (34.4%) and boredom ( 30.1%).

Individual consumption of goods, 2020

Percentage change in household goods consumption by selected categories by quarter 2020. ABS, Household consumption overview, December 2020 quarter

Spending also increased on home electronics, streaming services, furniture, equipment and pet-related items.

Interest has grown in traditional activities such as cooking, reading and gardening.

It is too early to say to what extent these changes brought about by the pandemic will translate into permanent behavior change.

However, a study published last month, based on a survey of 7,500 households in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, supports the likelihood of at least some long-term sectoral changes in behavior. of consumers.

“Revenge spending”

As restrictions relax, some marketers are predicting “revenge spending” – shopping sprees with abandon.

Granted, many high-income households have the money to spend on vacations, new cars or home renovations, with Australians racking up around $ 140 billion in additional savings during the pandemic.

Other research, such as the National Australia Bank’s quarterly consumer sentiment survey, suggests the pandemic has prompted greater caution. In their most recent poll, 37% said they pay attention or pay attention to where they spend their money (42% of women and 33% of men). In terms of purchasing influence, 43 percent offered to support local businesses, compared to 15 percent for environmental issues and 14 percent for social concerns such as labor practices.

three people walk along a path in Amsterdam, with the woman in front wearing a face mask
37 percent of people said they were aware of where they were spending their money.(Reuters: Eva Plevier, dossier)

In the NAB Consumer Sentiment Survey, 43 percent said their purchases were influenced by a desire to support local businesses.

Some have wondered if, in the wake of COVID-19, we were on the verge of another ‘roaring twenties’ – mimicking that period of economic prosperity and cultural dynamism of the 1920s after the deprivations of World War I and of the “Spanish flu” epidemic. .

The circumstances are not exactly the same. But new technologies and changes in habits are likely to lead to several long-term changes in the way we shop.

Switch to contactless

Our desire to reduce physical contact has accelerated contactless payment methods.

Research (from the Netherlands) suggests that for the most part this will be a permanent change, accelerating a steady decline in the use of cash for purchases.

Cash withdrawals from ATMs using debit cards

Monthly, seasonally adjusted. Reserve Bank of Australia

Technology allowing payments using smartphones, such as supermarkets introducing a way to pay by scanning a QR code, will help drive this shift.

Ways to buy things without ever having to walk into a store – like curbside pickup and door-to-door delivery – are also expected to continue.

In 2021, we saw a number of start-ups promising 15-minute grocery deliveries.

“Ubiquitous” experiences

Increasingly, our buying behavior will be shaped by what marketers call omnichannel shopping – a fancy word that means using a variety of experiences to make a purchase.

You can, for example, go to a store to try on headphones, then go online to read third-party reviews and compare prices from different retailers.

Technologies such as augmented reality will facilitate this trend. For example, IKEA’s Place app lets you see how furnishings will fit into your space.

Increasingly, what were once physical experiences will have their digital variations, from attending college and meeting with a medical professional to a tour of the British Museum or exploring the Grand Canyon. . While these may not replicate the actual experience, they will be an increasingly common way to “try before you buy”.

The future of shopping will gradually merge the digital and the physical. But regardless of the changes, some things will remain constant: the human desire to make experiences practical, fun, and meaningful.

Adrian R Camilleri is Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Technology Sydney. This piece first appeared on The conversation.

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